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Battle the Top 10 Germ Hot Spots

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Battle the Top 10 Germ Hot Spots

If we could take a tour of our homes wearing germ-vision goggles, we might be reluctant to re-enter after running out the door screaming as if we’d just escaped from the world’s creepiest haunted house. Germs are everywhere. I happen to not think that’s such an awful thing–although I don’t want to breed germs like pets, not all germs are so bad. In a story I posted about germs in January (Eating Dirt, Embracing Germs), I wrote about researchers who were concluding that the millions of bacteria and viruses that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system.

But just because I’m soft on germs doesn’t mean I plan on playing perfect hostess to germs that may endanger my kids–wherein lies a bit of a conflict. When I saw a story on germ hot spots and the less innocent germs that lurk in the corners (and surprising surfaces) in our homes, the mother bear in me wanted to bust out the fatigues and shock and awe every last E.coli with bleach and triclosan, even though I run an all-natural household. Every conventional suggestion for battling these hot spots relies on solutions that I know are bad for my house and the planet. So instead, I devised a different plan of attack that skips bleach and its friends, and relies on tested alternatives and some simple strategizing. Here’s my plan.

Statistics show that there can be 250,000 bacteria per square inch on the handy kitchen sponge–yes, the very implement that we use to clean our food prep areas and eating surfaces is swarming with bacteria. The moist pores that make a sponge such an effective cleaning device also make it a perfect cozy village for germs, and very hard to disinfect. Wiping counters or dishes with a dirty sponge will only transfer the bacteria, like dastardly E. coli, from one item to another.

Solution: Beware of sponges labeled with “anti-bacterial” or “kills odors” as those are impregnated with triclosan. Instead, use pure cellulose sponges and sterilize them every day by one of these three methods.
Boil in water for three minutes.
Wet, squeeze, and cook in the microwave for two minutes.
Run sponge through the dishwasher.

Dish rags present the same problem as kitchen sponges, but since they don’t have the same pervious texture they are less attractive to bacteria.

Solution: Rinse the rag well and allow to dry for several hours before using again–most bacteria can only live for three hours without moisture. You can also apply any of the sterilizing methods from Kitchen Sponges.

Do you hear a buzz in your sink? Salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli are having a little party in your drain. Not really, I don’t think germs have parties, or voices, but still … the kitchen sink is a terrific venue for bacteria. Food and grime get stuck around and in the drain, and bacteria like that very much. From there, migration to the basin and faucet handles isn’t such a stretch.

Solution: Scrub the drain area and as far down as you can with baking soda and a toothbrush to get rid of food particles and grime. Always clean the sink after you have prepared food containing dangerous organisms. And clean the sink two times a week with a homemade antibacterial soft-scrub formula (see recipe on next page).

This one is as gross as it is surprising. I don’t really know how to tell you this, but there’s poop in your laundry. A report from ABC News states that there is about 0.1 gram of fecal material in a piece of underwear, which adds up to approximately 100 million E. coli bacteria in an average undergarment load. Yuck and yikes. And as many of us don’t use bleach and scalding water for laundry, much of that bacteria just takes a swirly swim and is up and running to contaminate our hands as we transfer to the dryer.

Wash all undergarments in the same load, and make it the last load of the day to avoid contaminating successive loads.
Add a few drops of tea tree oil to your laundry detergent, or use lavender or tea tree oil castille soap.
If you don’t use hot water for cleaning, consider using it just for underwear loads.
Don’t let laundry sit between wash and dry cycles, this gives germs a chance to multiply.
If you don’t dry your laundry on high heat for a full cycle, consider doing so just for underwear loads.
Wash hands after putting wet laundry in the dryer.
Don’t place dirty laundry on the folding/sorting table where clean laundry will be placed.
Don’t put clean laundry back in the dirty hamper to bring it back to the dresser.

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Read more: General Health, Green Kitchen Tips, Home, Non-Toxic Cleaning, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


+ add your own
1:39PM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

Thank you Melissa.

12:26PM PDT on Jul 5, 2015

Thank you Melissa.

10:22AM PDT on Aug 4, 2012

For me there is only one way to clean and completely sanitize every surface in my home. If you are curious check out It's the answer to nasty chemicals, bacteria, dust mites, mold, mildew and the list goes on and on. Go to and get ready to change your life. I did.

4:14PM PDT on Mar 21, 2012

Overuse of antibacterial soap leads to drug resistant bacteria. Use it sparingly.

4:44AM PST on Nov 6, 2011

Thanks for sharing these great tips but let's use some common sense. I remember myself, playing in the garden with our dog (not a house dog) and my kids did the same. Nothing happened to us. Of course fewer people...fewer germs back then. There are germs and bacteria everywhere so lets use our common sense and clean accordingly.

12:23PM PDT on Nov 4, 2011

Gross!!!!!! Ewwwww!!!!!!! Just plain NASTY! Good thing I already put tea tree oil in my laundry, and use lavender based natural soap. I just like the way it smells! :-)

12:10PM PDT on Nov 4, 2011

Thank you for that information.
I'll be trying out a number of your suggestions - I bought a new bottle of vinegar recently (5 litres) so I reckon I can get started!

4:27AM PDT on Sep 3, 2011


7:50AM PDT on May 15, 2011

Thanks alot.

12:04AM PDT on May 15, 2011


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