When it comes to germs, looks are deceiving. A surface can seem clean and yet still be covered with the nasty little micro-organisms that spread infections. Eighty percent of all infections are spread the same way: Someone comes into contact with a surface that’s teeming with germs (which, by the way, come in a number of unpleasant varieties, including bacterial, viral, and fungal). And with the flu season upon us, it’s even more important that we get serious about encountering as few germs as possible.
But now for the bad news: “No surface is not germy,” says Michael Bell, M.D. associate director for infection control at the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). As a basic way to reduce the risk from germs, the CDC recommends frequent hand washing—the serious kind with soap, hot water, and ten to fifteen seconds of scrubbing (just sing Happy Birthday and the time will go by in a flash).
But there are also specific steps you can take to avoid getting infected in hot spots both inside and outside your home. You probably know about some of these places, but others are likely to be a surprise:
1. The Kitchen
Eileen Abruzzo, director of infection control at Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn, NY, says that your kitchen sink may be a lot germier than your toilet. Another culprit: your kitchen sponge. Everything you think you’re washing away stays—and multiplies.
So use paper towels to clean up in the kitchen. A dirty dish rag or sponge will just spread germs around. As for the sink, it needs disinfecting once a week. Make a solution of about a tablespoon of bleach to a quart of water and you’ve got a really effective germ killer. Use it to wipe the sink out and clean off chopping boards. Rinse with plain water to make sure there’s no trace of bleach left. Dry the sink with paper towels after you wipe it out.
If you insist on using a sponge, soak it in the solution at least once a day—or nuke it for a minute in your microwave. Use a disinfectant spray to wipe off the faucet (including the metal aeration screen –it’s a germ gathering place).