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Women's Health

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U.S. Homes Losing Battle of the Germs

Study Shows Housecleaning Habits of Americans Leave Something to Be Desired

Housecleaning Has a Long Way to Go continued...

But habits are hard to change, says Boadie Dunlop, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine, and being told to do unaccustomed things can raise anxiety levels.

"Hearing about germs that can't be seen is an abstraction," Dunlop tells WebMD. "If you see a piece of moldy bread on your counter, you are going to be highly motivated to throw it in the garbage. But it's not the same if you didn't wash down your countertops last night. You don't see anything."

A motivating factor behind good hygiene is a feeling of disgust, Dunlop says.

"You see a roach, rotten food, it's quite motivating to do something about it," he says. "It's visceral disgust, whereas things that you can't see, it's hard to get disgusted about. The issue of cleanliness is more one of disgust than anxiety."

It's human nature for people to rationalize why they don't clean, he says, using excuses such as a lack of time, being too tired, or saying it will get done later.

"It's like teeth brushing, flossing; how many people don't do that, though they know they should," Dunlop says. "And exercising. And proper sleep hygiene. We are bombarded with things we are not doing right that we should be doing for our health. We have to make choices."

Jane Allen, 60, of the Atlanta area, tells WebMD her kitchen floor "is probably the dirtiest place in our house because I'm a messy cook, and I hate to mop." But she takes other steps to kill germs.

"We spray the counters with Lysol before we do any prep work there," Allen says.

That's good, but people should do more, says Tierno, "to avoid getting sick."

Recommendations for Better Home Hygiene

What else can people do to keep the germs they don't see at bay? Here are some tips from the experts:

  • Remember, if a cloth is dirty, it won't do any good to use it for cleaning.
  • Faucets should be cleaned more often and only with disposable cloths.
  • If cloths are washed by machine, make sure water temperature is high.
  • Use separate cloths to wash up with and to wipe kitchen surfaces.
  • Use separate cloths for bathroom and kitchen.
  • Use paper towels and anti-bacterial sprays.
  • After preparing raw chicken and meat, thoroughly clean chopping boards, work surfaces, kitchen taps, sinks, and door handles.
  • Wipe up spills on floors.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often.
  • Practice cough and sneeze etiquette. Cough into your elbow, not your hands, and sneeze into a tissue to minimize hand contact with germs.

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