Cleaning and disinfecting your home regularly can help prevent many infections—from respiratory illnesses to food poisoning.
When it comes to keeping your family safe from viruses and bacteria that can make them ill, it’s hard to beat frequent handwashing and routine vaccinations. But there’s also a case to be made for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces around the home where germs may linger.
As part of your overall prevention strategy, this simple step may help reduce the spread of germs that cause the flu, colds, foodborne illness and more.
“It’s very easy to do for most germs that would cause disease in the house,” says Michael Jhung, MD, MPH, medical officer acting as deputy branch chief in the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Where germs hide out
Some germs, such as those that cause the flu, are most often spread through coughs and sneezes. However, surface contamination may play a role, Dr. Jhung says. For example, viruses can live on a doorknob or other surface for hours. It’s not unusual to touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face.
In addition, salmonella or other harmful bacteria that may be in foods can spread to kitchen surfaces and then to other foods or someone’s hands.
For these reasons, it’s best to focus your cleaning efforts on two types of household surfaces—those that are touched often and those that may come in contact with food, Dr. Jhung says.
A high shelf, for example, is unlikely to harbor germs or to be touched by anyone. Surfaces and objects like these are another story:
- Shared telephones.
- Computer keyboards.
- TV remotes.
- Bathroom surfaces.
- Kitchen countertops and cutting boards.
- Tabletops and desks.
“A lot of people can touch the remote control in the span of a few hours,” Dr. Jhung says.
Make it a habit
While frequent disinfecting is particularly important when someone in the house is ill, it’s a good idea to disinfect as part of your routine cleaning regimen, regardless of the season, according to Dr. Jhung.
For example, foodborne infections are a risk all year, making it essential to clean kitchen surfaces regularly—especially after working with raw meat or poultry.
Dirt-free isn’t germ-free
At a minimum, surfaces should be regularly cleaned with soap and water to remove grime and germs. But for extra protection, you’ll need to disinfect, which kills germs. That’s particularly true for kitchen and bathroom surfaces, according to CDC.
Household disinfectants are fine, Dr. Jhung says. Check that the label says “disinfectant” and has a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number.
You can also make your own disinfectant solution by mixing 1 tablespoon of bleach with 1 quart of water. (You might test surfaces first to see if they could be damaged by bleach, Dr. Jhung notes.)
For items that could be damaged by liquid, such as keyboards, phones or other electronic items, use disinfectant wipes.
Following the label directions can help ensure that you use the product safely and that it does the most good. For example, you may need to let a disinfectant stand for a few minutes before wiping down the surface.
For safety’s sake, consider these suggestions from CDC and the EPA:
- When using bleach, wear gloves and make sure you have good ventilation.
- Keep products in their original containers and out of the reach of children.
- Never mix cleaning products together.
Remember, while it’s easy to clean and disinfect surfaces as part of a strategy to prevent infections at home, it’s not enough just to do that alone, Dr. Jhung emphasizes. For example, handwashing, routine vaccinations and safe food-handling practices should be habits as well.