Difference Between Disinfection and Sterilization

Difference Between Disinfection and Sterilization is easy to understand once you know the main aim behind it. Disinfection does not aim at totally wiping out microbes on a surface. It tends to kill some microbes, but leave other beneficial microbes intact. Sterilization, on the other hand, aims to kill all microbes. This includes all microbes, regardless of their nature (harmful or harmless).

What is Sterilization?

Sterilization is a physical or a chemical process mainly used to completely destroy all forms of living microorganisms from a substance, or surface or from a medium. This process is carried out mainly to preserve the substance for a long time without decay.

The two main methods of Sterilization include

  • Physical methods

This method of Sterilization includes the application of heat, moisture, and certain radiations. Filtration is also a method used in this Physical Sterilization

  • Chemical methods

This method of Sterilization includes the application of chemicals including alkaline agents, Ethylene oxides, etc.

What is Disinfection?

Disinfection is the procedure or treatment used for cleaning something, especially with a chemical, in order to destroy, eliminate or inhibit the growth of bacteria and other pathogens causing infectious diseases in both humans and animals. Disinfections are the chemical solutions used to make substance infection free.

What is the Difference Between Disinfection and Sterilization?

Difference Between Disinfection and Sterilization

These are all processes of decontamination and they have specific roles to fulfil in various functional areas.

For instance, sterilization of surgical instruments is required during surgery as any bacteria entering the body during that period might pose a health risk.

The other major difference between Disinfection and Sterilization are summarized in detail:

Disinfection Sterilization
Eliminates most organisms, but leaves few intact – like spores. Sterilization aims to eliminate all microbes.
Used to decontaminate air, surfaces etc. Sterilization is prevalent in the food industry, medicine and surgical instruments.
Common methods used are pasteurization, using bleach, alcohols, hydrogen peroxide, halogens such as chlorine and phenolic disinfectants. Sterilization is acquired through the application of heat in the form of steam, boiling, chemicals, irradiation, pressure, filtration etc.


The main takeaway here is that the aim of Disinfection and Sterilization are different. Disinfection aims to kill or inactivate the harmful microorganisms, but leaves some microbes intact. Sterilization, on the other hand, aims at killing all the microbes. And each form of decontamination has its functional use as stated in the comparison chart.

Stay tuned with BYJU’S to know more in detail about the Disinfection, Sterilization, their differences and other interesting topics @ BYJU’S Biology

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