What is the difference between

  • Clean,
  • Sanitized and
  • Sterilized?

7 Answers 7


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.

  • 10
    great, and slightly disturbing analogy ;-) Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 16:23
  • 7
    Hah, +1 nice. Although ironically, a. urine is sterile and b. ammonia in urine + chlorine in bleach -> mustard gas :-D
    – Mike S
    Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 21:45
  • 1
    Good point; instead, what if my dog throws up. How about that?
    – sgwill
    Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 23:25
  • 3
    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
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 21:51
  • NOT ONLY bacteria. But all kind of known microorganisms (fungi, virus, and bacteria), whether in sanitizing as in sterilizing.
    – Luciano
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 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.

  • 4
    Any source for your numbers?
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 18:57

"clean" "sanitize" "sterilize" are all terms used by the FDA. the comments explaining the relative log level of effectiveness are spot on: sanitize: log 5 ~ 99.999 effectiveness is all that is required for any food manufacturing (ie: brewery) or food service establishment (ie: restaurant)


Cleaning is the process of removing dirt and debris. Sanitizing is the process of lowering the bacterial numbers to below a certain percentage. Wich is ~99.999. but does not kill all of the microorganisms. Sterilization requires either special chemicals or heat above 250°F for at least a minimum of 15 minutes. IE: using a pressure cooker@15psi or oven above 250°f.


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.


Destruction of most microorganisms (whether or not pathogenic) on wounds, clothing, or hard surfaces, through the use of chemicals or heat. See also disinfection and sterilization.

  • 1
    This does not answer the question. It does not differentiate between clear, sanitized or sterile, nor does it indicate which of the three you are describing. Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 21:02

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


  • External links are ok if accompanied by a summary. Please add a short summary here so people get the TL;DR
    – mdma
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 0:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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