Keeping your home fresh, clean, and tidy can feel like a constant battle.
However, focusing on recurrent chores like the dishes and the laundry might lead you to neglect the germiest parts of your home - just because they don’t look dirty with the naked eye, doesn’t mean they’re not harbouring some nasty bacteria which could affect you or your family’s health.
Far from all bacteria are harmful, some help to keep our bodies running properly, and exposure to a small amount can keep our immune systems strong. However, nasties like staphylococcus aureus (staph), salmonella, and e.coli sticking around and multiplying in your home is definitely not something you want, as they can make you sick or lead to infection.
So, what hidden corners should you be making it a priority to disinfect? And what’s the best way to clean them?
A study published in 2017 found more than 300 different types of bacteria lurking on a single kitchen sponge - including e.coli, salmonella, and Campylobacter. This makes them one of the dirtiest items in your home, in line with the water found in your toilet.
Considering kitchen sponges are often used for a variety of purposes around the preparation of food, from wiping countertops and tables, to scrubbing clean dishes, this could be bad news for your health.
So, what’s the solution? There’s a few to choose from. The most straight forward is putting it in the dishwasher after use (after you’ve wiped down your kitchen sink!). For this to practically work for you, you may need a few sponges on rotation at once.
Another popular way to clean it quickly is to rinse your sponge through (so it retains a small amount of clean water without being completely saturated) and pop it in the microwave for one minute. Make sure you let your sponge cool before using it.
It’s also important to notice when a sponge has simply come to the end of its working life. If your sponge has started to take on a funky smell or is showing signs of wear (like the abrasive side disintegrating), it’s time to bin it and get a new one.
Countertops and Cutting Boards
While we’re in the kitchen, it might be a good time to take another look at your worktops, cutting boards, and any other surfaces you use for food prep.
Many people simply rinse these areas or, worse, rub them clean with a dirty sponge after use. While this may bring back the shine, it doesn’t get rid of the bacteria from the raw chicken you were slicing up. Since these areas are often in environments which interact with a lot of heat and moisture, they’re the perfect breeding ground for germs.
Disinfectant wipes or spray are your best friend when it comes to cleaning countertops. When you do this straight after use, it kills any germs before they get the chance to thrive and multiply.
For cutting boards, they should be washed in very hot, soapy water after each use and dried thoroughly.
Door Handles, Light Switches, etc
You should also think about things in your home that everyone touches. Door handles and light switches are a main culprit, but so are things like bathroom taps, bannisters, and the knobs on your oven. If nasty germs gather on these surfaces, everybody in the home will soon be exposed.
This risk will go down considerably if you take the time to wipe these items once a week with a disinfectant wipe.
Keypads and Controllers
Other “high touch” items are remote controls, computer keyboards, and other gadget keypads. However, unlike light switches, these often have more nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide in.
Meaghan Murphy of Good Housekeeping recommends that remote controls are cleaned every month, or after a member of your household has been ill. You can do this by removing the batteries and wiping the whole device with a disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol on a clean cloth. To clean around the buttons or any other small spaces, you can use a cotton bud saturated with the same disinfectant. A toothpick can additionally be used to tease out any fluff or crumbs stuck in these. Once you’re finished, dry the remote and re-insert the batteries.
Cleaning a computer keyboard is a similar process - Turn it off, use disinfectant on a cloth to wipe smooth surfaces, and a cotton bud for niggly gaps. However, keyboards tend to attract more crumbs and debris, so it can be a good idea to use canned air or a small vacuum attachment to remove as many of these as possible before wiping.
The NSF found pet bowls the 4th germiest item in many homes. In general, cats and dogs have fairly hardy immune systems, but older animals,young animals, and pets fighting another illness can get seriously ill from a dirty bowl. It can also be a health risk to anyone handling the bowl as they refill it, or children playing on the floor.
It’s suggested that you clean your pet’s bowl every day, either by hand or in the dishwasher if it’s safe to do so. You should also sanitise it once per week. You can do this by adding half a cup of bleach to a gallon of water and letting this sit in the bowl for 10 minutes before rinsing.
Bathrooms are another place where germs love to grow - they’re moist, often have less natural light than other rooms, and are frequently warmed by baths and showers. Cleaning your whole bathroom regularly, from the bath itself, to shower heads, towels, and any mats around your sink or toilet, is extremely important. However, one space you might not think to clean is the cup or holder where you keep your toothbrush.
Whenever you put a wet toothbrush back after use, bacteria from your mouth is likely to pool here. If you add to that the faecal matter thrown into the air from your toilet, and general bathroom griminess, it becomes the last place you’d want to keep something you clean your mouth with.
If left unchecked, this can lead to unpleasant problems such as
- Oral Herpes
- Canker Sores/ulcers
- Oral Thrush
If you use an ordinary cup to hold your toothbrush, you can rinse it out and put it on a hot cycle in your dishwasher to clean it.
If you need to clean your holder by hand, you can do this with regular washing up liquid, before disinfecting it with rubbing alcohol and drying your holder thoroughly. If you don’t have rubbing alcohol on hand, you can also use distilled white vinegar or even mouthwash to kill germs.
If you’re cleaning a holder for an electric toothbrush, it's important to thoroughly dry the holder before plugging it back in. This can be done with a hairdryer on a low setting.
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