What is the Correct Order of Steps for Cleaning and Sanitizing?

Whether it’s hard surfaces, food contact surfaces, or high-touch areas, here are the correct cleaning and sanitizing steps to take:

  1. Rinse
  2. Clean
  3. Rinse
  4. Sanitize

Difference between cleaning and sanitizing

Cleaning and sanitizing aren’t the same thing. That’s right — each one has its own time and place. And that’s why it’s important to know the difference especially if you work in a commercial kitchen.


To put it simply, cleaning removes germs, bacteria, dirt, and so on. Usually, this process requires soap and water. But in some cases, cleaning products are actually a special kind of detergent.


Sanitizing on the other hand reduces germs and bacteria to a safe level by killing them. Here’s how it works compared to similar processes:


  • Kills viruses and some harmful microorganisms like germs, bacteria

  • Reduces the number of germs to an acceptable, safe level

  • Commonly used in households or restaurants


  • Destroys and removes all microorganisms

  • Kills both “good” and “bad” microorganisms

  • Commonly used in hospitals, laboratories, and surgeries


  • Kills almost all harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses

  • Ideal for high-touch areas and bodily fluid messes

  • Can be harmful if used improperly

The definition of sanitizing also depends on the context. For example, a simple household sanitizing wipes may be held to one set of rules. Whereas food-safe sanitizers may be held to a different set of regulations.

The Association of Official Analytical Chemists has its own definition of sanitization. They define food-surface sanitization as reducing germs by 99.999% in about 30 seconds. However, other non-food surface sanitizers may only have to reduce germs by 99.9%.

In general, most commercial kitchens and bars use sanitization over sterilization and disinfection. The latter two processes can be more expensive. And they can also actually be harmful when they come in contact with food-prep areas.

However, some experts recommend disinfecting at the end of a shift. Disinfecting certain areas may help reduce the spread of harmful germs and bacteria.

Cleaning methods

There are three primary ways to clean surfaces in a commercial environment.

Manual cleaning

To manually clean something, take it apart completely to clean it by hand. This could be hand-washing used utensils in a commercial sink. Or it could be taking apart a blender in a bar to wash it.

Mechanical cleaning

This means there’s no disassembly and it usually just requires a dishwasher. Put utensils and dishes in the machine, and let the dishwasher take care of the rest. But remember to stack utensils and plates inside properly. For example, if plates are too close together, cleaning solutions can’t circulate.

Clean-in-place (CIP)

The inside of large equipment like stoves, ovens, and ice cream machines can’t be washed by hand in a sink. But they also can’t be washed in a dishwasher. Such equipment usually comes with some kind of self-cleaning mechanism.

Clean-out-of-place (COP)

Cleaning-out-of-place is just like CIP — but it cleans the exterior of food equipment. To clean something out-of-place, take it apart and clean it in a pressurized tank.

Sanitizing methods

There are two primary ways to sanitize something, like fabrics or utensils.

Thermal sanitization

Thermal sanitization is a special process that kills bacteria and viruses. This is a common practice for high-traffic facilities. For example, hotels have to wash lots of towels and room service utensils.

In most cases, this requires exposure to certain temperatures levels for a set amount of time. For example, in some countries, thermal sanitization requires washing at 170°F for at least 30 seconds. But the length of time required largely depends on the temperature.

Benefits of thermal sanitization

  • Relatively affordable

  • Easily gets into cracks and small spaces

  • An effective way of killing germs, bacteria, and other microorganisms

Chemical sanitization

Chemical sanitization uses chemical compounds to kill harmful microorganisms. This process is commonly used in the household and in the foodservice industry.

Common chemical sanitizers include bleach or chlorine, iodine, and QACs. Note that some sanitizers may be more harmful than others. This largely depends on their concentration and how they’re used.

But in general, chemical sanitizing sprays, wipes, or immerses something in a fluid. The fluid in this case is a sanitizing solution. This process may take a few seconds and it may have to be repeated for full effectiveness.

  • Uses fewer water resources

  • Takes less time than other sanitization methods

  • Doesn’t always require equipment disassembly

Which is the correct order of steps for cleaning and sanitizing?

When in doubt, follow the four-step method for safely cleaning and sanitizing materials.


Remove as much excess food, dirt, and grime off the surface as possible. An example is pre-scraping plates at a restaurant.


Use one of the four cleaning methods outlined above (manual, mechanical, CIP, COP). Most commercial kitchens use mechanical and manual cleaning processes.


After cleaning, rinse again with running water.


Thermally or chemically sanitize. This could be with a sanitizing solution or by boiling.


  1. Prescrape used plates in a commercial kitchen, removing all excess food

  2. Clean the used plates with warm, soapy water

  3. Rinse the plates until the water runs clear

  4. Immerse the plates in a sanitizing solution

Many bars and restaurants use a three-sink method to speed up this process. The first sink contains a cleaning solution. The second sink contains warm water. And the third sink contains a sanitizing solution.

Lastly, avoid using towels to dry cleaned, sanitized materials. Towel-drying increases the spread of germs. Instead, air dry utensils, plates, and so on to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. As well, all staff should always maintain proper hygiene. This helps preserve the health of the commercial facility, customers, and coworkers.

Summary: Cleaning and sanitizing procedures

Cleaning and sanitizing steps can be tough to get right. So here’s a quick summary for reference:

  • Always rinse, then clean, rinse again, then sanitize

  • There are four ways to clean (manual, mechanical, CIP, COP)

  • There are two ways to sanitize (thermal, chemical)

  • When in doubt, use the three-sink method and never towel-dry