It’s the cold and flu season again, and already this has been one of the worst seasons in years. Southeastern North Carolina hasn’t been hit as hard as some other places, like Boston or New York, both of which declared states of emergency, but hospitals in the Wilmington area have put restrictions on non-patient children visiting hospitals to cut the spread. Sick colleagues in our office have reported their “bug” lasting weeks and have even seen it return after they’ve thought themselves on the mend. It’s important to take the necessary steps at home to protect your family, because people can be carriers for at least a day before they show any symptoms. That’s long enough to infect multiple people.
One of the most basic actions you can take is cleaning the surfaces in your home thoroughly and often, but you need to make sure you’re using the correct cleaners. Anything marked as a “sanitizer” must kill 99% of the bacteria specified within 30 seconds. A “disinfectant” will kill all the germs specified within 10 minutes. If you aren’t using your products correctly, you may not be killing all of the germs.
But your house is too big and you’re too busy to clean everyday? Well, there are ten places that have been deemed some of the germiest that you can focus on to cut down your chances of spreading the cold or flu virus.
- Light Switches. It’s a flick of the finger or a twist of a knob that you’ve done so often, you don’t even think about it most of the time. Yet, everyone in your home touches the light switches. So, don’t you think it’s time to wipe them down?
- Kitchen Sponges. Multiple food particles get stuck in your sponges and the moist crevices create a wonderful breeding ground for bacteria. Bathrooms are usually the first to come to mind when you think about bacteria, but kitchens actually harbor more bacteria and that sponge is picking up a good portion of them. So, you can either buy new ones and replace them once a week, or wet them down and nuke them in the microwave or run them through the dishwasher with a load of dishes.
- Faucets. Just like light switches, everyone in the houses touches them multiple times a day and people don’t always remember to wipe them down, because they’re part of the daily cleaning routine. But they collect their own bacteria and viruses.
- Tub/Shower. Some people think that because you use soap to bathe, your shower or tub must be getting cleaned too. Totally not the case. As water splashes and drains, it leaves behind the dirt and bacteria you’re washing from your body; so, it’s important to clean your shower or tub with proper cleaning solutions.
- Kitchen Appliances/Touch Screen Electronics. Microwaves, stoves, touch screen televisions, touch screen family computers, etc. are all used on a daily basis. Kitchen appliances may even be touched after handling raw food. Just makes sure you use cleaners made for the device and never spray a cleaner straight onto an electronic or you could damage it. Spray a cloth and use that to wipe it down.
- Remote Control. A remote control passes between family member hands quite often throughout the week. Think of all the germs that are being passed along with it.
- Mouse and Keyboard. Recent studies have shown your computer mouse could hold 3x more germs than a toilet seat. The keyboard is second to that. Ewwwww.
- Pet Feeding Area/Litter Box. Pets can expel germs through drool and excrements, and track them in from outside. It’s advisable to clean litter boxes daily and eating areas every few days.
- Toothbrush Holder. What you brush from your mouth can stay on your toothbrush and drip down into its holder. Combine that with other toothbrushes and that creates a nice moist petri dish of bacteria. The toothbrush holder should be washed 1-2 times a week. If your holder is dishwasher safe, you can just pop it in with a load of dishes (along with your kitchen sponge).
- Children’s Toys. Young children love to stick things in their mouths, even after they’ve been sitting on the floor (eek! Germs!). Vinegar and warm water or diluted bleach and warm water are safe solutions for many plastic toys (just don’t soak any electronic toys or toys with batteries in water), and many fabric toys can be put in the clothes washer. But make sure you do your research before exposing your child to any chemical that could harm them. Here are some tips from Clorox and How to Clean Stuff.
Of course, the most important actions you can take to protect your family are to wash your hands often and avoid touching your face. Instilling these same practices in them can make for a happy, healthy home. If a family member does catch a cold or the flu, settle them into their own separate room until they get better to help prevent the disease from spreading. For more tips, visit the web site for the Center for Disease Control.