Speed Cleaning to Kill Household Germs

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on August 18, 2023
6 min read

In the ongoing battle between you and household germs, you may think germs have the advantage. Unlike you, they can be just about everywhere at once. And when it comes down to hand-to-hand combat, you may be too rushed or tired or just have better things to do. They don't.

Keeping household germs at bay helps keep colds, flu, and other infectious illnesses from spreading. This on-the-go cleaning guide can help you get the upper hand with germs by focusing your efforts on the places where they lurk the most.

As a rule of thumb, any area of your home with surfaces that get touched a lot is a germ bank.

One study found the kitchen sink had more bacteria than the toilet or garbage can. The only bathroom hot spot in the study's top 10 was the toothbrush holder. Why? Toothbrush holders are often near the toilet, and flushing sends a fine spray of mist onto them. Plus, it's easy to forget about them if you're focused on cleaning the toilet and more obvious germ hot spots.

How long do germs live on surfaces?

Depending on the germ, bacteria can live on surfaces for just a few minutes or as long as many months. Most germs and viruses can live for longer periods on hard or plastic surfaces than on fabrics. 

Viruses that cause the common cold can only survive on your hands for around an hour. But the flu virus can live on a hard surface like a countertop for as long as 24-48 hours. The coronavirus may survive on a surface for a few hours to even a couple of days.

Bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, which can cause foodborne illnesses, can live up to 4 hours on hard surfaces.

Cleaning with soap and hot water removes dirt and grime and gets rid of some germs. It's usually enough for many surfaces. But you may want to disinfect areas that are home to a lot of germs. A cleaner-disinfectant can be good for speed-cleaning because it combines the two steps. You can use it for most kitchen countertops and bathroom surfaces.

Clean areas with sticky spills and dirt with soap and water, then disinfect. To make a cheap, effective disinfectant, mix up to 3 teaspoons of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Never pair bleach with ammonia or vinegar.

Apply this mixture to the area you're cleaning and leave on for 3-5 minutes. Rinse and let air-dry to save time, or dry with a clean towel. Always wear gloves and open some windows when you use products with bleach. 

If you're using store-bought disinfectants, try not to breathe in the chemicals. Remember to wipe down areas afterward with water. Make sure the area is fully dried before you prepare food on it.

Does hot water kill germs?

Hot water can kill germs, but its effectiveness as a disinfectant depends on a few things, including: 

  • The temperature of the water
  • How long the germs are exposed to the hot water
  • How resistant to heat the germ is
  • What food or plant particles are present on that surface

Because water needs to be nearly 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) to kill bacteria, you may scald your hands if you try to use it as a disinfectant. Instead, use hot soapy water to clean a surface before wiping out the germs with another disinfecting cleaner.

Most dishwashers use water that's hot enough to disinfect your dishes. But make sure there's no leftover food on the plates after the cycle.

Does hydrogen peroxide kill germs?

Hydrogen peroxide can be an effective household disinfectant to kill germs, viruses, and bacteria. Look for a bottle containing around 3% hydrogen peroxide to tackle cleaning projects. In a spray bottle, combine 50% water and 50% hydrogen peroxide to create a disinfectant solution that you can use in your kitchen, bathroom, or any other high-touch areas of your home. Spray the surface, then let the solution sit for about 5 minutes. If you prepare food in that area, wipe it down. Otherwise, you can let it air-dry and move on to the next cleaning project.

Hydrogen peroxide can be a great tool to remove stubborn carpet and clothing stains. But only use it on white or off-white materials. It may discolor or fade colored fabrics.

Always wear gloves when you clean with hydrogen peroxide. Only use it in well-ventilated areas.

Does rubbing alcohol kill germs?

Rubbing alcohol, which is a mixture of water and isopropyl alcohol, can kill germs and viruses. This medicine cabinet staple may contain up to 90% isopropyl alcohol. But be careful: Mixtures with this much rubbing alcohol may irritate your skin as you clean. Look for varieties with 70% isopropyl alcohol to disinfect areas around your home.

