The classic “white glove test” to detect dust doesn’t have such a high profile these days. (Who routinely wears gloves anymore, anyway?) You can’t see the germs, viruses, and other microorganisms that can cause disease. But it isn’t necessary to disinfect your entire home for it to be a healthy place to live. The right question might be, how clean should it be?
The key is to consider your household members and needs. If you have a sick person in your home, very young children, or someone who’s immunocompromised, your house might need more attention. This means going deeper with disinfecting – which kills germs – and sanitizing, which reduces germs. Both cut down the spread of disease.
In general, keeping on top of high-traffic surfaces to remove pathogens and dirt is usually enough to keep a healthy home.
Clean less traveled and used areas when they're dirty. This might include vacuuming rugs and carpets or wiping down windowsills or floorboards with soap and water. “These items generally do not require disinfection each time they are cleaned,” says Alexandra Seguin, She’s a certified infection preventionist and high consequence infectious disease lead at RUSH University Medical Center in Chicago.
On the Daily
“People are busy,” acknowledges Deirdre Kent, who owns and operates Good Woman Cleaning Services in Mountain View, HI. She’s an all-purpose pro cleaner, from her steady “bread and butter” clients to moving-out scourings to headier jobs like mold removal. “I'm not a fanatic regarding disinfecting everything.”
Instead, break it down. Take pen to paper -- or finger to touchscreen -- and list key daily maintenance tasks. For example:
- Clean entranceways. Place rugs or mats by every outside door to catch dirt people and pets track in. Then vacuum or sweep it away.
- Kitchen: Wash dishes, the sink, counters, and stovetop. Sweep the floor.
- Bathroom: Rinse out the sink, tub, or shower every time someone uses it.
- Laundry: Depending on your household, washing clothes and soft goods like sheets, towels, and other linens might make the daily list. Use the right amount of detergent at the suggested water temp, then fully dry each load to get each load as germ-free as possible.
- Kitchen appliances and floor. Along with disinfecting your kitchen counters and cutting boards with a bleach-water solution, be sure to hit surfaces including the microwave, stove hood, fridge -- especially the handle – and dishwasher.
- Bathroom. Scour the sink, floor, and toilet with an all-purpose cleaner. The tub might need a scrub with a slightly abrasive cleaner. Disinfect spots like the toilet flush handle, light switches, and knobs.
- Bedrooms and other living areas. Vacuum and clean carpets and upholstery to remove soil and stains, using products designed specifically for them.
Some surfaces, especially those that have a lot of touch traffic, need to be cleaned, then disinfected. These tasks might head up your weekly list. It’s also a good idea to give them a go-over after you’ve had company.
“High-touch surfaces include kitchen and bathroom countertops, toilets, doorknobs, light switches, and other items that are frequently used or are prone to microbial contamination,” Seguin says.
To disinfect: First, clean the surface with mild soap and water. Let it dry, then apply a chemical disinfectant solution.
Household Dirt Hotspots
Although Kent cleans everything when she’s on a job, it’s obvious to her what most people overlook, such as:
- The disposal gasket in the kitchen sink. “Most folks never scrub under that. It gets gunky,” she notes, adding the caveat that you need to make sure there’s no way it can turn on while you’re scrubbing.
- Ceiling fans and other fans. “Most folks neglect cleaning their fans because it's tedious and often overlooked,” Kent says. It’s counterproductive if you clean everything else but the fan is slinging dust, dirt, and even pet fur.
- Kitchen details. You likely wipe down and disinfect your counters and sinks. But don’t forget to wipe down their neighbors, like the stovetop, microwave, range hood, fridge, and dishwasher. Pay special attention to any handles.
- The toilet flush handle. It’s key to wipe it down with a disinfectant.
Find a Cleaning Approach That Works for You
Don’t hold yourself to an impossible -- and often unnecessary -- standard. “People are busy,” Kent says. “I’m not a fanatic regarding disinfecting everything.” Keeping your hands clean and maintaining good hygiene in your household goes a long way to warding off germs.
Streamline your cleaning and disinfecting supplies. Even though it’s important to clean and disinfect with the right solution for the right area, you can likely still pare down what you really need to have in your cleaning arsenal.
Throw in one extra task as you go along. “It makes a difference,” Kent says.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Change your system as needed. “Sometimes I make a list and stick to it,” Kent says. “Sometimes my body and brain need creative license. If you start off in the pantry, you may end up in the attic,” and that’s OK.
Create your own shortcuts and “secret weapons.” Kent swears by bamboo skewers for fine detail work such as window tracks and corners and the ring around the sink drain.
Clearing the Air
Air quality is key to your household’s health. Things that can produce particles that pollute the air in come from a wide range of sources, such as:
- Cleaning products
- Personal care products such as soaps, makeup, and hairspray
- Home fixtures and finishes such as paint, carpet, and vinyl flooring
- Stored lawn care products such as pesticides and gasoline
Air cleaning removes contaminants such as chemical pollutants, particles, or gases. It also takes out microbiological agents such as allergens, mold spores, and pathogens.
These tech-based solutions can help make your home’s air cleaner:
Air cleaners. They remove particles and contaminants from the air. Filtration-based air cleaners don’t release harmful byproducts into the air. However, other processes, such as ultraviolet light and ozone, can be harmful.
Heat recovery and energy recovery ventilators. These HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) devices steadily push filtered outdoor air into your home. They not only can improve ventilation, but they also curb energy costs. Higher-efficiency HVAC filters can reduce particles, too, but they only work when the system is heating or cooling or the fan’s on.
Humidifiers and dehumidifiers. When heating and air conditioning aren’t enough, these can help keep humidity levels where you need them.
For more air quality information, see the EPA’s website.
Photo Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images
Alexandra Seguin, certified infection preventionist and high consequence infectious disease lead, RUSH University Medical Center, Chicago, IL.
Deirdre Kent, owner/operator, Good Woman Cleaning Services, Mountain View, HI.
Melissa Sullivan, press officer, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC.
EPA: “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.”