Tips for Keeping Your Home Healthy

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on March 31, 2016Written by Sara Askew Jones

Overview

Your home is a haven that should be safe, comfortable, and healthy. Unseen dangers throughout your home can affect you and your family's well-being. Maybe not bump-in-the-night, paranormal intruders, but chemicals, germs, viruses, and other pests can do you harm if left unchecked.

Below are some common trouble spots around the house, and solutions on how to maintain a safe and healthy home.

Kitchen

Everyone gravitates to the kitchen. Part restaurant, part entertainment center, and part family room, it’s ground zero for the most troublesome spots in the home, as practically every surface is a magnet for bacteria, viruses, germs, roaches, and other pests.

Sponges and dish towels

A sponge, although no bigger than your palm, can carry mold and thousands of germs and food-borne pathogens, if it’s not cleaned or stored properly. Two things you can do to kill germs on a sponge are:

  • place the sponge in the dishwasher with the drying cycle on
  • wet it and put it in the microwave for one to two minutes to sanitize

Cloth dish towels can also harbor unhealthy microorganisms, even if they are only used for drying clean dishes. Wash them often on the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Cutting board

Never cut fruits or vegetables on the same cutting board you use to slice raw meat, unless you thoroughly clean it between chops. Keeping veggies and raw meat separated will avoid cross contamination and the possible spread of salmonella, E. coli, and other harmful bacteria. It’s a good idea to have two cutting boards, one for raw meat and one for fruits, vegetables, and everything else.

Countertops

Use a little counter intelligence by keeping all surfaces cleaned and sanitized after you cook. This extra step will help eliminate food bacteria such as Campylobacter, a common cause of diarrhea, and will discourage roaches from feasting on the leftovers left on the counter. These household pests can carry a number of germs and can also trigger asthma and allergies in some people.

You can sanitize your countertops with bleach after wiping them down with soap and water. One teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water will do the trick. This extra step will help kill any lingering germs.

Keep a lid on possible roach infestation by washing dishes and utensils immediately after eating, storing food in tightly sealed containers, and keeping trash in a container with a lid on it.

Bedroom

Whether you share a bed with someone else or not, you are never alone in bed. Dust, dust mites, and possibly pet dander keep you company all the time. These bed bugs add to poor air quality and can irritate the best of us, allergic and non-allergic people alike. This is because dust mites produce waste and lay eggs. Add hair, dead skin, fungi, and pollen, and you get an allergen-filled combination that can pack a wallop to sensitive individuals.

Go undercover to fight these pests with zippered plastic mattress and pillow covers. Once a week, wash all bedding in hot water above 130˚F to kill dust mites, and vacuum uncovered mattresses regularly.

Bathroom

The bathroom is a relatively new thing. For thousands of years, people relied on outhouses and public baths, and for good reason — to keep germs and waste away from living quarters. Today, we have the luxury of toilets and bathtubs, and in these spaces germs can be lurking where you wouldn’t expect them.

Toilet handle

The toilet may be an easy mark for potential health dangers in the bathroom, but it's for a reason you might not expect. Sure, you know to keep the bowl and the seat clean, but how often do you clean the flush handle? Rotavirus, enterococcus, and other nasty pests can live there. Enterococcus can cause gastroenteritis, while rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea among children. Keep the flush handle sanitized with a disinfectant that specifically lists these unwanted guests on the label.

Floor to ceiling

Mold can thrive in the bathroom, presenting a number of health problems, from watery, itchy eyes to asthma attacks. Another danger lurking in your bathroom, and possibly throughout your house, is trichophyton. This fungus causes ringworm and athlete's foot and can be passed from one person's foot to the next via flooring.

Use a disinfectant designed to kill mold and fungus in the bathroom, and after bathing or showering, wipe down the tub or shower walls and curtain with a towel or squeegee. Some shower curtains can even be thrown in the washing machine.

Throw soiled tissues away and empty the wastebasket daily. Don't leave them lying around the room or on top of the counter. Rhinovirus, the main cause of the common cold, spreads easily when people touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. These viruses and other microorganisms can live on surfaces for days.

Throughout the house

Some other areas of the house where germs and bacteria tend to spread easily are:

Doorknobs

They do more than allow you into your home or a room. These handles can carry staph, short for Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium. While usually not a threat, staph can be harmful if it enters your mouth, eyes, cuts, or scrapes, and can cause a wide spectrum of problems. A good swipe of the doorknob with an antibacterial cleaner will keep staph and other harmful microorganisms at bay.

Walls

If walls could talk, they would probably ask you to reconsider your paint choice — not the color but the type. Paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a huge source of indoor air pollution. These chemicals, also found in upholstery, textiles, and other building materials, can cause a number of health-related issues. Of critical concern are paints in older homes, which might contain lead. The manufacturing of lead-based paint was banned in 1978, so if your house was built after that, you’re probably OK on this one.

To reduce your exposure to these toxic vapors, choose low-VOC paints, milk paints, or whitewashes. In older homes, check for the presence of lead by hiring a licensed risk assessor or by purchasing a lead home test kit at your local hardware store. If you discover lead in your home, inquire about lead-removal products at the hardware store or hire an experienced specialist to remove it.

Carpets and rugs

Many carpets and the adhesives and padding needed to install them emit the same VOCs as paint. Some people experience flu-like symptoms after installing new carpet and others complain of eye, nose, and throat irritation.

To avoid health issues, ask if the carpet can be aired out before installation. Open windows and doors and use fans to allow as much air to circulate in the room as possible. Consider selecting carpet and related products that meet low-VOC emitting criteria for indoor air quality acceptance. Once in place, vacuum your carpets and rugs frequently to ease allergy-related problems due to dust and pet dander.

To help ventilate a room, open windows periodically, especially after installing new carpet or painting walls. Consider using an air purifier or house plants to filter toxins and any airborne VOCs out of the air.

Outlook

Humankind has come a long way in the development of indoor spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms. We take for granted a lot of modern conveniences, and some of these can bring harmful chemicals and germs into the home. It’s important to be comfortable in your own home, and by following the tips above you can live well in a safe and healthy home.

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