Home is where the heart is. But it can also be where the germs are, especially when you’re sick. Making your home a healthy haven takes a little bit of elbow grease. It also takes knowing where germs like to hide.

Germs Throughout the Home

The places you touch the most are the first places you should clean and disinfect. These are known as high-touch surfaces and can include:

  • Doorknobs
  • Light switches
  • Everyday appliances (coffee maker, hair dryer, refrigerator, microwave, toaster, etc.)
  • Sinks and faucet handles
  • Countertops
  • Handrails
  • Electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, computer keyboards, laptops, remote controls)
  • Tables and hard-backed chairs

If you’re sick with COVID-19 or another contagious virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you clean and disinfect high-touch items daily.

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Germs in the Kitchen

The bathroom gets a bad rap, but the kitchen is really the germiest place in the home. Raw meat, poultry, eggs, and unwashed produce are main sources of germs — known as foodborne pathogens —in the kitchen.

Foodborne germs include salmonella, listeria, and Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli. If you end up eating food contaminated with any of them, you can get really sick. Foodborne germs are commonly found on countertops and cutting boards. They also can be found:

  • Where you keep flatware
  • On refrigerator door handles, seals, and storage drawers
  • On small appliances, such as blenders toasters, and can openers

Sponges and dish towels are breeding grounds for other types of bacteria, microbes, and mold. Sponges can hold 362 different kinds of bacteria, according to a report by TIME.

How to reduce germs in the kitchen

  • Store raw meats and produce separately
  • Clean refrigerator storage drawers periodically
  • Wash fresh produce only before use. Washing produce before refrigeration leads to early spoilage and does nothing to remove the harmful pathogens in a dirty storage drawer
  • Before and after preparing food, clean and disinfect any flat surfaces, such as countertops and cutting boards
  • Clean dishes in the dishwasher, using the hot or sanitizing cycle
  • Always use a fresh dish towel to dry dishes
  • When hand washing dishes, always use a clean or sanitized sponge (clean and sanitize sponges every few days or replace them weekly)

How to sanitize a kitchen sponge

To sanitize your sponge, follow one of these steps from Good Housekeeping:

  • Soak the sponge for five minutes in a solution of three tablespoons of bleach in one quart of water; wring dry before using
  • Zap a wet sponge in the microwave for two minutes
  • Toss the sponge in the dishwasher on the hot or sanitize cycle

Germs in the Bathroom

Bathrooms also can harbor lots of germs. Norovirus, also known as the stomach flu, is a highly contagious virus that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. It’s spread through fecal contamination.

Each time you flush the toilet with the lid open, bacteria become airborne. They can land on nearby surfaces, including your toothbrush. Bath and hand towels also can hold onto germs.

How to reduce germs in the bathroom

  • Close the toilet lid before you flush.
  • If you have a contagious disease, such as norovirus or COVID-19, use a dedicated bathroom during your illness. If you must share a bathroom, immediately clean and disinfect any areas you touch until you’re clear of the illness.
  • Never share towels. When you dry your face with a towel, you can breathe in hidden germs. It’s a direct route to getting sick.

How to keep your toothbrush clean

To keep your toothbrush clean, the American Dental Association recommends that you:

  • Clean your toothbrush daily with hot water and allow it to air dry.
  • Soak it every so often in an antibacterial mouth rinse.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
  • Replace your toothbrush after a bacterial or viral infection, such as strep throat or the flu.
  • Wash your toothbrush holder, which can also harbor harmful bacteria.

Germs in the Bedroom

Sheets and blankets are the most common place for germs to hide. We sweat in our bedding. And when we’re sick, our bedding can become contaminated with vomit or fecal matter.

How to wash your bedding

  • The CDC recommends washing your bedding on the “hot” or “sanitize” cycle, especially if your bedding is soiled by fecal matter or vomit.
  • For daily laundering, the CDC says hot water washing isn’t necessary; just follow the cleaning label.

Germs in the Family Room

Family rooms see a lot of activity. When we’re sick, many of us like to recover by watching TV or playing video games — so be sure to clean and disinfect high-touch electronics daily.

According to a report in USA Today, your smartphone can have more germs on it — including fecal matter — than your toilet. Because smartphones are used so often, clean and sanitize them twice a day whether you’re sick or healthy.

How to clean electronic devices

  • To clean and disinfect electronic devices like smartphones or laptops, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Smartphones and tablet touchscreens may be damaged by regular spray cleaners. Use cleaners marked specifically for use on these electronic devices.
  • If there’s no cleaning product recommended, the CDC suggests using alcohol wipes containing 70% alcohol. If you don’t have wipes, spray rubbing alcohol that contains 70% alcohol onto a microfiber cloth and gently wipe the phone or tablet.
  • Don’t use bleach, and don’t let any liquid sit on the screen or keyboard. Both can cause damage. Here are some additional tips for cleaning electronic devices.

Cleaning and Disinfecting 101

The biggest cleaning mistake most of us make: We don’t follow label directions. To get rid of germs, follow these four steps:

Step 1: Clean to reduce germs

Physically remove surface grime using a cleaner or soap and water. Left undisturbed, germs create a biofilm, a layer where they grow and multiply. Cleaning regularly helps prevent this from happening.

Step 2: Disinfect to kill germs

Use a disinfectant certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to kill specific pathogens. Be sure to read the instructions carefully. Most disinfectant cleaners only kill germs when they are allowed to stay on a surface for a specific amount of time (usually several minutes, not just a few seconds).

The label will tell you which viruses it kills and how long it takes for the disinfectant to work. By killing surface germs after cleaning, you further reduce the risk of spreading infection.

Step 3: Choose the right cleaning solution

Cleaning products list the viruses and germs that they kill. Most household cleaners and disinfectants aren’t effective against norovirus. To kill these germs as well as coronaviruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Wear disposable gloves.
  • Use a fresh solution of chlorine bleach containing at least 5.25 to 8.25% sodium hypochlorite. For norovirus, mix a fresh solution of 3/4 cup of bleach to one gallon of water at room temperature. For COVID-19, use a fresh bleach solution of 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon (or four teaspoons per quart) and room temperature water.
  • Apply the solution to the surface.
  • Let it stand at least five minutes before wiping with a clean cloth.
  • Rewash the surface with warm soap and water.
  • Dry with a clean cloth.
  • Never mix bleach with other cleaners, which can produce dangerous fumes that can be fatal.

The EPA has an updated list of products for use against COVID-19 here.

Cleaning and Disinfection for Household. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim Recommendations for U.S. Households with Suspected or Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Link.

Brown, Dalvin. Your Smartphone is Seven Times Dirtier Than Your Toilet. Here's How to Clean It. Feb. 26, 2019. USA Today. Link.

Preventing Norovirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

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