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The threat of COVID-19 has created a sudden heightened awareness of our invisible roommates: germs. But it’s worth mentioning that we’ve always lived alongside potentially harmful microorganisms.
Take this study, in which half of the 100 homes assessed tested positive for a foodborne pathogen. According to the FDA, 1 in 6 people in the United States get sick from food contamination each year.
As Brian Sansoni, the vice president of the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) puts it, just because something looks clean doesn’t mean it really is.
“Regular disinfecting can do a good job of removing allergens and germs, helping to prevent illnesses and promote wellness,” he says. “While you can’t control every germ in your environment, it makes good sense to defend against the germs that can make you sick.”
With that in mind, we put together this guide to the best ways to keep your living spaces sparkling and safe.
Here’s the too long, didn’t read version for all you busy bees out there.
|Every time you come home||Daily||Weekly||Biweekly||Monthly|
|Disinfect your phone||Doorknobs, light switches, faucets||Sinks||Toilet||Shower and tub|
|Wash your hands||Phones, keyboards, remotes, electronics||Bathroom mirrors||Microwave||Windows|
|Kitchen counters, dining room tables||Waste bins (trash, recycling, and compost)||Floors (mop)|
|Floors (sweep)||Rugs and carpets|
Buy EPA-registered cleaning products
When shopping for cleaning products, look for an EPA registration number on the label. This guarantees the active ingredients in the product are strong enough to kill dangerous germs, including COVID-19.
For disinfecting specifically, we included EPA-registered products throughout the article. But you can find the official list here.
Think back to everything you’ve touched today: the light switch, the doorknob, your phone, the doorknob again. These are what cleaning pros call “high traffic” areas, and they’re breeding grounds for bacteria.
Sanitize high traffic areas
Why: Frequently touched items, like our phones, are great places for the virus to hang out. Luckily, simply wiping down your phone with an antibacterial wipe has been shown to kill the majority of bacteria.
How: Every night before heading to bed, use a disinfectant to wipe down doorknobs, light switches, faucets, remotes, keyboards, and anything else that gets pawed regularly.
Since you touch your phone so often, we recommend disinfecting it every time you come home and after washing your hands.
Also, per the CDC, you should always wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds when you reenter your home. If singing the happy birthday song to yourself 25 times a day sounds maddening, try using the chorus of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” instead.
Wipe down counters and tables
Why: Between the grocery bags, the packages, and your BFF’s backside, your kitchen counter gets a lot of germ traffic. Since this is ground zero for food preparation, it’s extra-important to sanitize these surfaces daily.
How: Use an antibacterial disinfectant to wipe down countertops at the end of every day. The ACI also warns against cutting raw poultry, fish, beef, or pork directly on countertops and suggests using a cutting board instead. And if something spills, clean it up quickly rather than letting it seep in.
Sweep up post-cooking floor debris
Why: A 2013 study found that floors were the most bacteria-rich areas of a house. And even though you’re not eating dinner off the floor, bacteria moves pretty easily from one surface to the next.
How: Especially if you do a lot of cooking, make sure to clean up the floor after dinner. Sansoni recommends using a broom or an electrostatic dry mop to sweep up loose dirt, food, and other debris that falls to the floor.
Recommended cleaning product
- The O-Cedar Microfiber Flip Mop has a pad that’s machine washable and will last for up to 100 washes. Get it via Amazon.
Do the dishes
Why: Aside from the fact that a sink full of dirty dishes is an eyesore, the longer the dishes hang out in the water, the more likely bacteria, mold, and other germs are to form, according to the ACI.
How: Check out the ACI’s specific regimen for doing dishes. And keep these tips in mind:
- Sanitize sponges daily, either by microwaving them or by running them through the dishwasher. (And if you want to really be safe, avoid using a sponge altogether.)
- When dishes have touched raw meat, sanitize them by adding about 1 tablespoon of bleach to cool dishwater or letting them soak in hot water (170 degrees or higher) for at least 30 seconds.
- If you have a dishwasher, leave enough space for the water to flow freely. Place the bowls toward the back of the top rack (so you can’t see the inside from below).
Here’s an idea: Replace those Sunday Scaries with a Sunday Sanitizing mantra. Believe it or not, a tidy home is associated with a more positive outlook on life, and research has shown that clutter makes it harder to focus.
Clear off sink crud
Why: Like any other surface that’s often wet, sinks can grow mold when they aren’t given enough scrubbing action. And if they get clogged, expect a hefty plumbing bill.
How: Baking soda is your bestie when it comes to keeping sinks fresh. In addition to killing bacteria, it’ll leave your dull stainless steel sinks brighter.
- Sprinkle a little baking soda onto a damp soft cloth and buff out the stainless steel.
- Rinse well, so you don’t leave behind any streaks.
- If you have a white sink, clean with a mixture of 1/4 cup of warm water, 3 tablespoons of baking soda, and 1 tablespoon of dish soap.
Mind the bathroom mirrors
Why: There’s more on that mirror than your beautiful mug — think toothpaste spatter and soap residue. Sansoni says many people forget about this surface.
How: If you see something, clean something. In other words, wipe away anything you see with a disinfecting cloth.
