Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hidden Germs: How to Find and Eliminate Them

I clean homes for a living. I visit client's homes once a week/month or bi-weekly and dust, vacuum, mop, and generally scrub what needs my attention. I can make a lot of progress in the three or four hours I am in a home, but even the best and most experienced housekeeper cannot eliminate the germs lurking in homes.

We know about the obvious ones and we're super careful to wash our hands before and after eating, after using the restroom, after blowing our noses, before preparing food and after handling uncooked meat. These are all good and necessary to maintain healthy homes and bodies, but there is much more to the story...

Sponges. I hate sponges. Whew! There, I've said it. It has been a very long time since I have allowed a sponge into my home because, I have to tell you, the things just gross me out! Have you ever picked up a sponge that has been sitting so tidily in its designated spot near/under/in your sink and taken a big whiff? It stinks because it's full of nasty bacteria that could be making you sick! I know, I know, we've all heard that you can throw it in the dishwasher and run it through a cycle or zap it in the microwave for a few seconds. Wouldn't you feel much safer knowing that the dishrag you used and threw in the laundry at the end of the day will be clean and ready when it is all washed and folded in your kitchen towel drawer? I use my dishrags for one day and one day only. After the supper dishes are done, it goes into the laundry. Additionally, I do not use the same cloth for washing dishes and wiping counters. I have a separate cloth that wipes countertops and stovetops.

Cutting Boards. My husband recently became cross with me when emptying the dishwasher and pulling out three cuttingboards. I told him to look closely at each one. He found each board labeled with one of three labels: meats, dairy, fruits/veggies. I also have a bamboo board for cutting bread. Pay attention, friends, as this is very important: you MUST keep separate cuttingboards for each of those categories. If you are using one board for all of your cutting, you are contaminating your family! Make sure that you are running them through the dishwasher after each use to properly sanitize them. Wood boards need to be treated differently as they will not survive a trip through the dishwasher, but it is important that they be properly cleaned. A lemon cut in half and dipped in sea salt, then rubbed all over the surface of your board will get into all the little nooks and crannies to remove anything lurking behind. Rinse with warm water, pat dry with a CLEAN towel, and let air dry. When it is completely dry, treat it with your wood cutting board oil or wipe it down with a little boiled linseed oil--but be sure to rinse it before using it again coconut oil.

Toothbrushes. Let's move out of the kitchen for a moment. It has become a family joke that when other children are receiving candy, toys, and games in their stockings/Easter baskets/bookbags, our children receive toothbrushes. I use Christmas, Easter, and the beginning of a new school year to remind me to replace our toothbrushes, which works out to be about every three to four months. If you are replacing yours every three to four months, then kuddos! Did you know, however, that toothbrush maintenance should not stop there? Toothbrushes are a breeding ground for all sorts of nasties, but you can keep them safe by remembering a few things. First, after you brush your teeth, rinse very well with hot water, tap it against the side of the sink and store upright so that it can air dry. Secondly, about once every week to two weeks, soak in a solution of 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide and one cup of hot water (not boiling water because--and trust me on this--your toothbrush will melt). Thirdly--and I cannot stress this one enough--CLOSE THE LID BEFORE YOU FLUSH! I first heard it on "How Clean Is Your House" and later heard Dr. Oz repeat it: bacteria is sprayed in a fine, undetectable mist with every flush of the toilet. If you are leaving your toothbrush exposed, you are contaminating it with e.coli, staph, and strepto-strepto- OK, I can't spell it, but you know what I'm talking about, it's that virus that creates strep-throat.

Dustmites. These creepy little bugs love to hang out where they can get a smorgasbord of dead skin cells to munch on. The best way to combat them is to wash your sheets weekly in hot water. I also wash our mattress pads--which you should never make a bed without--in hot water about once a month. While the mattress pads are being laundered, I mist our mattresses with a solution of rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil, and lavender oil then vacuum the mattresses to help rid them of the extra dead skin, dust, and dustmites that might be hiding in them.

Trashcans. NEVER toss trash into a can without a liner. ALWAYS spritz the can with a disinfecting spray with each liner change. Kitchen cans may need a little more attention. About once a month I pour a cup of white vinegar and about a quarter cup of baking soda into my can and let it soak while I mop the floor, then I scrub it with a long-handled scrubber, rinse it really well, and leave it in the sun to dry.

Don't forget to wipe doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, computer keypads and mouses (I just can't call electronic devices "mice"), chairs, and handrails regularly with disinfecting spray. Change hand towels in kithens and baths every two to three days--more often during cold and flu season or if used more frequently. Bathrooms need to be cleaned at least once a week and NEVER leave dishes sitting in water--wash them or put them in the dishwasher right away.

Best wishes for healthy living!


  1. I was at a friend's house and helping her daughter cut veggies. I asked her if she had a seperate one for the chicken and she said she uses the same one because when it was washed the germs were cleaned off. Come to find out, she does not run it through the dishwasher each time. She got a long lecture on that one.

  2. Missy, I have always loved the fact that you are not afraid to speak your mind. We are much alike in that aspect. You are so right, though. You cannot put your hands into water hot enough to properly sanitize your cutting boards. Your dishwasher is the best bet for this because the water gets super hot. And if you are using my recipe for dishwasher detergent, you are getting a really good scrubbing.

  3. Great tips! Thanks for sharing w/ Healthy 2Day Wednesday! Hope to see you back next week!