Ready for a truth bomb? Even if you’re working hard to keep your home clean and free from illness-causing bacteria and viruses, there are very likely some important areas you are missing. (Yes, even if you’re diligent about killing germs on high-touch surfaces, such as computers, phones, counters, doorknobs, and faucet levers.)
Don’t worry: We’re not suggesting you have to hit every item or risk getting sick — we’re simply saying that tackling these hotspots with a little soap and water or a quality disinfectant, like 3M’s TB Quat Disinfectant Ready-to-Use Cleaner, will ensure you’re truly bringing your anti-bacterial A-game.
Ready to get to work? Here are some of the most commonly overlooked household items, along with tips on how to banish as many germs as possible.
Chances are you already know that germs are present on your doorknobs, faucets, and appliance handles. But did you ever stop to think that your light switches are just as prone to them? You — and everyone else with whom you share your house — touch these spots multiple times a day, which means you’ll want to regularly clean them and hit them with disinfectant.
Simply use a damp cloth to clean off any dust and grime, being careful not to let any liquid seep behind the switch. Then, use a disinfecting wipe or a cotton ball dampened with 70% isopropyl alcohol and swab all sides of the switch and backplate. (Again, take care to ensure no liquid gets inside.) Let air dry.
If you have one, your microwave’s handle and touchpad are also among the germiest spots your hands land on during the day. According to one study, 48 percent of microwave door handles contained enough bacteria to be considered a high risk for illness transmission.
To clean this oft-used gadget, first wipe away any grease or grime from the handle and touchpad with soapy water, then rinse and dry. To bust any bacteria and virus germs, use a disinfectant spray, then wipe clean after the amount of time indicated on the package directions.
Exercise is great for your overall health, but the equipment itself often harbors plenty of illness-causing germs. In one study, researchers found rhinoviruses (the infection that causes the common cold) on 63 percent of equipment at the fitness centers they tested. But you don’t have to leave your house to encounter dirty fitness gear. Items in home gyms — weights, yoga mats, and cycling machines — aren’t exempt from sweat, odors, dust, and dirt.
To keep things sparkling, bring good gym etiquette home: Make it a habit to spritz any machines you use with a multi-purpose cleaner after each use. Other personal equipment, such as yoga mats, can go about a week between wipe downs, says Carolyn Forte, Cleaning Lab Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. (Of course, if you sweat a lot or the mat tends to retain odor, clean it more often.)
Simply mix a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid and two cups of warm water in a spray bottle, then spritz the solution onto the mat and wipe the surfaces clean with a soft cloth. Finally, rinse the mat with a damp cloth, and lay the mat flat or hang it over a shower rod to dry fully before rolling it back up.
The contents of your wallet — particularly paper money and credit cards — get handled by numerous people throughout the day. In fact, one study found $1 bills tested were teeming with hundreds of microorganisms, including oral microbes and DNA from pets and viruses. Another study revealed something even more alarming on paper money: pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus aureus. Not to mention, germs can lurk in the cervices around credit card numbers, says Forte.
While there’s not much you can do about the paper, you can lean on credit cards to minimize germs in your wallet. To give the plastic a quick clean, wipe each one down with an alcohol or disinfecting wipe. Then, let them air dry before placing them back in your wallet.
According to research done at the University of Arizona by germ expert Dr. Charles Gerba, 50 percent of vacuum brushes tested contained mold and bacteria, including E. coli. What’s more, Gerba says, is that a dirty vacuum can transfer the germs from one surface to another, contaminating, rather than cleaning.
To ensure your vacuum is clean and running efficiently, empty the canister after every one to two uses, and bags should be replaced when they are 2/3 or 3/4 full. You’ll also want to give any washable filters a thorough rinse at least every couple months depending on use (check your machine’s manual for specifics). Don’t forget any brush heads: Remove any hairs and threads, then clean with warm water, massaging bristles to remove embedded dust and debris. Let air dry thoroughly before replacing or using.
You sleep with 1.5 million dust mites each night. (It’s alarming, right?) In fact, a 10-ounce pillow will double in weight in three years, thanks to an accumulation of said dust mites and dead skin cells. Take care to wash sheets and pillowcases weekly, cover mattresses and pillows with liners and vacuum your mattress regularly, says Forte. Plus: put your pillows in the washing machine two to four times a year. If they have a funny odor even after you give them a good wash, it’s time to replace them.
Though certain items in your bathroom — like your toilet — are likely to be cleaned regularly, there are some items that might get overlooked. Take your shower curtain, for instance. In one study, researchers found the shower curtain was the germiest item in the entire bathroom, harboring more than 60 times more microbes than toilet seats.
The good news: There’s no need to throw away your shower curtain, even if it’s speckled with mildew, says Forte. For plastic or vinyl curtains, wash on a delicate or short cycle with detergent. Add two to three bath towels for extra cleaning agitation, then hang it to dry, or put in the dryer on low heat or air dry for one to two minutes to remove excess moisture before rehanging them. (Be careful though — they can melt, so don’t step away and keep an eye on them.) For fabric curtains, follow any specific care instructions on the label, says Forte.
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