Disinfectants are products that destroy all organisms in 10 minutes during the AOAC Use Dilution Test, a test regulated by the EPA to determine the efficiency of disinfectants. In a hospital situation it’s more important to kill all germs even if it takes longer rather than to kill most of them quickly.
So, sanitizing is a chemical process that lessens and even kills germs on surfaces to make them safe for contact. Usually you sanitize in kitchens and other areas that come into contact with food. For example, you sanitize dishes and utensils after using them. You also sanitize toys that children put in their mouths.
Disinfecting requires a stronger solution to destroy germs rather than simply reduce them. You might disinfect areas where you change a baby’s diaper. Hospitals disinfect areas that have come into contact with blood or other body fluids.
Both methods are a step up from regular cleaning because cleaning only removes visible dirt. When you sanitize or disinfect, you are removing potentially harmful bacteria that might not be visible to the naked eye.