For caked-on gunk:
- Apply rubbing alcohol with a cloth to remove gunk.
- Mix 1 cup of distilled vinegar and 1 cup of water and spray on the mirror.
- Use a microfiber cloth to finish the job.
Wipe down the waste bins, inside and out
Why: Your waste bins are pretty much in contact with endless germs that only multiply over time. The more frequently you clean them, the less gunk will have a chance to build up.
How: Once you’ve removed the bag, combine 1 cup of distilled vinegar and 1 cup of water and wipe down the inside and outside of the can thoroughly with this solution. If odors linger, use a disinfectant spray for extra precaution. You may want to wear cleaning gloves for this, especially if bits have stuck to the bin.
These areas of your house do attract germs, but they take a bit longer to build up. That’s why experts recommend washing and sanitizing ’em every 2 weeks. If you can swing it, it might be worth hiring a professional so you don’t have to dig into the grime yourself.
Keep that toilet gleaming
Why: Unsurprisingly, any area that comes into contact with poop is bound to be germ-alicious. And if you let toilet buildup go too far, you’ll end up with mineral deposits that cause discoloration to the porcelain and become very tough to scrub off.
How: The ACI recommends using a long-handled toilet brush and toilet bowl cleaner to sanitize the rim holes as far into the trap as possible. You can also get an in-tank continuous cleaner that’ll help maintain freshness.
ACI and Sansoni stress that all areas of the toilet need our attention — from the tank to the seat to the base. They recommend using a nonabrasive all-purpose disinfectant cleaner on the seat and bowl to avoid scratches.
They also advise reading the product label, since some cleaners need to sit for 15 to 30 minutes to ward off the grime before being flushed.
Stay ahead of the microwave grime
Why: This hot kitchen appliance collects germs both inside (from food that has bubbled over) and outside (from our dirty fingers).
How: The ACI says to clean away any microwave spills ASAP so they don’t get baked on. Typically, this is super easy, since a warm substance will wipe right off.
For a biweekly deep clean, heat a bowl of lemon juice in the microwave. The steam will loosen stuck-on food remnants and help with odors. Then, use a disinfectant wipe to clean the outside and inside.
Mop the floors
Why: “Our shoes obviously track in annoying dirt from outside that can be visible on our floors and stain carpet, but they also bring in all kinds of germs from everywhere we’ve been,” explains Jenna Buckley, professional organizer and owner of Realistic Cleaning.
How: First things first — Buckley suggests implementing a “no shoes in the house” rule to minimize tracking. And although you should sweep up messes and dirt daily, it’s important to pull out your trusty mop biweekly. Use a cleaner and ensure that every inch is scrubbed. Then, let dry.
Toss hand towels into the wash
Why: Although it’s environmentally friendly to swap disposable paper towels for fabric ones, these frequently used household staples can hold bacteria and odors if they aren’t washed often enough.
How: Start by soaking the hand towels — both bathroom and kitchen — in warm water with vinegar for 15 minutes. Then add them to your washing machine on a warm water cycle. Transfer to the dryer as soon as possible to prevent bacteria from growing.
Vacuum rugs and carpets
Why: Dust and debris on rugs and carpets is unsightly, and it’s been linked to asthma, mild cognition issues, and other physical irritations. For those of us who suffer from allergies or asthma, it’s even more important to ensure these plush surfaces are cleaned.
How: Use a vacuum cleaner of your choice, and run it over any area in your home that has carpets or rugs. If you have expensive rugs that need to be professionally cleaned, Buckley suggests doing this every 3 to 6 months, depending on use.
Recommended cleaning product
- The Eureka PowerSpeed Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner has 1,700+ 5-star reviews. Get it via Amazon.
Part of keeping a house clean (and *ahem* #adulting) is going through a deep-cleaning process monthly.
These are the tasks and chores that are easy to put off and put off. But keeping to a monthly cleaning schedule doesn’t just protect against infection, it also makes your living environment that much more cozy and nurturing.
Scrub the shower and tub
Why: The places where we wash away the day need TLC every month to rid them of any bacteria. Buckley says that if someone in your home is sick, it’s worth cleaning these areas more often, just to play it safe.
How: When you’re living with a coughing and sneezing person, keep disinfecting wipes nearby for a quick rubdown after every shower. Otherwise, Buckley suggests using a shower cleaner to scrub each surface thoroughly.
Make sure to read the back label since some formulas need to sit for a certain amount of time to get through the grime effectively.
Clean smudges off windows
Why: Though your windows don’t carry too much risk from a germ perspective, keeping them free of smudges can make your whole house feel more tidy. Buckley says this can be done monthly if you’d like, or even seasonally.
How: Use a window cleaner and wipe every area, including the windowsill. You can also use a disinfectant wipe on the ledge.
If you haven’t experienced the pure adulting joy that is stocking up on cleaning products, we recommend you give it a shot.
Remember to always read the label of a cleaning product to find out how long it needs to sit to be most effective.
These products are registered by the EPA as effective disinfectant agents:
Lindsay Tigar is a lifestyle and travel journalist whose work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, National Geographic, CNN, Real Simple, and countless others. You can find a full collection at lindsaytigar.com.