They say that home is where the heart is. But what you may not know is that it's also where 65% of colds and more than half of food-borne illnesses are contracted. The things we do around the house every day have a big impact on both our long- and short-term health. Here are six common household activities that may be making you sick.
1. Using a Sponge
The dirtiest room in everybody's home is the kitchen, says Phillip Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at the New York University Langone Medical Center and author of The Secret Life of Germs. "That's because we deal with dead animal carcasses on our countertops and in the sink." Raw meat can carry E. coli and salmonella, among other viruses and bacteria.
Most people clean their countertops and table after a meal with the one tool found in almost all kitchens: the sponge. In addition to sopping up liquids and other messes, the kitchen sponge commonly carries E. coli and fecal bacteria, as well as many other microbes. "It's the single dirtiest thing in your kitchen, along with a dishrag," says Tierno.
Ironically, the more you attempt to clean your countertops with a sponge, the more germs you're spreading around. "People leave [the sponge] growing and it becomes teeming with [millions of] bacteria, and that can make you sick and become a reservoir of other organisms that you cross-contaminate your countertops with, your refrigerator, and other appliances in the kitchen," Tierno explains.
Solution: Tierno suggests dipping sponges into a solution of bleach and water before wiping down surfaces. "That is the best and cheapest germicide money can buy -- less than a penny to make the solution -- so that you can clean your countertops, cutting boards, dishrags, or sponges after each meal preparation."
In addition, once you've used your sponge, be sure to let it air-dry. Dryness kills off organisms. Another way to keep bacteria from building up in your sponge is to microwave it for one to two minutes each week. "Put a little water in a dish and put the sponge in that," Tierno advises. "That will boil and distribute the heat evenly [throughout the sponge] and kill the bacteria."