The dreaded flu season is upon us. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), February is the peak activity month for the flu in the U.S.
While you may already know some basic ways to dodge the germs and stay healthy this season, it’s important to know how to clean your home effectively. To properly rid your home of germs, you’ll need to utilize a combination of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting techniques.
We put together some cleaning tips, facts and ideas that will help keep you, your home and your family healthy all season long. You’ll be surprised how many of them you didn’t already know.
Healthy Home Cleaning Tips
1. Prevent the spread of germs.
Cleanliness is your first defense against getting sick. Flu germs can live for two to eight hours on hard surfaces — which is why it’s so easy to pick up germs without knowing it. Keep your surfaces and hands clean to prevent the spread of germs at work, at home and when you’re on the go.
Avoid touching your face. Adults touch their face every four minutes (approximately 400 times per day), meaning eye-rubbing, nose-wiping and nail-biting give germs a free ride into your respiratory system. Avoid touching your face no matter how clean you think your hands are.
With that said, wash your hands (for 20 seconds). We all know that washing is one of the best natural defenses against the flu, but many people aren’t scrubbing for as long as they should be. It takes more than a few seconds to actually scrub a virus off of your skin. Spend at least 20 seconds (several times a day) at the sink lathering, and thoroughly dry your hands — wet hands are more likely to spread germs than dry ones.
Be readily armed. Make sure your home has enough cleaning and disinfectant supplies to conquer the spread of germs. Stock up on soap, tissues, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes and make sure these are readily available to you and your family. Take this a step further by implementing your own sanitary station at your office or workplace.
2. Know the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting.
Sanitizing should already be part of your usual cleaning routine, whether or not it’s flu season. When cleaning your home, it’s important to first know the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting (and complete all of these steps):
1. Cleaning: Cleaning refers to scrubbing with water and cleaning. This does not kill germs, but rather removes dirt, dust and soil. Even if you’re disinfecting, this step should always come first, since sanitizers and disinfectants require clean surfaces in order to be effective at killing germs.
2. Sanitizing: Sanitizing is accomplished by a device like a steam cleaner or dishwasher. This reduces germs on surfaces to levels considered safe by public health codes, but it may not kill all germs. For example, we regularly sanitize dishes, utensils and children’s’ toys, but this is not the same as disinfecting.
3. Disinfecting: Disinfectants are products that destroy 99.99% of germs — including cold and flu viruses, staph, E. Coli and Strep — on hard, non-porous surfaces. Something many people don’t know is that disinfectants must be applied wet for approximately five to 10 minutes in order to be effective. Otherwise, germs living on the surfaces of your home can escape.
When searching for the right cleaners, examine product claims closely. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of 500 products that disinfect hard, non-porous surface against germs. Always look for the word “disinfect” or “sanitize” on the label, which means the EPA has tested and approved its germ-killing power. Also, make sure the product works against the viruses you’re targeting, such as the cold and flu virus. Looking to save some money? Check out this DIY disinfectant if you prefer to concoct your own.
- Cleaning tip: When cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, make sure you use paper towels. Sponges and dishcloths are a breeding ground for bacteria, and unless disinfected between uses, you may be unknowingly spreading germs by wiping your dishware and countertops. With paper towels, you’re able to spray, wipe and throw out the germs.
If you prefer to use a sponge, be sure to replace it every couple of weeks (or run it through the dishwasher, which is a great way to eliminate germs).
3. Focus on the hot spots: the sanitizing checklist.
Whether someone has recently been sick in your home, or you’re simply trying to avoid the spread of germs, it’s important to clean and sanitize on a regular basis. In addition to your regular cleaning, make sure you focus on germ-prone spots in your home:
Your phone: In homes that have someone with the flu, eighty percent of phones have the virus on them. Take extra time to clean your phone, especially during flu season. Tip: there’s even a PhoneSoap charger — which is the first and only cell phone charger that cleans and sanitizes your phone while it charges.
The home office: Keyboards and desktops have 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Disinfect your office at least once a week, which could reduce your exposure to colds and flu by as much as 50 percent.
The remote control: The remote is one of the most handled items in your space. In fact, 60 percent of remotes contain the influenza virus in the home of a sick person. Disinfect this several times a week to prevent the spread of germs.
The microwave: A lot goes into preparing meals in the kitchen, including several hands in and out of the microwave. Use alcohol-based disinfecting wipes to clean your microwave a few times per week.
Handles and doorknobs: Germs last longer than you think, especially when they’re items that your family handles multiple times per day. Wipe down doorknobs, cupboard handles and refrigerator handles with disinfectant wipes at least once a day.
