In this new age of attention to all things antibacterial, it's important to understand that cleaning and disinfecting are not the same thing. As a person with a compromised immunity, even I don't always clean or sanitize as well as I should.
Lately, however, with COVID-19 lurking everywhere, I've become absolutely fastidious about disinfecting anything that could make me sick.
Even when the coronavirus pandemic isn't a motivational factor, your home and personal items should receive at least a biannual antibacterial cleanse. Now is an ideal time to combine spring-cleaning with a side of disinfectant.
Only specific chemicals can wipe out bacteria. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes a list of effective disinfectants. But take note: All of them except one require 10 minutes of wetness on the surface you're applying it to in order to kill off maximum bacteria.
If you're using presoaked antibacterial wipes, it makes sense to wash surfaces or items with soap and water first. You can then wipe things down with a disinfectant more than once, especially items that get handled more often and, therefore, have a higher probability of harboring more bacteria.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides instructions for a homemade solution of bleach and water that also works. For fabrics that can go in the washer and dryer, a high heat setting does the job. Or a few hours in the sun will harness the solar bacteria-killing power and do the job for you.
To ensure you cover all those high-traffic touch points, here's a list of places and items that might get overlooked during your usual cleaning or disinfecting.
1. Handles. For most, the number of handles you touch regularly probably isn't something you often think about. Give a thorough disinfecting to all handles on doors (internal and external), drawers, bureaus, bedside tables, closets, fridges, ovens, stoves, dishwashers, washers, dryers, toilets and their lids, toilet paper holders, taps and microwaves.
2. Buttons. Again, major appliances (fridges, stoves, dishwashers, microwaves, washers, dryers) and small appliances that are used often (vacuums, irons/steamers, coffee machines, electric kettles, blenders, alarm clocks, toasters) need regular antibacterial cleaning. Ditto for light switches/lamp buttons and all those TV remote controls or game controllers that get handled daily.
3. Vehicles. If you drive a vehicle, it's got germs. Disinfect the inner and outer door handles, glove box and latch, console latch, steering wheel, gearshift, and all buttons or handles.
4. Phones. There has been a lot of attention lately to the bacteria on smartphones, but another reminder doesn't hurt. Make sure you remove the protective case to properly disinfect that as well, and include your earbuds or earphones and their cases.
5. Electronics. We touch our laptops, computers, tablets, touch pads and the desks where they're used constantly, so it's obvious that they collect plenty of bacteria over time.
6. Handrailings and their posts. We run our hands along these frequently, but they don't often show any dirt or germs.
7. Coat hangers. Assuming that you dry-clean or launder your outerwear regularly — particularly if you take public transit — coat hangers are often touched soon after you enter your home yet before you've washed your hands.
8. Purses, wallets, briefcases, gym bags, backpacks, keys and their fobs or key chains, credit cards, bank cards and ID cards. These are more of the items we touch daily, often after touching germ-infested things such as the keypad to pay for items electronically at a store.
9. Footwear and wherever you store it. Sometimes it's not possible to kick off certain kinds of footwear. So if you have to touch them, lace them up or buckle them, there's bacteria exchange happening. It also makes sense to disinfect the shelf, mat, box or whatever place you use to store your footwear when not wearing them.
10. Garbage bins, inside and out, their handles and foot pedals. This seems pretty straightforward, but not everyone realizes some bacteria can move from inside the liner bag to the bin itself.
11. Water bottles. Again, this is a high-use item that comes in contact with your mouth. Depending on what the bottle is made of, you can trust your dishwasher on a heat cycle to sanitize it. Or soak it in a bleach or vinegar solution for at least 10 minutes, rinse it really well and then make sure it's completely dry before using.
12. Fingernails. OK, we are all currently obsessed with handwashing. But for those with medium-length to long nails, you don't want to know how much microscopic bacteria thrives under there. Use the nails of your opposite hand to regularly give a scrub under your nails with a good soap foam, but don't use a nail scrubber unless absolutely necessary — you're just transferring the germs to a new location to sit and breed on the scrubber. If you do use a scrubber, make sure you sanitize it often with a bleach-and-water soak and some time in the sun, or simply replace it often.
13. Reusable grocery bags or boxes. Washable bags need a hot-water wash regularly, and grocery boxes should get a good antibacterial wipe-down or soak, too. Remember to also clean the areas on which you set down those items to unpack. They've touched a lot of places that aren't sanitary (the store conveyor belt, store shopping cart and your vehicle's trunk) and have probably picked up some gross stuff that can hop on your counter or table.
14. Glasses, sunglasses, cases and contact lens cases. Do you really want bacteria-infected items near your eyes? ‘Nuff said.
15. Toothbrushes. Replace your toothbrush often. But in the meantime, store it upright, never on the counter, and not in a tightly enclosed travel cover or container.
Use common sense. If an item gets touched a lot, it collects bacteria a lot — and needs disinfecting often. If there are things you're wondering how to disinfect, the CDC also provides a useful list for how to sanitize some common household items.