Rubbing alcohol can be used to clean:

  1. Tech supplies. We all spend a lot of time on our phones and computers, so those surfaces need some extra attention when we clean. Apply rubbing alcohol to a clean cloth and wipe down your phone screen, keyboard, and mouse. 
  2. Household toiletry tools. Rubbing alcohol can quickly clean and disinfect tweezers, manicure tools, thermometers, and makeup brushes. Dunk these objects in a small cup of rubbing alcohol and then set them out to air dry.
  3. Kitchen surfaces. Wipe down stainless steel and chrome kitchen surfaces with rubbing alcohol to quickly disinfect them. But remember that rubbing alcohol may damage granite and wooden surfaces.

You can take down some serious germ strongholds in a half-hour or less a day. If you don't have children or pets, it's even faster because you can skip the last three steps. Start in the kitchen:

  • Clean and disinfect countertops, the sink faucet and handles, refrigerator handles, and cutting boards. Check the manufacturer's directions for specialty countertops.
  • Clean with dishcloths you can throw in the washer with hot water. Replace towels and dishcloths daily.
  • Clean spills on the kitchen floor so they don't attract more dirt and bacteria.
  • Empty bathroom wastebaskets and those with dirty diapers. Take out the garbage. Spritz the containers with sanitizing spray.
  • Clean and sanitize the bathroom sink faucet and handles.
  • Put pet dishes in the dishwasher.
  • If you have a child in diapers, clean and disinfect the changing table.
  • If your child uses pacifiers, put them on the top shelf of the dishwasher if they're dishwasher safe. Otherwise, use soap and water on any toys your child puts in their mouth. Check toy cleaning labels first.


Doing a daily speed clean makes weekly cleaning easier and faster. Once a week, follow these steps to wipe out more germs:

  • Put the kitchen sink strainer in the dishwasher.
  • If possible, remove and hand-wash the stove knobs.
  • Clean and disinfect the kitchen sink.
  • Wash the toothbrush holder and wipe with a disinfecting wipe, or put it in the dishwasher if it's dishwasher safe.
  • Gather bathroom towels and bed linens. Don't fluff or shake them so you don't spread germs and dust. Wash in hot water, if possible.
  • Mop the floors and vacuum carpets.
  • Clean the bathroom sink, bath, and toilet.
  • Disinfect computer keyboards, light switches, telephones, and remote controls with a disinfecting wipe that doesn't contain bleach. Squeeze to remove excess moisture first. Always turn off computers before you clean them.


These monthly chores take hardly any time:

  • Wash pet toys: For hard toys, use hot, soapy water and disinfect. Rinse well before you let them dry. Wash soft toys on hot with other laundry.
  • Pour a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach and 1 quart water down the kitchen sink drain to sanitize the drain and garbage disposal. Or pour white vinegar down the drain.
  • Clean the coffee maker.


For super speedy cleanups, try these shortcuts:

  • Keep cleaning products together in a pail or basket. They're ready when you are, and they're easy to carry from room to room.
  • While a disinfectant is sitting, tackle another chore.
  • Use a plastic can liner to control trash spills and leaking. It'll also speed up wastebasket and garbage can cleaning.
  • Clean and sanitize refrigerator and floor spills as they happen. That way, they won't turn into a bigger mess.


Show Sources


NSF International: "Top 10 Germiest Places in the Home" and "NSF Scrub Club Germ Experiment Featured on Good Morning America."

Colorado State Extension: "Cleaning and Sanitizing the Kitchen."

Environmental Working Group: "Safe Cleaning Tips for Your Home" and "EWG's Guide to Infant Formula and Baby Bottles: Safe Baby Bottle and Formula Guide."

Alliance for Consumer Education Disease Prevention Program.

Family Doctor: "Benefits and Risks."

Washoe County:  "Diaper changing and soiled clothing procedures."

Apple Inc.: "How to disinfect the Apple internal or external keyboard, trackpad, and mouse."

Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties: "Infection Control at Home, School & Workplace."

CDC: "Cleaning and Disinfection for Households."

Cleveland Clinic: "How to Get the Most Out of Your Bottle of Rubbing Alcohol," "Germs," "What Is Hydrogen Peroxide Good For?"

USDA: "Can I use the dishwasher to clean the dishes and kill bacteria?"

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