Is it sanitised, disinfected or sterilized?

There is often a bit of confusion among both consumers and even some salon service providers about the meaning of certain terms used to describe the general cleanliness of the salon environment and the tools of the trade. Do you know the difference between the terms “sanitise”, “disinfect” and “sterilize”?

To help educate and provide more awareness surrounding the subject, we’ve put together this article for you to help learn the important differences and start using the terminology correctly.


  1. Sanitise – to make clean by removing unwanted debris or dirt
  2. Disinfect – to destroy harmful microorganisms that may cause and spread disease
  3. Sterilize – to free a surface from all living microorganisms

In the salon environment, all three of the above definitions are applicable to different elements of your work environment. Understanding the difference between them is crucial to the health and safety of you, your staff and your customers.



All surfaces and tools you and your clients touch need to be sanitised. This is the first and most important element of salon hygiene. When you sanitise something, you use soap and water to remove unwanted dirt and debris from your floors, walls, work surfaces, towels, chairs, etc. Literally EVERYTHING you see in the salon needs to be sanitised in order to promote a healthy and clean environment. Sanitation is the lowest form of  preventing the spread of harmful bacteria.


To disinfect something, it needs to be sanitised first. In the process of disinfection, chemicals are used to kill harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. In the salon environment, many harmful microorganisms are present – bacteria live and breed on literally every surface we can see and touch, and can easily be transported from one place to another in several ways.

PEOPLE are the biggest carrier and transmitter of bacteria, and since salons are places where many people come and go; and the nature of the work involves physical contact with hair, skin and nail clippings (all containing human soilings of a personal nature) it goes without saying that the salon environment is heaven for harmful bacteria to breed and be transmitted from one person to another.

To reduce the risk of spreading nasty infections, it is essential to make sure that you disinfect any tool or implement that is used on multiple people. Disinfection must be performed before EACH USE.

Household disinfectants are not suitable for use in the salon to disinfect your tools and implements.

Specially formulated hospital grade disinfectant should be used instead, and manufacturer’s instructions followed exactly. This usually involves full immersion of the tools in the disinfectant solution for a minimum of ten minutes’ contact time to kill harmful pathogens.

Disinfection does not destroy all living microorganisms, but does effectively reduce the risks of transmission from one person to another.

*Important note: many “sterilants” on the market are incorrectly labelled as sterilizers, but they are in fact disinfectants as they do not kill 100% of all living microorganisms.


For anything to be considered sterile, NO LIVING MICROORGANISMS may be present. To achieve sterilization, tools and implements must be exposed to extremely high temperatures and pressure. The most effective way to sterilize salon tools and implements is by using an autoclave. With that being said, it is literally impossible to sterilize most items you see or touch in the salon, which is why disinfection is extremely important as part of tour salon’s hygiene routine.

An item is either sterile or it is not. There is no grey area.

Any tool or implement used to puncture or penetrate the skin must be sterile. Needles, scalpel blades and the like are usually supplied in sealed, airtight packages and are intended for single use only. Metal implements and tools may be autoclaved between each use after correct disinfection procedure has been completed.

An item is only sterile until it has been removed from its sealed package.

As described above, there is a huge difference between each state of cleanliness. We suggest that all salon practitioners learn the difference – start using the terms correctly, and make a point of correcting your staff, clients and colleagues when the topic comes up.