Take the 2-minute tour ×
Homebrewing Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for dedicated home brewers and serious enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the difference between

  • Clean,
  • Sanitized and
  • Sterilized?
share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Cleaning is the process of removing material from the surface.

Sanitizing is the process of reducing the number of organisms (in brewing, we're worried about bad bacteria, mainly - but others also like fungi and unwanted yeast).

Sterilizing is like sanitizing, but removing ALL microorganisms (any living being - microscopic).

If I remember right, sanitizing is a technical term that means a certain allowable amount of microorganisms remain, and sterilization is removing ALL of them.

For the most part, brewers don't need to sterilize, only sanitize. The chemicals made for brewing are made to sanitize.

You need to both clean AND sanitize. The analogy I like is this: if my Dog pees on my floor, I first wipe up the liquid (clean), then use bleach (sanitize). If I merely use the bleach I've still got pee on my floor.

share|improve this answer
great, and slightly disturbing analogy ;-) –  Nathan Koop Nov 9 '10 at 16:23
Hah, +1 nice. Although ironically, a. urine is sterile and b. ammonia in urine + chlorine in bleach -> mustard gas :-D –  Mike S Nov 9 '10 at 21:45
Good point; instead, what if my dog throws up. How about that? –  sgwill Nov 9 '10 at 23:25
Sterilize = kill EVERYTHING. Not just bacteria but literally every microscopic organism on the surface. Sanitize just means to reduce them to the point where they won't infect your wort/must. –  bk0 Aug 13 '12 at 21:51
NOT ONLY bacteria. But all kind of known microorganisms (fungi, virus, and bacteria), whether in sanitizing as in sterilizing. –  Luciano Aug 1 '14 at 18:29

The technical definitions are as follows:

A sanitizing agent removes 99.999% of organisms a sterilization process removes 99.99999999% of organisms. Seems like a small difference but I'd rather have that extra 0.00099999% if they are going to perform surgery or something.


In the United States, items labeled as sanitizers are agents that destroy 99.999 percent of bacteria in 30 seconds, items labeled as disinfectants are products that destroy all organisms in 10 minutes.

While disinfectants work more slowly, they exceed the 99.999% definition of sanitizing but do not usually meet the 99.99999999% to call it sterilized.

share|improve this answer

I wrote up something on my site for this. Seems to help new brewers. :)


share|improve this answer

Sanitizing is the removal of contaminants that could grow bacteria, while sterilizing is the complete destruction of bacteria. Cleaning is the removal of foreign matter. Technically speaking, you can clean something without it being sanitized, but not the other way around.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.