5 Tips for Minimizing Germs at Home

We’ve been sharing tips to “keep the flu out of your loo” for a few years now. Obviously, this fall is different than those in the past. We’re all spending more time than we want to worrying about how to keep germs at bay. As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough to worry about, colder weather also brings flu season.

In addition to the Centers for Disease Control recommendations for hand washing and keeping your hands away from your face, here are 5 tips that can help to minimize the occurrence of germs in your home.


Tip #1 Know the Difference Between Cleaning and Disinfecting

According to the CDC, cleaning gets rid of germs by physically removing them. It doesn’t kill them. Disinfecting kills germs but doesn’t necessarily clean surfaces. Sanitizing decreases the number of germs on a surface to a “safe level” through either cleaning ordisinfecting. Carefully follow the directions for any cleaning products you use. Otherwise, you may just be moving germs around, instead of eliminating them.


Tip #2 Sanitize Surfaces

When a virus makes contact with a surface, like your bathroom vanity, it can survive for up to 48 hours. We typically recommend using antibacterial spray or wipes to clean surfaces, but finding a container of Clorox wipes continues to be a difficult endeavor. Not to worry, any of the three following solutions can do the job:


An EPA-registered Disinfectant

All EPA-registered disinfectants have an EPA registration number on the packaging. Look for a company number and a product number (like 123-45). Generic versions of a product will have the same EPA registration number as the brand-name version.


A Bleach Solution

You can prepare a bleach solution to disinfect surfaces. The CDC recommends mixing 5 tablespoons (⅓ cup) of bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. Be sure to follow the safety instructions provided by the manufacturer, and make sure the bleach hasn’t expired. Note: Don’t pre-mix a bleach solution for disinfecting or use a spray bottle to store or apply your bleach solution.


Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is a mix of water and either denatured ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol—you might find it sold under any of those names, and they’re all effective at deactivating lipid viruses. When you buy alcohol solutions at the store, they’re already diluted with water in a specific concentration, indicated clearly on the label (usually 70% or 90-91% alcohol). Alcohol concentrations above 70% should be effective at disinfecting for viruses, according to the CDC.


Use one of these solutions to wipe down frequently used surfaces throughout your home, including countertops, doorknobs, light switches, drawer pulls, soap pumps, toilet and faucet handles, computer keyboards, smart phone screens, and remote controls. Note: Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations for these products as these solutions may not be suitable for all devices and surfaces.


Tip #3 Replace Hand Towels

Under normal circumstances, it’s a good idea to wash hand towels every few days. It might also be smart to give each member of your household their own hand towel. Whether they’re monogrammed or you simply write initials on the tag, be sure to use only your own hand towel, and continue to wash it every few days. Keep a stack of disposable paper hand towels in your guest bath for any guests—even close family members who don’t live with you—who might visit. Be sure to wash kitchen dish towels frequently as well and disinfect or replace sponges frequently.


Tip #4 Bump Up the Humidity

Studies show the flu virus seems to thrive in cold, dry environments. So, humid air in your bathroom is actually your immune system’s friend (if not your hair’s) during flu season.


Tip #5 Protect Toothbrushes

Most of us stash our toothbrushes out in the open—often in the same holder with other family members’ toothbrushes. Especially during flu season, it’s best to store toothbrushes individually. Consider using toothbrush covers to keep them protected.  If someone gets sick, replace their toothbrush as soon as they’re healthy again. You may have heard that you can sanitize toothbrushes in the dishwasher, but the American Dental Association advises against that. The harsh environment can damage the bristles and decrease its cleaning power.


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