While we’ve all got used to washing our hands and catching our sneezes in a bid to control infection, there might be a few things we’re neglecting. Believe it or not, clothes and towels can be a hotbed for pathogens, especially if you live in a multi-person household where everyone’s got used to drying their nice, clean hands on the same questionable towel. Dishes, kitchen sponges and clothes are just as troublesome, providing just the right kind of warm, moist conditions in which germs love to set up camp. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to stop bacteria in its tracks.
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot
Don’t think you can get away with washing your clothes and dishes in luke-warm water – not if you want to kill any lurking pathogens, in any case. When it comes to getting rid of germs, the hotter the water the better. As Laundryheap CEO Deyan Dimitrov tells The Sun, “Most viruses won’t survive in temperatures over 60C, so you could opt for this setting for items that are particularly germ-ridden and washed less often, like tea towels, bedding, bath towels, gloves, scarves, and children’s clothing.” If you really want to go to town on those germs, introduce a few extra steps into your usual laundry routine. Rather than allowing your clothes to airdry, tumble dry them for around 20 minutes to give them a big blast of heat. Once you’re done, treat them to a thorough pressing with an iron set to its max setting – if anything manages to survive that 212ºF, it’s a better germ than most. The same principle applies to dishes: forget the gentle, eco-clean setting for now, and give those dishes a full blast of your dishwasher’s hottest, most powerful setting.
Wash your Machine
If you’ve only got a few clothes to pop in the washing machine, it can be tempting to top up the load with any dirty towels, dishcloths, and kitchen sponges you can find. But resist, especially if the load contains any undergarments. According to the Medical Daily, the average pair of underwear contains a tenth of a gram of fecal matter, a chief transmitter of hepatitis A virus, norovirus, rotavirus, Salmonella, E. coli, and a host other little nasties. Putting these contaminated garments in the washing machine creates a kind of “bacterial soup” …and trust me, you don’t want to be wiping your dishes with anything that’s had a taste of that little delicacy. As well as ensuring you always wash your undergarments separately, it’s crucial to keep your machine clean. Pathogens can spread just as easily to the washer as they can to fabrics, and will happily wait around for days until you give them a new load to jump onto. To clean the machine, regularly run it through an empty cycle with plenty of bleach and hot water.
Go Easy on the Formula
If you thought more formula meant cleaner clothes, think again. Too much formula can create an excess of soap suds. The soap suds will cling to your laundry and make it harder for dirt to wash away. Stick to the recommended amount and eschew fabric softener completely in place of ½ cup of white vinegar. Not only will the vinegar relax and soften the clothes just as well as a chemical softener, it’s natural antibacterial properties will do wonders for killing any hidden nasties.
Don’t Forget to Separate Laundry
If anyone in your house is ill, separate their laundry and make sure that no errant sock, towel, or t-shirt makes its way from their pile to anyone else’s. Rather than letting their clothes sit around in a hamper, put them in the washer straight away, and be sure to wear rubber gloves as you handle the garments. Once you’ve washed their load, put the machine through an empty spin with either bleach or a cup of white vinegar to disinfect it.
Microwave Grubby Sponges
As handy as they are for quickly soaking up food spillages and dirt, sponges are a haven for bacteria. Believe it or not, that innocent-looking sponge sat by your sink could be harboring everything from campylobacter and salmonella to staphylococcus, E. coli, and listeria. According to the USDA, the best way of getting rid of any germs isn’t, as most of us think, by simply soaking the sponge in bleach. In tests, microwaving and dishwashing came out tops for cleaning, with microwaving killing 99.99999 percent of bacteria, and dishwashing killing 99.9998 percent. So, next time your sponge starts looking a little grubby, a few blasts in the microwave should sort it out.
Sanitize Dirty Dishes
If you’re still using the age-old approach of washing your dishes in a bowl of warm, sudsy water, it may be time to rethink your approach. As reported by Real Simple, most dishwashing liquids are actually not antibacterial… no matter how sparkly clean the dishes come out looking, they could still be harboring just as many pathogens as they did when they went into the bowl. Dishwashing is the best guarantee of germ-free dishes, but if you don’t have one, there’s plenty you can do to maximize the bacteria-killing potential of a hand wash. As heat is crucial for killing bacteria, it’s worth investing in a pair of heat-resistant dishwashing gloves so you can get the washing water good and hot without injuring yourself in the process. Always invest in a cleaning product that’s specifically labeled “anti-bacterial” (alternatively, you can make your own solution by mixing one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water). Lastly, never leave dirty plates to stack up (bacteria multiplies quicker than you can count to three), and always soak them for at least a minute in hot water and cleaning solution before you start scrubbing (with, it pays to say, a clean, sanitized sponge or cloth).