You can’t see them, but your home is teeming with microscopic germs that can spread illness among your family and guests.
“Even the cleanest house will have bacteria and viruses,” says Ernesto Abel-Santos, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Most of them are actually beneficial to us.”
People need to watch out for the ones that are harmful, however.
The preparation of raw food makes the kitchen a breeding ground for microbes – the scientific term for viruses and bacteria. The bathroom and laundry room also are hot spots, says Lori Delorme Banks, an assistant professor of biology at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Why? Germs like warm, moist environments. Water and the absence of sunlight help bacteria grow.
Touching germ-covered surfaces is the main way colds, stomach flu and food-borne illnesses spread. People with diseases that weaken the immune system, like diabetics, may be at higher risk of contracting these illnesses.
The flu virus, for example, can live up to 48 hours on hard surfaces, according to the Hygiene Council, an international group of infectious disease experts. Hardier bacteria can even last up to a week.
Although the COVID-19 virus can live for days on some surfaces, research has found that’s not typically how it is transmitted. The virus mainly spreads by air – droplets of saliva from person to person as they sneeze, cough or speak.
“Maintaining clean surfaces at home is important because it’s the first line of protecting your family,” Banks says. Soap with hot water is OK to clean many surfaces, but she recommends using an alcohol-based cleaner (70 percent of higher) or a diluted-bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water) daily or a couple of times a week. You also can buy disinfecting wipes made with bleach.
Here are 12 of the germiest household areas and how to clean them.
The germiest household surfaces are those touched daily by many people, such as faucets, light switches and remotes. You also can add phones, computer keyboards, microwave pads and game consoles to this list. Clean them with disinfectant wipes with an alcohol base that evaporates instead of a spray.
This is one of the worst germ culprits because the holes in a sponge let bacteria flourish and form blobs that are difficult to remove, Banks says. She suggests soaking a sponge in a diluted bleach solution, running it in the dishwasher (on a high-heat cycle) or placing it in a bowl of water with soap in the microwave.
Raw meat and vegetables can carry E. coli and salmonella. Abel-Santos suggests using separate cutting boards – one for meat and one for everything else. Scrub cutting boards after each use with soap and hot water. Consider using diluted bleach on wooden boards and putting plastic ones in the dishwasher.
Ridges in and around the sink can harbor bacteria. Scrub around the drain with a brush and a diluted-bleach solution. Pay close attention to areas where the lip of the sink meets the counter.
Clean the inside regularly, especially the vegetable drawers because they hold raw produce, Abel-Santos advises. Spills drip downward, so clean drips and accumulated substances inside and outside the bottom of your fridge.
Clean and disinfect any surface where food is prepared – before and afterward – to remove food-borne bacteria that can cause illnesses. The same goes for bathroom counters that may pick up sprayed germs as you floss or rinse your toothbrush.
A study by Rita B. Moyes, a microbiologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, found that jetted tubs are full of bacteria that can cause upper respiratory infections. “The piping system retains gunk and moisture to keep things alive in there, creating a biofilm – a sticky mass of bacteria like what you get on your teeth overnight,” she says. “The problem is these microscopic bacteria become an aerosol when you run water through the jets that can get into your lungs.”