It’s that time of year when truly scary stuff is happening outside our doors. Flu season is in full swing, a mystery poliolike illness has affected people in more than two dozen states, and we’re under attack by romaine lettuce—again.
It’s enough to make you want to curl up inside and never venture out again. But, in fact germs, bacteria, and viruses don’t stop at your door—they’re lurking in every corner inside your home, too.
Did a shiver just go down your spine? Take a deep breath and put down the disinfecting spray (for now—you’ll need it again soon). You need a game plan. And that means knowing the biggest problem areas for germs—and how to kill the stuff that makes us cringe. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Read on for the pros’ best cleaning tips to keep you healthy and sleeping soundly at night.
1. Do the dishes (and don’t forget the sink)
Sorry, procrastinators—if you really want to keep germs out, you can’t let your dirty dishes pile up in the kitchen sink.
“Wash the dishes as soon as you put them in the sink. Don’t let germs accumulate,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, chief hygiene officer at Pro Housekeepers.
Plus, remember that dirty dishes also attract bugs—the nonmicroscopic variety. So unless you want some extra protein with your spaghetti bolognese, get those plates out of the sink.
Then, once you’re done with the dishes, spend a few minutes cleaning the sink itself.
“You’d be surprised how nasty the place can be,” Rodriguez says.
It’s easy to keep your sink sparkling with a little elbow grease and some baking soda, water, and dish soap. And don’t forget to replace sponges regularly; you can also keep them clean by washing them in the top rack of your dishwasher.
2. Focus on your fixtures
“The dirtiest places in your home are not what you expect,” says Leslie Reichert, a cleaning coach. “It’s not your toilet seat; it’s faucets and drains.”
You don’t have to be a cleaning savant to disinfect them, though—you just have to keep up with it regularly. Use a store-bought disinfectant (Rodriguez recommends Lysol) or make your own with a combination of water and vinegar. Disinfectant wipes also make it easy to clean doorknobs and light switches and prevent the spread of germs.
Another pro tip: Use paper towels instead of a shared hand towel, and if you’re squeamish, liquid soap for hand washing. (Bacteria does live on bar soap, studies have shown.)
3. Expand your laundry list
If you aren’t already washing sheets and towels on a weekly basis, you should start now—it’s a surefire way to help keep germs from accumulating.
But don’t stop at the sheets and towels. The blanket that lives on your couch is probably overdue for a bath, along with any other fabric that made contact with a sick family member, like a duvet cover or pillowcase.
4. Clean out your closet
“Body odor, stinky shoes, and dust are all stuffed into a small, airtight room,” Reichert says. “It’s a breeding ground for bacteria and allergies.”
Don’t let dirty workout gear commingle with your work attire; use a hamper or basket to keep dirty clothes separate, and don’t wait until you’re completely out of socks to finally do the laundry.
5. ‘Bake’ away the germs
“The sun can be the best defense against the spread of germs in the home,” Stapf says.
Take advantage of natural light to disinfect rugs, bedding, and pillows—simply leave them in the sun for a few hours to freshen up. Then, if you can handle a little chill for a few minutes, throw open your windows.
“Let the fresh air take any germs right out with the breeze,” Stapf says.
6. Kick off your shoes
We’re a nation divided by shoes—specifically, whether it’s OK to wear them in the house. If you’re a germaphobe—or even the slightest bit squeamish about what you’re tracking through your home—wearing shoes in your house is one habit you’ll want to kick.
“Remember when you come home, the shoes you’re wearing bear the germs from every surface you walked that day,” Stapf says.
Leave shoes at the door, and clean your shoes—including the laces—regularly: “You’d be surprised where those laces have been dragged!” Stapf says.
7. Wash your darn hands already
It sounds simple, but regularly washing your hands really is the best defense against germs, Reichert says.
Follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines: Scrub for at least 20 seconds, and then air dry or use a clean towel to dry off. When you’re out and about, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby so you can sanitize in a pinch.
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