Where Germs Hide
Kitchen: So now that you know how to zap germs, where can you find them throughout your home? Gerba advises using a disinfectant at least once a day in the kitchen because bacteria is often transferred from meats and other foods onto surfaces. For example, illustrates Gerba, "there are more fecal bacteria in your kitchen sink than in the toilet after you flush it." How does it get there? Produce can be infected with E. coli, which can be found in soil. And 50 percent of poultry in grocery stores carries salmonella, says Scott. This means you'll have fecal bacteria on your hands after you make a meal if you don't wash up when you're finished. And because people forget to clean the handles of the kitchen faucet, these fixtures also score high on the list of germ-ridden places in the house. Remember to disinfect these handles often, especially when cooking, to reduce the likelihood of cross contamination.
The kitchen sink can also be a hotbed of germs if you have pets. Don't clean out a tank or cage in the kitchen sink, says Scott. "Pets excrete pathogens even when they don't look sick. Everything related to pets, including the pets themselves, should be kept out of the kitchen. Try to fill their water dish from the laundry room sink."
Wet Areas: Other frequently used but seldom cleaned items loaded with germs are the phone, the TV remote, and, because a lot of people hang their dish towels there, the refrigerator door handle. These towels are often wet, so bacteria survive longer. Change them every few days. Scott recommends laundering stuffed animals regularly, especially after a child is sick. And, of course, the cutting board and countertop, if contaminated, can transmit dangerous germs to children.
Washing Machine: The washing machine is another unknown hot spot, says Gerba, because fecal matter from underwear (belonging to both kids and adults -- even those who practice good hygiene) spreads to other clothes. So although your laundry may seem clean, some germs may still remain on your clothes. Rotavirus, for example, will survive on soiled underwear in a normal wash cycle, which is typically only 12 minutes long and often uses cold water. It will even survive in the dryer for 30 minutes. The best bet: Use bleach and hot water, when possible. Either clean underwear separately or with other washables that can be bleached to make a load. Bleach substitute for colored underwear is better than nothing, says Gerba, but it won't kill as many germs. Neither will hot water alone because the temperature isn't usually hot enough. Always wash your hands after you transfer wet laundry to the dryer and put the dryer on 45 minutes to help kill more germs.
Floors: Donald Schiff, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Denver, also offers some advice. "Taking off your shoes when you come indoors is a good idea no matter where you live," he says, especially if you live in a rural area where pathogens associated with animals, such as E. coli, could be tracked inside your home.
Sponges: But the most germ-laden thing in your house is your kitchen sponge -- its wet environment is bacteria's perfect breeding ground. Pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds every four days to cut down the germ count.