Difference Between Disinfection and Sterilization

Disinfection and sterilization are the two common methods of killing or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. Microbes can cause a number of diseases in humans and animals and also spoil the food. Therefore, it is beneficial to kill or inhibit their growth to minimize their harmful effects. This is achieved by sterilization or disinfection. However, the way the two processes are conducted is quite different.

Let us have a detailed look at the difference between disinfection and sterilization.

Also Read: Types of Microbes

Disinfection vs Sterilization

Following are the important difference between disinfection and sterilization:

Difference Between Disinfection and Sterilization


In this, the number of harmful microbes is minimized to a minimal level.

In this, the medium is made completely free from all the microbes.

It kills only vegetative cells and not the spores.

It kills both, vegetative cells and spores.
Reduces microbes form the objects that can come in direct contact with the skin or the mucous membrane.

It completely removes microbes from the objects that can come in direct contact with any breaks in the skin.

Only reduces the effect of microbes.

Completely ensures microbes.
Chemical methods are used for disinfection

Physical methods are used for sterilization

Phenol, alcohol, chlorine, iodine are some of the disinfecting agents.

Dry heat, radiation, stem, filtration are some of the sterilization techniques.
Only adequate cleanliness

Extreme cleanliness

Used in daily life processes.

Used primarily for medical and research purposes.
For eg., pasteurization, disinfecting urinals, etc.

For eg., sterilization of instruments used during surgery by autoclaving

What is Sterilization?

Sterilization is a physical process mainly used to completely destroy all forms of microorganisms present on a surface or a medium. This process is carried out mainly to preserve the substance for a long time without decay. It is usually done by physical agents such as heat, radiation, filtration, etc.

What is Disinfection?

Disinfection is the chemical process used to eliminate or inhibit the growth of bacteria and other pathogens causing infectious diseases in both humans and animals. Disinfectants are the chemical solutions used to make substance infection-free. These include alcohol, iodine, chlorine, etc.

Similarities Between Disinfection and Sterilization

Disinfection and sterilization have a few things in common. These include:

  • Both are used to decontaminate objects.
  • Both processes kill harmful microbes.
  • They destroy bacteria, protozoa, viruses and bacteria.


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.

Also Read: Useful Microorganisms

Stay tuned with BYJU’S to know more in detail about the Disinfection, Sterilization, the difference between disinfection and sterilization and other interesting topics at BYJU’S Biology

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