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What are the differences between sanitizing, sterilizing and disinfecting in salons and spa?

What are the differences between sanitizing, sterilizing and disinfecting in salons and spa?

Sterilization, disinfection, sanitation… exactly what do they all mean? And how should you practice them in your hair, beauty salon or nail spa?

 In general, also your salon sanitation practices are extremely important to your hair or beauty salon. The main risk is cross-contamination – either from yourself or between clients. So, what do you need to do to ensure all your tools are properly disinfected and your salon is sanitary? Is dunking them in a jar of blue disinfectant enough?

According to the professional, there are actually three simple steps you need to follow – Clean; Disinfect; Dry.

It’s a common misconception that throwing your tools into a jar of blue disinfectant or barricade is all you need to do to. In fact, this is only one step in the process. It is just as important to thoroughly wash your tools in clean, soapy water. A complete drying process is also just as vital, as this prevents bacteria regrowth – a clean cloth and towel are all you need for this.

Let’s start by breaking them down…


  • This is more of a general term that refers to the processes of keeping your environment clean, safe and healthy. 
  • In your salon, this means making sure hair and nail clippings are always swept into the bin, not leaving tools lying around, frequent hand washing, ensuring salon wear is clean and so on.
  • When it comes to properly clean off your salon tools, sanitation means washing them regularly with warm water and soap – removing all visible dirt and product buildup with a brush before moving on to disinfecting them. If you don’t practice proper sanitation in your salon, your disinfectants are likely to be less effective and bacteria and virus can breed much quicker.


  • Disinfection kills most – but not all – bacteria and fungi present on the surface of your tools. 
  • Not all disinfectants have the same level of effectiveness and they won’t be able to destroy highly resistant bacterial spores or viruses. 
  • Disinfectants also need to be used properly in order to do their job thoroughly.
  • Salon disinfection is highly important to all types of the salon. 
  • Tools should always be sanitized and disinfected between every client to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Many salons choose to use barricade solution to disinfect their tools. However, this alone is not enough. 
  • Tools should be regularly sanitized with hot soapy water before they are disinfected. They should then be dried thoroughly and stored somewhere clean.


  • This is the strongest form of cleaning. 
  • Sterilization removes all forms of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including their spores. 
  • This is most important for tools that have been used when the skin the barrier has been broken, such as in a medical setting.

For most hair and nail salons, sterilization isn’t necessary on a day-to-day basis. However, if for any reason your tools do come into contact with wounds, blood or an infected area of skin, you would want to fully sterilize the tools involved.


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