I just came out of a full blown house-cleaning frenzy. A nasty virus recently made its way through three members of our family and our poor nanny. And in a few days, we have a dozen out-of-state family members coming for a visit. I didn't want our welcome gift to them to be an unpleasant week-long illness.
But there's always something "going around," right? Whether it's cold and flu season, an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease, or a case of strep, germs are everywhere. Our homes can start to feel like a big petri dish as one family member after another falls ill.
The next time someone in your family gets hit with a bad bug, banish it from your home before it can affect another person. Here, a home-cleaning professional shares her tips on how to sanitize every room in the house using only natural or organic ingredients — no chemicals required. But get ready, because cleaning when someone's sick means you may have to step up your daily routine.
With all the shared surfaces in your bathroom, and given the nature of its purpose, it's definitely one of the primary targets for germ-killing. "We always encourage people to tackle cleaning their bathrooms or kitchens first, as those areas are the most time-consuming and energy draining," says Sheila Gagne, founder and CEO of MaidOrganic LLC.
Disinfect the toilet handle, door handle and faucet handles daily to prevent the transmission of bacteria and germs, she says. You can use one of her homemade cleaners (which combine water, alcohol, vinegar and essential oils), make one of your own, or just use vinegar and water.
Vinegar, a mild acid that dissolves dirt and grime, is a strong ally for disinfecting naturally. It can be used in place of bleach, and unlike bleach, vinegar is biodegradable. But it doesn't kill the most dangerous bacteria, like staphylococcus. (Bleach does, though.) "We love using vinegar as a cleaner. It’s cheap, effective and the smell dissipates within an hour," Gagne says.
For mirrors, create a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. Spray it on and wipe clean with newspaper or a cotton cloth. For tile, porcelain and chrome, mix one part vinegar and five parts water, then spray or wipe onto surfaces. Let it stand for a few minutes before scrubbing and rinsing.
For stain removal, sprinkle baking soda on the problem area and scrub, then rinse, and repeat if necessary, WikiHow says. And for grout, the Wellness Mama blog suggests sprinkling baking soda on grout and spraying with hydrogen peroxide (a disinfectant). Then scrub with a toothbrush to get it clean.
Your kitchen is one of the main social hubs in your home, and like the bathroom, it has many shared surfaces that need to be disinfected. That 50/50 water and vinegar solution you used in the bathroom can clean your cabinets, countertops and appliances, too.
Gagne recommends a daily disinfecting of faucet handles, refrigerator handles, oven handles, cabinet handles, dishwasher handles and trash cans. Countertops need to be wiped multiple times a day, especially if raw meat was involved, she adds.
If your sink is full of dishes that sick people used, load them into the dishwasher and run it on the sanitize setting if you have one, or the hottest setting available if you don't. Heat kills germs, so if you don't have a dishwasher and you're hand-washing, the hotter the water, the better.
For the floors, consider a steam mop. In a Good Housekeeping test, even the weakest mops they tested were able to get most stains of ceramic and vinyl tile, and all the mops heated their flooring to 200 degrees, which is the temperature needed to kill bacteria. And the only supplies you need are the mop and tap water.
It's not uncommon, of course, to confine a sick family member to their bedroom. To prevent the spread of those germs, Gagne says door handles, light switches and bedside tables need a daily dose of disinfecting.
Bedding needs to be washed in hot water and dried on hot, too. Gagne says pillow cases should get a weekly wash — "Think about all the drool, make-up and dead skin cells that get left behind on your case!" — though sheets can stretch to every other week. (Obviously if there's an illness lurking, you may want to increase that frequency.)
"Also, throwing your pillow in the dryer monthly in a hot cycle for about a half hour will kill any dust mites and allergens that have settled in your pillow. Just read the labels first," Gagne says. If you're really ambitious and want to clean the mattress, too, here's how to do that.
For the furniture, you can use the 50/50 vinegar-water solution on anything with a plastic veneer. For wooden furniture, try a homemade nontoxic dusting spray, like this one. Lastly, empty tissue-filled trash cans and open windows to let fresh air circulate.
Remote controls, door handles, light switches and drawer or cabinet handles are the big germ magnets here, so disinfect those daily, Gagne says.
If you have a leather or otherwise wipe-able couch, disinfect it weekly, she says. As for your plush furniture: "Toss your throw pillows in the dryer monthly for about 15 minutes on a hot cycle to kill any dust mites or allergens, but read the labels first," Gagne suggests. "Also, vacuuming your couches and chairs helps with decreasing pet dander and dust mites."
"If you incorporate this cleaning routine, you should be in great shape for stopping the spread of bacteria and germs, especially if someone is sick in the family," Gagne says.