What Sanitizer Do Restaurants Use?

If there is an aspect of the restaurant business that is even more important than providing a quality dining experience for guests and customers, it is ensuring that food safety protocols are closely followed to protect the public from foodborne pathogens and illnesses. And one of the most crucial practices that all restaurants must adhere to is implementing proper sanitizing procedures by using approved sanitizers.

The purpose of sanitizers used by restaurants is to eliminate bacteria and germs from surfaces that come into contact with food. The primary types of sanitizers used by restaurants are:

  • Chlorine

  • Quaternary ammonium

  • Iodine

All sanitizers must be properly mixed and applied in order to be effective.

Properly sanitizing a restaurant is serious business, and it encompasses far more than the kitchen utensils and equipment that are used for cooking, prepping, and serving food. The idea is to protect workers and patrons against illness, so any exposed surface is in play. Read on to learn not only what sanitizers are commonly used by restaurants, and, but also the vital role that they play in daily operations.

What are the Types of Sanitizer Used by Restaurants?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sanitizers are chemicals that are used to reduce levels of microorganisms (such as bacteria and germs) in a particular environment, such as a restaurant kitchen, to levels that are considered safe according to public health laws as established by local authorities. 

In other words, when properly used, sanitizers protect restaurant workers and the dining public from dangerous pathogens spread by contaminated objects and surfaces. The most common sanitizers used by restaurants are chemicals that are specially formulated to kill microorganisms on contact. 

Of these, there are three types that have the widest use and availability:

  • Chlorine – this is the most common type of restaurant sanitizer because of its high effectiveness and relatively low cost. Chlorine sanitizers are considered broad-spectrum germicides and come in various formulations, including liquid chlorine, hypochlorites, and chloramines. Chlorine is also available in powdered form, including pre-measured packets for mixing with water.

  • Quaternary ammonium – this family of compounds, often known as “Quats” or “QACs,” contain positively charged ions that bond with negatively charged proteins in bacteria, thus neutralizing them. Quats are more effective in the presence of light soiling than chlorine sanitizers and are often sold in tablet form, which is much easier to store than bottles of concentrated solutions.

  • Iodine – the use of iodine as a commercial sanitizer dates back well over a hundred years. Iodine-based sanitizers are a more costly option than chlorine or quats, but they are very effective and fast-acting. However, they are also known to stain various materials, particularly plastics. Iodine sanitizers are commonly sold as concentrated iodophor sanitizers.

No matter which particular type of sanitizer is used by a restaurant, it is important to recognize that each must be used under certain conditions in order to be effective (that is, to kill targeted microorganisms). For instance:

  • The effectiveness of chlorine sanitizers is reduced when they are mixed in hot water, so mixtures are best maintained at 55°F to 75°F

  • Quaternary sanitizers can handle applications where light soiling remains on the surface, but they do require longer contact time to kill targeted bacteria and germs

  • Because of their signature reddish tinge, before sanitizing porous surfaces like plastic cutting boards with iodine sanitizers, it may be advisable to test a small patch on porous surfaces first to avoid the possibility of permanent staining

Although all EPA-approved restaurant sanitizers are safe to use, it is important to remember that they are potent chemicals engineered to kill bacteria, germs, and the like and must, therefore, be handled and used in strict accordance with their respective manufacturer’s instructions. Their effectiveness in terms of sanitizing surfaces also depends on adhering to certain steps, so here’s a look at them.

How Do Restaurants Use Sanitizers?

The importance of proper sanitizing protocols in the day-to-day operations of a restaurant cannot be overstated. What is at stake is the safety and well-being of: 

  • Restaurant employees

  • Guests and patrons 

  • The public at large 

Proper sanitization requires that certain steps be followed. Otherwise, potentially dangerous levels of bacteria and germs can remain on treated surfaces.

Regardless of the particular type of sanitizer, these are the basic steps that every restaurant should follow to properly sanitize items and surfaces that come into contact with food:

  1. Cleaning and sanitizing are different procedures but go hand in hand. In fact, without proper cleaning beforehand, many sanitizers will not perform as effectively. The first step of cleaning is to physically remove food and soiling from surfaces by brushing, scraping, or wiping them off.

  2. Though it may seem like an extra or unnecessary step given the sanitizing procedures that are to follow, proper washing with a soap or detergent is absolutely necessary to remove traces of food or other material that can interfere with the germicidal qualities of the sanitizer.

  3. Just as remnants of food and soil can prevent proper sanitizing, so too can residue from soap or detergent. Therefore, all washed surfaces must be thoroughly rinsed prior to sanitizing.

  4. Only after Steps 1-3 have been completed can sanitizing take place. It is imperative that each sanitizing product’s instructions, as provided by its manufacturer, be strictly followed in order to ensure the fullest efficacy in killing bacteria and germs.

  5. The final step in properly sanitizing any surface is drying, and in the case of virtually all commercial sanitizers, this involves air drying. Wiping a treated surface with a cloth or paper towel not only introduces the possibility of cross-contamination but also reduces contact time, which is a crucial aspect when it comes to effectively eliminating dangerous microorganisms.

In addition to adhering to proper protocols in using sanitizers, restaurants need to ensure that they are maximizing the efficacy of these chemicals as far as eliminating bacteria and germs from treated surfaces. Some key factors to keep in mind include:

  • Concentration – manufacturers of restaurant sanitizers specify precise mixing ratios (sanitizer to water), and restaurants should follow these instructions. A mixture that is too diluted will not sanitize surfaces effectively, while mixtures that are too strong may be corrosive

  • Contact time – the effectiveness of any sanitizer is a function of the amount of time that the active chemicals are in direct contact with the surface that is being treated (each manufacturer will indicate the minimum contact time required for their particular product)

  • Type of surface – restaurant staff should always be mindful of the particular type of surface that is being treated as sanitizers behave differently on smooth, non-porous materials like stainless steel or glass, compared to porous surfaces like plastic or wood (which are more challenging to fully sanitize)

With a basic understanding of how sanitizers work and why each step of the process is necessary, every restaurant can implement a highly effective sanitizing program and incorporate it seamlessly into its standard operating procedures.


A proper sanitizing program is not only a major responsibility of any restaurant operator, it is in one form or another mandated by local public health regulations that are designed to protect employees and the dining public. In the battle against harmful microorganisms, sanitizers are powerful and highly effective weapons against potential pathogens, but only when they are used properly.

Considering what is at stake, sanitizing is a duty that should be taken seriously, and it is one that does not go unnoticed by restaurant guests and patrons. Surveys have shown that restaurant patrons are more likely to frequent and recommend establishments that are visibly clean and well-maintained.

Also read: can you open a restaurant without a bathroom? 











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