Your linens: Sheets and pillows aren’t just packed with comfort and feathers — they can also be home to several types of allergy-inflaming fungi (not to mention sweating and shedding skin). On porous materials, the flu virus tends to linger. Make sure you wash and dry everything on the highest heat available once a week, and a dose of bleach will also kill bacteria and clean out the washing machine.
4. Get these cold and flu-fighting gadgets.
Humidifier: A recent study shows that homes kept at 40 to 60 percent humidity are likely to have fewer flu viruses lingering in the air and on surfaces. Using a humidifier can help create an inhospitable environment for germs — especially in the winter, where heating your home causes humidity levels to decrease below normal.
While humidifiers also help alleviate dry nasal passages for easier, cleaner breathing, they can breed bacteria. If you’re using one in your home, make sure you clean it regularly.
Antiviral appliances: Bacteria can live a couple of days on the countertop or other hard surfaces — unless that surface is copper. The EPA has approved copper and copper alloys (such as bronze and brass) as bacteria killers. Cut down on bacteria in your home by adding in some copper appliances. It’s not hard to find copper sinks, doorknobs or switch plates in trendy metal.
Air purification systems: Ultraviolet air purification systems help keep mold and fungi from developing in your heating and cooling system. These remove allergens, reducing the irritations of allergy season, and eliminate germs throughout your home. On first pass, they destroy more than 99 percent of flu and other harmful viruses and bacteria that cause the cold, MRSA (staph), strep (whooping cough), TB, measles, pneumonia and a myriad of other antibiotic-resistant and viral infections.
5. Naturally purify your home.
Hesitant about sanitizing your home with products that contain concentrated amounts of bleach and chemicals? There are plenty of natural and eco-friendly cleaning tips that will help purify and clean your home.
Essential oil diffusers: Essential oils are powerful antimicrobials, and they’re great for helping you survive cold and flu season. With antifungal and antiviral properties, you don’t have to wait until you’re sick to take advantage of the healing benefits of the oils. Purify around the house (while also boosting your immune system) with microbe-killing cinnamon, clove, lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, thyme or pine. If you don’t have a diffuser, make a room spritzer.
Here is a great DIY recipe for your diffuser:
- 2 drops cinnamon
- 1 drop clove
- 2 drops mandarin
Houseplants for clean air: The EPA reports that indoor levels of pollutants can be two to five times — and occasionally 100 times — higher than outdoor pollutant levels, making it one of the top five environmental risks to public health.
The air cleaning capability of plants maintained within a closed living environment goes beyond the removal of carbon dioxide and replacing it with clean oxygen. Houseplants are effective for removing toxins and air pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia. Sarah from the Healthy Home Economist offers the 10 best houseplants to add to your home to help improve air quality.
- Houseplant tip: NASA researchers suggest that the optimal air-filtering effect is achieved with at least one potted plant per 100 square feet of home or office space.
Eliminate toxins: It’s important to keep your home, and your body, clean year round. Certain oils have depurative properties, such as angelica root, carrot seed, cypress, grapefruit, juniper berry, lemon and rosemary.
Add these to massage oils, unscented body lotions, soaps, bath salts and body spritzers to eliminate waste and toxins from your body — and adding as much as a pinch of rosemary to your roasted chicken can help shield your body from respiratory viruses.
6. Stock your kitchen with bacteria-fighting foods.
On top of preparing, cleaning and sanitizing your home, there are some extra measures you can take to keep you and your family healthy this season. You’d be surprised by how much your immune system can benefit from some daily foods.
Greek yogurt. According to a clinical nutrition study, those who consume a specific strain of probiotics daily reduce their risk of catching a virus by 27 percent. Look for greek yogurt containing live cultures.
Honey: When strep throat is treated with honey, the bacteria count can fall by up to 85 percent. It may also inhibit forms of staph, pneumonia and salmonella. Substitute your milk or creamer with honey in your coffee and tea to reap its benefits.
Vitamin D: Many people believe vitamin C has been touted as the ultimate cold and flu fighter, but more and more research has come to show that vitamin D may have even more benefits. Taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per week can cut your risk of infection in half — including the flu, respiratory infections and pneumonia.
Green tea: Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins, which have the ability to damage influenza virus particles and stop them from entering your system, in addition to blocking pneumonia-causing bacteria. It also helps contain allergies and boost immune systems — and as a plus, it’s delicious.
Echinacea: Echinacea is a flowering plant native to many parts of the U.S. Its leaves and roots can be used in herbal medicine and for supporting the immune system, and it has a long history of use for fighting the common cold and other respiratory infections. You can find these in tea, capsules and herbs.
Note: Before taking any vitamins or natural supplements, contact your doctor or healthcare provider.
By knowing effective home cleaning tips, you can ward off infection and keep your home (and your family) healthy during what’s normally the sickest time of the year.