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.
1. THE KITCHEN SPONGE
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.
2. DISH RAGS
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.
3. THE KITCHEN SINK
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).
4. WET LAUNDRY
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.