Speed Cleaning to Kill Household Germs

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on September 25, 2023
8 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 types of illnesses from spreading. This on-the-go cleaning guide can help you get the upper hand on germs. The trick? Focus your efforts on the places in your home 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 that kitchen sinks have more bacteria than toilets or garbage cans. 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 regularly cleaning this small item. You're probably more focused on cleaning the toilet and more obvious germy areas.

How long do germs live on surfaces?

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

For instance, the common cold virus can only survive on your hands for around an hour. Bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, which can cause foodborne illnesses, can live up to 4 hours on hard surfaces. But the flu virus can live on a hard surface like a countertop for as long as 48 hours. The coronavirus may survive on a surface for a couple of days.


Soap and hot water remove dirt and grime and can get rid of some germs. That's enough to clean many surfaces. But you may want to go one step further and also 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 this type of product for most kitchen countertops and bathroom surfaces.

 To make a cheap disinfectant that works well, mix up to 3 teaspoons of bleach in 1 gallon of water. (Never pair bleach with ammonia, vinegar, or any other household cleaner. It can create fumes that are harmful for you to breathe.)

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 use a store-bought disinfectant, try not to breathe in the chemicals. Open a nearby window or turn on a fan so the room airs out quickly. Remember to wipe down areas afterward with water. Make sure a surface is fully dry before you prepare food on it.

Does hot water kill germs?

How well water disinfects depends on a few things, including: 

  • The temperature of the water
  • How long the germs are exposed to the hot water
  • The type of germ (some can resist high temps) 
  • What type of dirt or debris is also on the surface

Water needs to be nearly 140 F (60 C) to kill bacteria, so don't try to use it as a disinfectant. You may burn yourself. Instead, use hot soapy water to clean a surface, then wipe out any germs that remain 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. If so, run them through again.

Does hydrogen peroxide kill germs?

This solution, which is water with an extra molecule of oxygen, can be a useful weapon against germs, viruses, and bacteria. To make your own disinfectant, combine 50% water and 50% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle. Mist any high-touch hard surface and let 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 your next cleaning project.

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

Always wear gloves when you clean with hydrogen peroxide. And like any cleaner, only use it in well-vented areas.

Does rubbing alcohol kill germs?

As long as it contains at least 70% isopropyl alcohol, this medicine cabinet staple can take out germs. (Hand sanitizer works, too.) But be careful: Some kinds contain up to 90% isopropyl alcohol. Mixtures that strong may irritate your skin as you clean. 

Rubbing alcohol can be used to disinfect:

  1. Electronics. Apply rubbing alcohol to a cotton ball or clean cloth and wipe down your phone, computer screen, keyboard, and mouse. 
  2. Makeup and toiletry tools. Rubbing alcohol can quickly clean and disinfect tweezers, manicure tools, thermometers, and makeup brushes. Dunk these items in a small cup of rubbing alcohol, 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. 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 trash cans and diaper pails. 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 their changing table.
  • If your child uses pacifiers, put them on the top shelf of the dishwasher if they're dishwasher safe. If not, 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 your kitchen sink strainer in the dishwasher.
  • If possible, remove and hand-wash your stove knobs.
  • Clean and disinfect your kitchen sink.
  • Wash your toothbrush holder, then go over it with a disinfecting wipe. You could also put the holder in the dishwasher if it's dishwasher safe.
  • Gather your bathroom towels and bed linens. Don't fluff or shake them – you'll spread germs and dust. Wash them in hot water, if possible.
  • Mop floors, and vacuum rugs and carpets.
  • Clean your bathroom sink, bath, and toilet.
  • Disinfect "high touch" surfaces like computer keyboards, light switches, phones, and remote controls with a bleach-free disinfecting wipe . Squeeze to remove excess moisture first. Always turn off electronics before you clean them.


These monthly chores take hardly any time:

  • Wash pet toys. For hard toys, use hot, soapy water and disinfect. Rinse them well before you let them dry. Wash soft toys on hot with other laundry.
  • Pour a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach and 1 quart of water down your kitchen sink drain to sanitize the drain and garbage disposal. Or pour white vinegar down the drain.
  • Clean your coffee maker. If you're not sure of the steps, check the manual. 


For super speedy cleanups, try these shortcuts:

  • Store cleaning products together in a pail or basket. That way, they're ready when you are, and they're easy to carry from room to room. (Just make sure they're out of reach of childrenand pets.)
  • After you spray a disinfectant on a surface, tackle another chore and give it time to work before you wipe it dry.
  • Use a plastic liner in trash cans to control spills and leaking. This will 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.


Bleach alternatives:

Because it's used so often, chlorine bleach is the most common cleaner that kids accidentally swallow. For safer options:

  • Use a hydrogen peroxide-based bleach in your laundry instead of chlorine bleach. Hydrogen peroxide kills mold and mildew, sanitizes counters and cutting boards, and removes stains from counters.
  • Opt for chlorine-free products. Look for "chlorine-free" on the label. Use one product at a time, and rinse surfaces thoroughly.
  • A simple tip: Keep an old toothbrush to scrub counters and those hard-to-clean tile corners.

Ammonia: avoiding hazardous fumes

Since it does everything from cutting through grease to making your windows shine, ammonia is found in a wide range of cleaning products. But it comes with some risks. Straight-up ammonia can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. To find other, safer ways to clean: 

  • Look for "green" and nontoxic cleaners that don't contain chlorine, alcohols, triclosan, triclocarban, lye, glycol ethers, or ammonia. Choose ones that say "petroleum-free," "90% biodegradable in 3 days," or "phosphate-free" on the label.
  • For even safer cleaning products, look for ones that say "petroleum-free," "biodegradable," "VOC-free," and "solvent-free."



  • Use a microfiber cloth to dust – it picks up dust particles without any chemical help. Wash it when you're done and reuse it.
  • White distilled vinegar can be used to clean windows, kill mold and mildew, get rid of soap scum, and sanitize kitchen counters and cutting boards.
  • Use baking soda and a few drops of soap to scour kitchen counters and bathtubs. For tough stains, use borax.
  • For fresh scents, use lemons or essential oils like lavender.

Try these recipes for homemade cleaners:

Household CleanerInstructions
All-Purpose Disinfecting Cleaner

2 cups water (preferably distilled water)

1½ to 3 tsp. liquid castile soap

1 tsp. tea tree oil

Mix ingredients. Tea tree oil has a natural eucalyptus-like smell. Add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a different scent.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

1 cup borax 

Pour into toilet bowl before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush.

Rust Remover

1 lime


Sprinkle a little salt on the rust. Squeeze a lime over the salt until it's well soaked. Let the mixture set for 2-3 hours. Use the leftover rind to scrub the residue.

Glass Cleaner

¼ cup white distilled vinegar

1 quart warm water

Mix ingredients. Pour into a spray bottle or apply with a sponge. For lint-free results, wipe dry with crumpled newspaper instead of paper towels. Buff to a shine.