Spring is a time to rethink cleaning habits with an eye toward fending off colds and other illnesses. Some germ factories are obvious -- cutting boards, carpets, shoes, hands -- but there are many seemingly innocuous sources of germs that can make you sick. Here are 25 safe havens for germs that belong on your spring-cleaning list. (No need to go overboard, though. Some germs are good -- they build up immunity to certain bacteria.)
Something with the word "washer" in its name sounds like it should be clean as a whistle. Nope. The dishwasher is one of the dirtiest spots in the kitchen. Food particles that remain on the dishes after loading create a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Molly Maid's Cleaning Institute recommends multiple methods for keeping your dishwasher safe from troublesome germs, including one technique that involves Tang drink mix.
It's hard to go anywhere without touching a door handle, switch plate, or knob -- think of the hordes who have been there before you. Light switch plates are especially troublesome because of the many nooks and crannies. Do everyone in the household a favor by routinely using a safe disinfectant on these surfaces. If out in public, consider using the paper towel from drying your hands to open the restroom door -- or carry wipes.
We get up close and personal with sheets and towels at least once a day, allowing them to pick up germs, allergens, dirt, and other nasty bits. Hygiene experts recommend changing sheets and towels every seven to 10 days. Getting into a routine (maybe designating one day of the week "linens day") can help reduce the spread of germs and the likelihood of anyone getting sick. If you are under the weather, make sure your towel is yours only for the week and wash it as soon as you feel better.
Pillows and mattresses accumulate dust, dead skin, sweat, drool, and germs. Replacing sheets and pillowcases takes care of only part of the problem. The accumulation of these particles in the place where you rest your head every night can cause repeated allergy flare-ups, which can lead to prolonged medication and doctors' visits. Most bed pillows can be cleaned fairly easily. A Bowl Full of Lemons provides a tutorial for keeping pillows fresh and germ-free. Prevention recommends replacing pillows every year and a mattress every five to 10 years (more often if you aren't sleeping well).
Spring is a good time to reassess your food storage methods and go through the pantry and refrigerator in search of forgotten foodstuffs. Food is often safe to eat past its "sell by" date, and many dry and canned products and refrigerated standbys (such as salad dressings and condiments) have long shelf lives, but eating expired food can put you at risk for gastrointestinal distress and other illnesses. If you can't read the date or aren't sure, abide by the old maxim: "When in doubt, throw it out."
We're all guilty of taking a cellphone into the kitchen, the bathroom, the grocery store, and sometimes even (gasp) public restrooms. In the many miles this mobile device traverses daily, it can pick up a lot of germs. Do you ever clean your phone after you've been sick? Popsugar offers tips for thoroughly cleaning a smartphone.
Much like cellphones, purses and wallets travel with us everywhere. When set on the floor and elsewhere, the bottom of a purse picks up bacteria that can cause a variety of illnesses, from colds to diarrhea. Experts suggest cleaning the contents of a purse with antibacterial wipes and not bringing it further than the a home's entryway to avoid exposing other areas to germs, especially the kitchen.
Because bacteria thrive in damp places, your morning cup o' joe may be at risk for contamination. Keeping the coffee maker clean means doing more than running water over the components. In The Huffington Post, an expert from the Good Housekeeping Research Institute recommends daily cleaning with soap and water, along with a run-through using a vinegar solution for sanitizing and decalcifying every one to three months.
For something that goes in your mouth at least twice a day, a toothbrush is not very clean. Bacteria can float around the bathroom in up to a 6-foot radius after the toilet is flushed, a periodontist tells Mental Floss. To prevent germs from settling on your toothbrush, flush the toilet with the lid down, keep toothbrushes away from the toilet, and replace them often.
Those with desk jobs are constantly going from car to computer, bathroom to computer, lunch to computer, and so on. By the time your hands hit the keyboard and grab the mouse again, you've likely accumulated quite a few germs. Never mind all the crumbs dropped in between the keys while scarfing down lunch or a snack. Hand washing is the No. 1 protection against transferring bacteria to and from computer components. Also, make sure to clean the keyboard and mouse frequently.
Kettles generally only boil water, which seems innocuous enough. But when using water from the tap, mineral deposits can build up on the inside of the kettle and turn into flakes or blobs of mineral goo that gets into the water being used. A quick wipe down of the inside every now and then will remove build-up.
Rugs get a lot of foot traffic, which can add up to germs, dirt, and bacteria tracked in from the outside world. Worse, pets often use rugs to scratch all kinds of body parts. A simple vacuuming may not be enough, but a seasonal deep cleaning can get deep into even shag rugs to sanitize them.
One of the go-to tools for cleaning, brooms can be easily overlooked as unsanitary. Beyond the long strands of dust and hair that get caught in the bristles, there are more subtle particles trapped inside. Both synthetic and natural fiber brooms can be combed and gently washed to restore them to their original, clean state. Still, after a while they will need to be replaced.
That popping sound when you leave something in the microwave too long? It's not unlike a food bomb going off, leaving every inch inside the microwave covered in a baked-on mess. A quick wipe-down immediately afterward gets rid of much of the splatter, but try a disinfecting spray to really get the microwave clean.
Our faces are home to many kinds of germs, which get transferred to make-up brushes every time they are used. Keeping the bristles clean, as well as the base of the bristles dry, is important to reduce the risk of exposing the skin to harmful bacteria. Safely cleaning the brushes is easy and quick, and well worth the effort.
Even mildew-resistant shower curtains get coated in built-up grime after a while. Many models are machine washable, which makes keeping them clean a breeze. For those that aren’t, it could be time to replace them or give them a good, old-fashioned scrubbing with shower cleaner.
Bath mats live on the bathroom floor, which already tends to be a place where germs love to multiply. Add to that the constant moisture in the air and from wet, freshly-showered feet, and it’s a veritable breeding ground. While bath mats are easy to overlook, it’s important to take the time to wash them regularly.
Even though trash cans are used with liners, it’s inevitable that some trash or slips leaks between the bag and the can. Often a bad trash smell can be coming from the can itself. While it’s not necessary to wash it every time you change the bag, a good seasonal washing with soap and water will keep it fresh and in like-new condition longer.
In addition to clutter, desk drawers tend to accumulate dust, debris, and other messes. A single piece of candy left in a hot drawer can result in a sticky mess. Cleaning out the entire drawer with a disinfectant wipe will keep things clean, as well as offer an opportunity to declutter.
Wringing out mops after each use is a good way to keep them clean. Washing them in the washing machine or in a suds bath is an extra layer of protection against the bacteria and mildew that can grow inside of mops.
Cleaning the oven may seem like a horrible task -- which is likely why so many people put it off for years at a time. In reality, it’s not so bad and should be done about once a year. To safely clean an oven, it’s important to get set up with the right tools and cleansers, such as non-toxic sprays and soaps.
Sponges can get very gross very fast. They soak up all kinds of messes and generally staying moist, if not wet, making them a playground for bacteria. Regular runs in the dishwasher, as well as a two-minute zap in the microwave, will destroy most of the bacteria and keep sponges usable longer.
Plant stands are easy to forget about and don’t require much cleaning beyond an occasional dusting. But especially models that are bowl-shaped and catch extra water from plants can build up mold and mildew. Lifting out plants for a look and scrub is a good idea at least once a season.
Sofas can be the home of a lot of messes, from crumbs to shoes to the bottoms of bags that have been who knows where. Even if sofas look clean on the surface, bacteria can be hidden inside the fabric and cushions. Getting them professionally cleaned, or doing a deep clean yourself, will instantly make them feel fresher.