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Keeping Baby Healthy: Household Cleaning and Disinfecting

Getting the germs off surfaces in your home can be an important way of preventing illness. Household cleaning and disinfecting are both options.

Household cleaning with soap and water dislodges the germs from surfaces and washes them away. Disinfecting -- with substances like bleach -- actually kills the germs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, either approach is fine for normal household cleaning. However, if you’re particularly concerned -- or if someone else in the house is sick -- you may want to go with disinfecting, which can be more thorough.

So where should you start your household cleaning and disinfecting? Two areas are crucial -- kitchens and bathrooms.

  • The kitchen. Food-borne illnesses are always a risk, so take special care that surfaces in your kitchen are clean.

    Laura A. Jana, MD, a pediatrician in Omaha, Neb., and coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn, recommends wiping down kitchen surfaces and sinks daily with a disinfectant. “You want to have your counters clean enough that you can put food on them,” she says. Obviously, you should clean or disinfect immediately after you’ve been preparing raw meat, poultry or fish. Cleaning the floor regularly is a good idea too. You never know what might have dripped onto it when you were preparing dinner. Make sure that what you’re using to clean is clean itself. If you’re washing with a dirty sponge or rag, you could just be spreading germs around the kitchen.
  • The bathroom. The bathroom is inevitably one of the most germ-filled spots in the house. So make sure to clean or disinfect the counter, sink, toilet, and floor. Be especially vigilant in your household cleaning if a family member has been sick with vomiting or diarrhea. Some stomach viruses are harder to kill than common cold and flu viruses.

Germ Warfare: How Far Should You Go?

Beyond those basics, what else do you need to do to keep your baby healthy?

For babies, sterilizing bottles and nipples after you buy them -- just by dropping them in boiling water for five minutes -- is a good idea. After that, you can usually just wash them by hand or in the dishwasher.

What about disinfecting things like toys, doorknobs, telephones, and computer keyboards? Is all that necessary to keep your baby healthy?

“I really think wiping off doorknobs and stuff like that is an exercise in futility,” Frenck says. When a child is spreading germs, they get absolutely everywhere. Trying to wipe down every surface in the house will just make you crazy, he says.

As for wiping down toys, Frenck says that doing it in a daycare makes sense, because there are so many different kids using them. But in your own home, with your own kids, it’s not as important. Jana, the mother of three, puts her focus elsewhere. “I don’t clean my kids’ toys,” she says. “I clean their hands.”

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