Germs, bacteria and viruses are everywhere. Most are harmless, some cause runny noses, and 1 to 2 percent could lead to life-threatening infections. Our advice? Worry less, learn more. Once you know the 10 most common places germs linger in your home, you can take simple steps to eliminate them.
1. Sponges and rags. When you wipe down a dish or counter, you’re simply transferring bacteria from one place to another. Wash sponges and rags with soap and hot water between uses or replace these items often; wash your hands after touching sponges. Zapping a wet sponge in the microwave for four minutes will kill most disease-causing germs. The sponge will be hot, so be careful when removing it from the microwave.
2. Cutting boards. Use caution if you cut different types of food on the same board–salmonella, staph and E. coli are commonly transmitted this way. Don’t chop vegetables or other ready-to-eat foods on a cutting board used to trim meat, poultry or fish. Wash boards thoroughly after each use. A good scrubbing with dish detergent and hot water will do the trick; you also can wipe the boards clean with undiluted white vinegar. Replace boards that become deeply scratched.
3. Kitchen surfaces. Just because the countertop looks clean doesn’t mean it is. Viruses and bacteria are invisible to the human eye. Spray down countertops with a solution of equal parts warm water and white vinegar and wipe dry using a soft cloth. Thoroughly clean the faucet, sink and knobs, too.
4. Doorknobs. When you touch a doorknob, you touch the hand of everyone who was there before you. Wash your hands after touching a public doorknob, and regularly clean your own doorknobs with a nontoxic all-purpose cleaner (store-bought or homemade) diluted in hot water.
5. Toothbrushes. Brushing transfers plaque, bacteria and more to your toothbrush. After each use, rinse the toothbrush with tap water and shake several times. Store upright to allow the toothbrush to air dry. Replace it every three months.
6. Shared phones. Many cleaners are safe to use on electronic devices. Unplug or turn off the phone, then spray a cloth with all-purpose cleaner and wipe down the phone. Thoroughly clean the mouthpiece, the germiest part. Use a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol to clean the number buttons and the spaces between them.
7. Washers and dryers. Because clothes are often laundered in cold or warm water and without bleach, germs can multiply in the washer. These germs are also transferred when clothes are moved into the dryer. To thoroughly clean the washer, start a warm wash cycle (with no clothes) and add 5 cups of white vinegar. Run the cycle as normal. Repeat every six months.
8. The remote. Often used but rarely cleaned, this object can be full of germs, especially if you have kids. Dilute all-purpose cleaner or white vinegar in warm water, then wet a soft cloth with the solution. Wipe the remote, then dry with another soft cloth.
9. Shower curtains. Bacteria and germs breed on vinyl, cloth and other curtains, and the constant influx of hot water doesn’t help. Spray down vinyl curtains regularly with a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water; wash cloth curtains according to label instructions at least once a month.
10. The vacuum. Vacuum brushes, bags and filters make great hiding places for germs like E. coli. Because food is sucked into the vacuum, bacteria can survive for a long time inside. Change the bags often, and remove the brushes and filters for a quick cleaning monthly. Clean the cavity of a bagless vacuum with all-purpose cleaner and let it air dry.