How Can We Get Rid Of Germs In Our Homes?
Patricia Zifferblatt | March 1, 2005

I recently received a call from a teenager who needed some help. She was writing a paper on how germs are transmitted throughout the home and didn’t know where to begin.

This is a timely question since antibacterial products are a $16-billion-a-year industry in the United States, and during the cold and flu season people become more aware of their surroundings. So together, we began searching the Internet and were amazed at how much information is available on keeping a germ-controlled home--but not a germ-free home, which is impossible.

We went over the information we found and discussed the use of disposable tissues instead of handkerchiefs on drippy noses, covering one’s mouth when coughing and sneezing, keeping a clean bathroom, washing hands after using the bathroom, and keeping a clean kitchen. Here are some tips from our research.

Unless you live in a bubble, it’s impossible to keep a germ-free house. However, it’s possible to keep germs at bay. It’s also important to understand that some people’s efforts to protect themselves and their families from germs by using too many antibacterial products may backfire.

A person’s immune system is strengthened by exposure to some germs. Dr. J. Dahlgren, a toxicologist at UCLA, said, “You’re born with no immunities except what your mother gives you, which is why breast-feeding is so important. It isn’t until you’re six months old that your own immune system kicks in to protect you. The basic idea of the Hygiene Hypothesis is that the immune system has to be stimulated to develop properly, so that if a home is too clean, children don’t develop the immunities that will protect them later in life.”

But there’s a big difference between living with some dust and dirt and living in a pigsty with filth all around. Keeping a clean home is different from trying to keep a germ-free home.

Here are some practical things that can be done:
  1. Wash sponges frequently by placing them in the dishwasher to wash and then allowing them to completely dry before using them again. Sponges can hold bad bacteria that can’t be washed away under running water--the sponges must we washed and sanitized, then dried before you use them again.

  2. Wipe up spills and messes with paper towels and then dispose of them, instead of using a wet rag over and over again. A wet rag, just like a sponge, can spread bacteria.

  3. Throw out the garbage frequently, especially if it contains perishable food items. Use the sink garbage disposal for perishable food scraps, rinse out food containers before throwing in the trash, and try to keep a recycle bin for recyclable containers.

  4. Scrub the entire bathroom at least once a week--the shower, the sinks, the floor, and all around the toilet--with a product that can destroy bacteria, mildew, and fungus. Clean the kitchen sinks and counters with a similar product made for kitchens, and be sure to rinse thoroughly after cleaning surfaces that will come in contact with food.

  5. Use disposable tissues on drippy noses, and never use the same tissue on more than one child. This is how many germs are transferred throughout a family--Mom walks around with a tissue, uses it to wipe her nose, then turns around to use it again on whichever child is next to her. Having been a mother and grandmother many times over, I’m sure I’m guilty of this very bad habit, but no more!

  6. When you’re out and about and a sink and water are not available, use disposable hand sanitizers especially after handling money, shaking hands, touching doorknobs, and in public places where people cover their mouths to cough, then touch a handle or other surface. Use these sanitizers especially in crowded public areas, such as subways and train or bus stations. Many people have learned to hang on to their paper towel after washing their hands, then using it to turn off the faucets and open the door as they leave a public bathroom, since not everyone practices good hygiene.

  7. Teach your children to wash their hands with soap often. My 2½-year-old grandsons enjoy washing their hands and have their own stepstools to do the job “like a big boy” all by themselves. Sometimes this activity gets out of control and water is splashed everywhere, but children will be children and that’s a parent’s job--to teach!

  8. Keep toothbrushes apart from one another in the family bathroom. This can help prevent cold germs being passed from one child to another.

  9. The debate has gone on for years over wooden cutting boards vs. plastic ones, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wood vs. plastic isn't the question. "It doesn't matter what your cutting board is made out of, as long as you wash it properly," says Susan Conley of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. "Wash your boards--whatever they're made of--in the dishwasher if you can. Otherwise, clean them with hot, soapy water." Dishwasher-safe wooden boards are available, and the USDA recommends that people use one cutting board for fresh produce and a different one for meat, poultry, and seafood. Be sure to replace cutting boards that have become deeply scored--deep scratches make it easy for germs to hide out and wait for the next food.

  10. Scientists have found that a desk in an office can contain 400 times more bacteria than an average toilet! So wipe down your desk and your telephone, especially if you’re a person who likes to have lunch or a snack at your desk!

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope these suggestions will help if you have any questions about the use of household products and controlling germs in the home. Remember to try to keep a balanced life while keeping a healthier home. And a big thank you to the young lady who asked a question that helped to provide information for this article!
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