Tips for a clean and sanitized home
Germs are all around us, all the time. You will likely never be able to live 100% “germ-free.” However, we’re taking you room-by-room to help identify your home’s most germy hot spots and offer tips to keep your home as clean and sanitized as possible.
While the current COVID-19 pandemic has all of us practicing social distancing and most of us sheltering in place in our homes, according to Kelly A. Reynolds, PhD, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, in general, “you are more likely to get sick from a germ in your own house than from any other source.” (NOTE: this comment is not necessarily referencing COVID-19 specifically. Current U.S. guidelines are meant to help protect Americans during the global Coronavirus outbreak.)
As home inspectors, we are often privy to some of the more unseemly (and sometimes downright disgusting) areas of a home. We’re not just talking about disorganization. Yes, clutter has its own disadvantages, but even the most tidy homes can harbor unwanted germs. Here are a few simple strategies to keep your home as germ-free as possible.
There are so many places for germs to hang out in the kitchen – counter tops, faucets, cutting boards, and especially the kitchen sink (did you know the drain in your sink is typically home to more than 500,000 bacteria per square inch?)
- Counter tops and sink – They’re central collection hubs for all sorts of food crumbs and meat juices. Make sure you are thoroughly wiping down and disinfecting your counter tops and sink (including the drain and faucets) after handling food and/or cooking. Water will help wash germs away, however you should use a cleanser WITH bleach to kill the germs. Also, disinfect your sink and drain twice a week with a solution of one tablespoon of bleach and one quart of water (scrub the sink basin and then pour the remaining solution down the drain.)
- Sponges, brushes, and rags – This is a MUST. Don’t overlook cleaning and sanitizing your kitchen sponge. Sponges might be home to all sorts of nasty bacteria, including campylobacter, salmonella, staphylococcus, E. coli, and listeria. Just rinsing your sponge with soap is not sufficient to rid it of germs. Sanitize your sponge or brush by running it through the dishwasher (and dishrags through the washing machine) after use. Microbiologist and pathologist Philip Tierno of the New York University School of Medicine disinfects his sponge after every use with a simple homemade solution made of one part bleach and nine parts water. You should replace your kitchen sponge entirely every couple of weeks.
- Cutting boards – Pathogens that can hide in foods like leafy greens, potatoes and berries are thought to be responsible for more than 20,000 illnesses since 1990 according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Washing your food before eating helps to remove some of the germs, and cooking meat appropriately will kill dangerous bacteria like salmonella. However, almost 25% of food sickness outbreaks are the result of kitchen mistakes, such as using contaminated cutting boards. There are differences of opinion when it comes to what material is safest when it comes to cutting boards. Some are insistent that glass or plastic wins on keeping germs to a minimum while others argue that a well-constructed wooden board has advantages. The two things that most professionals DO agree on when it comes to cutting boards is 1) have one board that you use strictly for meat and a second board that you use for veggies, and 2) properly clean and sanitize your boards after use. Wooden boards should be made of hard, closely-grained woods, such as maple, and plastic boards should definitely be washed in the dishwasher after use.
Does it really need to be said that the bathroom is party-central for germs? Yes, when you take a bath or shower, or brush your teeth, you are removing germs and viruses from your body. Good news, right? The bad news…while some of that stuff slides down the drain into oblivion, some of it can stick around and thrive on moist surfaces.
- Bath/Shower – Elizabeth Scott, PhD, co-director for the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons College in Boston, found staphylococcus bacteria (a common cause of serious skin infections) in 26% of tubs she tested, compared with just 6% of garbage cans. What to do? Use a disinfecting cleanser once a week on the bathroom floor and sides of the tub and shower; rinse well and dry the surfaces with a towel. Keep the shower dry on a daily basis by using a squeegee, and disinfect the squeegee weekly, too.
- Floor and bath mats – The bathroom floor is even more germ-ridden than your toilet seat. Why? Ever heard the phrase “toilet plume”? It’s a little burst of aerosolized toilet water that sprays into the air when you flush a toilet. And get this…sometimes it can reach as high as 15 feet. If your floor stays wet after a shower or water is dribbled from the sink, this moisture can help germs grow. Be sure to close the lid of the toilet before you flush. Also, mop your bathroom floor once a week with a bleach-based cleanser. Clean and dry mats used on your bathroom floor (damp ones help mold and bacteria grow.) Hang mats up so they are more likely to dry out between uses, wash them in very hot water weekly, and make sure they’re dry before using them again.
