De-Germing Your House: Words to the Wise

NEW YORK -- When someone in your home is sick, of if a visitor is, he or she can leave cold and flu germs and viruses that stay on surfaces for days, continuing a cycle of illness -- unless, of course, you get rid of the germs in your home.

On "The Early Show" Friday, Women's Health magazine Senior Editor Sascha de Gersdorff shared multiple tips on the best ways to do that:

Germs live on surfaces and spread to humans through skin contact, so anything we touch frequently can be a threat. In fact, the flu virus can actually live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. How often you need to disinfect in your home really depends on the area or surface and how frequently it comes into contact with bacteria.

But before you start spraying bleach on everything in your house, relax: Simply being consistent about cleaning key items can help you contain viruses and bacteria.

BASIC TIPS ON KEEPING YOUR HOUSE HEALTHY

-- Make sure everyone in the house is cleaning his or her hands with soap or hand sanitizer frequently, especially after contact with the sick person.
-- In order to kill off cold and flu germs, you need to spend 20 seconds scrubbing your hands with soap and water. It does not really matter if it's solid soap bars, liquid soap or hand sanitizer. But if it is liquid soap, it is important to wash the dispenser on occasion.
-- Use paper towels for drying hands or dedicate a separate hand towel to each person in the house.
-- Wipe down surfaces in your home daily with a household disinfectant or disinfectant wipes.
-- Clean the sick person's eating utensils, clothing, bedding, and other personal items with soap or detergent before anyone else in the house uses them. These items do not need to be washed separately from those of non-infected people.

DISINFECTING BY ROOM

The Kitchen

Kitchens happen to be one of the filthiest rooms in the house, mostly due to food lying on the counter and moisture from the sink, which breeds bacteria.

Some of the most concentrated areas for germs in your kitchen are:

-- The sink: Your kitchen sink contains 100,000 times more germs than your toilet. Food (which can include dangerous organisms like salmonella and E. coli) often gets trapped in your sink or drain. One tablespoon of bleach mixed with one quart of water can be used to clean your sink, faucet and basin up to twice a week. When you're done, pour the solution down the drain to clean inside.
-- Cutting boards: There are 200 times more bacteria on a cutting board than a toilet seat! Blame the fact that most people just rinse their cutting boards instead of washing them thoroughly -- and that all the little grooves made by knives provide perfect homes for bacteria. Run your cutting board through the dishwasher after each use or, if it's wooden, sanitize it with a few drops of bleach mixed with water. Also, invest in different cutting boards for veggies, meats, and breads. Glass and plastic are the best for meat, because they don't absorb bacteria-ridden juices.
-- Garbage cans: Line your can with a plastic bag to contain the mess and for easy removal. Try to clean your garbage bins once per week with a diluted solution of bleach and water.
-- Sponges: Sponges harbor lots of germs. You should rid them of bacteria every 3-5 days by either running them through a full cycle of the dishwasher or microwaving them on high for 1 minute. Just keep in mind it needs to be wet when you nuke it.
-- Dish towels: Bacteria can thrive in the damp, densely woven material, which has lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide in. If your dish towel gets soaked, you should wash it after every use in hot water.

The Bathroom

Bathrooms are also incredibly germ-infested. These are some problem areas:

-- Bathtub: Use a disinfecting cleaner on your tub once per week. Soap scum is a breeding place for bacteria, so elbow grease is required. Also, opt for a fabric shower curtain (wash once per month in hot water). Pull the curtain closed all the way after you're finished in the shower or bath.
-- Towels: Bacteria feed on the skin cells that slough off each time you use a towel to dry off. If you're the only person using your towel, wash it weekly at least.
-- Floors: Be especially careful about the area right around your toilet. Every time you flush, water splatters out of the bowl. Floor-cleaning should be a weekly chore and be sure to use a cleaner that has sanitizing properties.
-- Toilet: The toilet bowl is another breeding ground for germs. Clean them bi-weekly and always lower the lid before flushing.
-- Personal hygiene items: Keep toothbrushes and other personal hygiene items in a container or a drawer. Leaving them on the counter exposes them to the toilet germs that explode into the air after flushing.

Living areas

-- Sheets: When you're rolling around between the sheets, you're basically rolling around in your own filth. Studies have found feces, salmonella, and E. coli on bed linens. Wash your sheets once a week, and make sure the water is hot, because germs can live through a cold or even a warm wash.
-- Furnishings and floors: Mop uncarpeted floors once per week, vacuum rugs twice weekly, and wipe or vacuum furniture and draperies monthly.
-- Frequently handled objects: Often, the objects in your living areas attract a significant amount of germs. Shared electronics, like TV remotes, phones, keyboard/mouse, all get germs from frequent touching and spatters from our mouths. Use disinfecting wipes, which kill 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria that live on surfaces.
-- Plan a semi-annual thorough cleaning to wipe down cupboards, closets, bookshelves and walls.

DOES AIRING OUT WORK?

-- Airing out your home for just a few minutes daily will help to let stagnant air out and fresh air in. Even in the winter, cracking your window a few inches to increase airflow is a good idea. This is especially important if someone in your home is sick.

DO "GREEN" CLEANERS REALLY DISINFECT AS THEY SHOULD?

-- Green cleaners are better for the environment and are proven to work effectively.
-- But they do come with some trade-offs: They are more expensive and require more elbow grease to achieve the same results as the chemical-based cleaners.
-- Method and Seventh Generation are leading makers of green cleaning products. Both companies test their products against conventional brands.
-- The only conventional cleansers that green products cannot match are those that contain chlorine, such as bleach.
-- The other option for the environmentally-conscious is the old standby of vinegar and baking soda. Try using vinegar and old newsprint to clean glass and sprinkle baking soda on a damp cloth to clean other surfaces.

To visit the Women's Health magazine Cold and Flu Center, click here.

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