Cleaning vs. Sanitizing: What’s the Difference?

There’s a lot of confusion between these terms within our industry. Many folks use them interchangeably, not understanding that they are different processes. In this post, we’ll break down what they mean, and how they apply to harvesting or trimming equipment.


Cleaning is all about removing what you see. On an automated cannabis trimming machine, it would mean removing all the gunk, leftover plant matter, leaves, and whatever cannabis resin might have built up on the unit throughout a trim session. If the machine has been cleaned, that just means that it doesn’t visibly have any plant matter or cannabis resin left on it. There are lots of different types of cleaning agents, like detergents (ex: Dawn or Joy), degreasers (ex: Fantastik or Simple Green), acid cleaners (ex: CLR), and abrasive cleaners (ex: Ajax or Comet).


Sanitizing is a process that reduces the number of microorganisms (like bacteria, viruses and fungi) to a safe level. While a sanitizing process can use heat or radiation, in the context of cannabis trimming equipment, we’re often speaking about chemical sanitizers. The most common sanitizer used in the cannabis industry is isopropyl alcohol. (Note: There is a technical distinction between sanitization and disinfection, but for the purpose of this blog post, we’ll leave it at that.)

Here’s a scenario that may help with the distinction between the two. Imagine the most disgusting, gunked-up, oily, greasy, filthy stovetop you’ve ever seen. You take a Lysol wipe and run it across the stovetop for 20 seconds. Sure, it will likely kill the bacteria sitting right on top, but the layer of gunkiness and buildup will remain. Bacteria and mold won’t be eliminated and will appear again on the surface very quickly. Now instead imagine scrubbing down the stovetop with Fantastik or Dawn. You get all the gunk off. Then, you wipe it down with a sanitizer like Lysol. Now THAT is a surface you can eat off!

This is the exact process we recommend for cleaning your Mobius Trimmer M108, or any type of harvesting equipment. Start by using a food-safe degreaser to remove all the resin and plant matter. Spray, rinse or wipe with water to remove the degreaser. Then, you’ll do a sanitizing step with a 70% isopropyl alcohol spray or wipe. A quick ATP test to confirm you’ve done the job, and you can get your equipment back into operation.

It’s important to understand that isopropyl alcohol (aka “iso” if you’re one of the cool-kid QA types) is NOT a cleaner, it is a sanitizer or disinfectant. It is not effective at breaking down the cannabis resin that you’ll see building up on your equipment. We’ve heard from many people in the industry that iso is the only substance approved by Health Canada for use in cannabis harvesting. That’s not true, and this misunderstanding of the regulations could cost your company lots of money. Iso is extremely harsh stuff, and constantly dousing your equipment with iso will vastly reduce its lifespan.

If you’d like a deeper dive, we’ve written an extensive analysis and interpretation of the regulations, which you can find in this document: Cleaning and Maintaining Equipment Under Canada’s Cannabis Regulations.

For more specific details on our recommended process, including suggestions of specific cleaners, visit Caring for your M108.

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