- Toothbrush – First of all, the human mouth contains about 100 million microbes per milliliter of saliva. Those microbes eat the same food you do. When you brush your teeth, food particles and bacteria stick to your toothbrush. Left alone, you’re looking at an overgrowth of germs on your brush. And second, we just talked about toilet plume, so you know how far that spray can travel when you flush. How far away is your toothbrush from your toilet? For both of these reasons, after brushing, you should rinse your toothbrush with hot water and stand it up to dry. Phillip Tierno, microbiologist and pathologist with the New York School of Medicine, keeps his toothbrush tucked away in a medicine cabinet where it’s “exposed to the air but not exposed to toilet debris.” The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends replacing your toothbrush entirely every three months.
- Towels – The moment you dry yourself with your bath towel, it turns into a breeding ground of bacteria; fungi; dead skin cells; salivary, anal, and urinary secretions; and many other germs lingering in your bathroom that may have hopped onto your towel — including droplets from your toilet. Many of these microbes aren’t likely to harm you, but they’re there, and they’re multiplying quickly — especially when your towel is damp. For this reason, it is good practice to wash your towel after every three uses while making sure that it completely air dries after each use.
3. Bedroom and Laundry
The average person spends about one-third of their time each day in the bedroom. Therefore, it shouldn’t come surprise that germs might also take up residence in the bedroom – think dead skin cells and that sweaty gym shirt you threw on the floor. And speaking of laundry… Did you know that every pair of dirty underwear contains about a tenth of a gram of feces? A single soiled undergarment can spread those bacteria to the entire load of clothing.
- Bedding – To eliminate dead skin cells (and the dust mites who feed on them), wash bedding in hot water at least weekly. According the WHO, temperatures of 140°F to 150°F are enough to kill most viruses. You can kill those pesky dust mites at a wash temperature of 140°F, however most harmful microorganisms are actually killed in the dryer on high heat as opposed to the washing machine.
Laundry – Don’t let damp clothing sit in a hamper longer than 24 hours, and after you wash a load of clothing, transfer the wet laundry to the dryer quickly so germs don’t multiply. Dry laundry for at least 45 minutes (or until the load is fully dry.) Wash your hands after doing laundry. To eliminate any lingering germs, run a cycle of bleach and water through the washing machine after a load of undergarments.
4. Living Areas
In a research study for the Hygiene Council, researchers swabbed for bacteria in 32 locations across 35 U.S. homes and then ranked results from 1-30 by bacteria per square inch. Children’s toys came in at #16, the bathroom light switch was #20, doorknobs ranked #26 and the TV remote was #28 (see the full ranking on WebMD here.) So what to do with all of this bacterial buildup?
Children’s toys – It’s not realistic or necessary to clean your child’s toys every time they’re played with. However, playthings should be washed when they’re dirty. You also should clean toys that babies or toddlers put in their mouths, and clean and sanitize toys after your child has been sick. Otherwise, pick and stick to a regular toy-cleaning schedule. Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center says once a month should be often enough.
Light switches and doorknobs – Experts say that cleaning of surfaces such as doorknobs and light switches should be done at least two times in a week. The Cleaning Institute instructs, “In order to clean up these surfaces, you can use a spray disinfectant on hard to reach areas, or disinfecting wipes. However, make sure that the area remains wet/untouched for at least ten minutes.”
- TV remote – Good Housekeeping editor, Meaghan Murphy, says you should be cleaning your remote monthly or after a family member is sick to avoid the spread of germs. After removing the batteries from the back of the remote, dip a cotton cloth into rubbing alcohol and wipe down the entire surface of the controller. Follow up with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab to carefully clean around the buttons. If you notice grime inside the buttons, use a toothpick to remove it. Dry the remote with a lint-free cloth. Finally, reinstall the batteries and store the remote in a box to avoid excess exposure to germs.
5. Home Office and Cell Phone
Computer keyboards, phones, and tablets are often shared by multiple family members and guests. Desktops have about 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. In 22 households, the NSF found yeast and mold on the computer keyboard and video game controller as well as staph on the last item. According to a Deloitte survey, the average American looks at their phone 52 times a day…with hands that are dirty.
- Desktop – Disinfect your desktop at least weekly with an antibacterial wipe. Studies show that regularly disinfecting surfaces and often-touched objects significantly reduces the number of germs that could potentially make you ill. Clean your keyboard and mouse regularly, especially if you do tend to snack as you work. A compressed air spray will help dislodge crumbs, fluff and dust from between the keys of your keyboard. Follow up by wiping the keys with an alcohol wipe. Then wipe down the mouse as well.
- Cell Phone – Wipe your phone with a microfiber cloth at least every few days to limit exposure to bacteria and viruses. For a deeper clean, Susan Whittier, director of clinical microbiology at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center recommends using a combination of 60% water and 40% rubbing alcohol. Mix the ingredients together, and then dip a cloth in the solution before wiping it gently across your phone. Unless you’re sick, doing this a few times each month is plenty. Apple says you may use a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes to gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your iPhone and recommends these step-by-step instructions to clean while protecting your phone.
6. Floors and Dusty Areas
Whatever sticks to your shoes comes into your home. Hardwood floors are less germ-laden than carpeting, but they can still harbor germs and other grimy goodness. In addition, there are more germs on the floor of your bathroom than there are on the toilet seat (remember toilet plume?) And let’s consider the general “dusty spots” around your home. While dust itself isn’t filled with germs (not enough moisture), dust can cover germy surfaces that should be disinfected regularly.
- Hard flooring – Sweep or vacuum hard floors several times a week. Wet-mop floors at least once a week to reduce dust build up. Sanitize once a month with a steam cleaner.
- Carpet – Vacuum carpets at least weekly, and Puls recommends vacuuming every day. Steam clean your carpets every 4-6 months.
- Area rugs – Area rugs vary in their care instructions, so check yours for its ideal cleaning schedule. According to this HuffPost article, you should “vacuum rugs with the same frequency as carpets, then deep-clean them every six months with a good old-fashioned broom-beating. Take rugs outside, shake them out, beat them with an actual broom, and let them air outside for a day. Many area rugs can also be steam cleaned — if yours allows, you might steam it once per year.”
- Entry area – An easy way to limit dust and germs from entering your house is to remove your shoes at the door. Wipe your feet on a high-quality, abrasive doormat, and then make sure you are cleaning the mat at least once a week as well.
7. Air filters
When was the last time you changed out the air filter in your home? Are you thinking, “Wait. What air filter?” Don’t worry! You’re not alone. Clean air filters save energy and money. Routinely changing or cleaning the filters from your home’s heating and air conditioning system helps the units run more efficiently and enjoy a longer lifespan. In addition, Heather Kolich writes in an article for How Stuff Works, “Filters help to keep dust from building up in your ducts, or being blown into other rooms of your house. In recent years, this air cleaning function has become more important to homeowners, and manufacturers have designed filters that use your heating and air system to remove microscopic particles like dust, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, plant and mold spores, and even smoke from the air in your home.”
- Air filters – How often you change out your home air filters depend on a number of factors, including:
- Type of filter
- Overall indoor air quality
- Number of pets in the home
- Number of people in the home
- Amount of exterior air pollution and/or construction around the home
Here are some very generic averages that might help you know how often you should change the air filter at home (assuming a basic fiberglass or pleated filter):
- Vacation home (i.e. home not used regularly) and no pets or allergies: every 6-12 months
- “Average” suburban home without pets: every 90 days
- Add a dog or cat: every 60 days
- For a home within the city or near a construction zone: 45-60 days
- Add more than one pet or anyone that has allergies: 20-45 days
8. Wash Your Hands
One of the most important and overlooked things you can do to protect yourself from germs and bacteria is to adopt a frequent hand-washing practice. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought the correct hand-washing hygiene method to the forefront, but let’s revisit it again here.
Washing hands – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a four-step process:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water. To save water, turn off the tap while applying soap.
- For at least 20 seconds, scrub your hands. That’s about the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Rinse your hands well.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel.
Practicing good habits can give you an edge to keep your home clean and sanitized.
Keeping a home clean and sanitized shouldn’t have to take up all your time. The practice of cleaning these areas is less about the time involved and more about creating some good habits that you will eventually start to follow instinctively. The more you do them, the easier it gets!
Schedule your Annual Home Maintenance Inspection.
Even the most vigilant homeowner can, from time to time, miss small problems or forget about performing some routine home repairs and seasonal maintenance. That’s why an Annual Home Maintenance Inspection will keep you aware of your home’s condition and help you prevent it from suffering serious, long-term, and expensive damage from minor issues that should be addressed now.
Just as you regularly maintain your vehicle, consider getting an Annual Home Maintenance Inspection as part of the cost of upkeep for your most valuable investment…your home.
Your future deserves the attention of a professional. If you have questions or would like more information on a Home Maintenance Inspection, please contact Micah Stephens with SafeShield Inspections, LLC at (832) 953-6992 or email Micah@SafeShieldInspections.com. CLICK HERE for a free quote.