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10 Things to Clean in 10 Minutes

Tasks that take a short time, but make a big difference in keeping your house tidy and germ free

person wearing rubber gloves using a spray bottle and sponger to clean a kitchen sink

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From vacuuming and laundry to scrubbing the bathroom and washing the dishes, the average American spends more than 23 hours per month cleaning. Despite the fact that many people devote the equivalent of almost one day per month to washing and scrubbing, you may be skipping some of the germiest spots in the house — and that can be an invitation for bacteria to take over.

These 10 cleaning tasks each can be tackled in under 10 minutes and will leave your home cleaner than ever.

1. Ceiling fan blades

Dust settles on top of the fan blades where it sits, unnoticed. As soon as you turn on the fan, the spinning blades spread mites and dust all over the room, notes Susan Raschal, a board-certified allergist and immunologist with Family Allergy & Asthma in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The more dust and allergens on your surfaces, the higher the likelihood you’ll experience symptoms like a stuffed nose, itchy eyes or scratchy throat, she adds.

Skip the feather duster, which will cause dust to fall onto the surfaces below and use a wet cloth or disinfecting wipe to remove dust from the fan blades.

2. Refrigerator crisper

You wash the produce that comes out of the crisper drawer but what about the bin itself? Research found that refrigerators are breeding grounds for bacteria like staphylococcus, E. coli and listeria.

Remove the drawer from the refrigerator and clean it out with soap and water; let it air dry before putting it back in the refrigerator. Aim to clean the drawers a few times a year — unless meat or produce drawers are visibly soiled from leaking meat or spoiled vegetables, which should be considered “a contamination event” and cleaned immediately, according to Paul Pottinger, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

3. Cutting board

Wiping down the cutting board isn’t enough to keep bacteria, mold and yeast from raw meat and vegetables from multiplying on its surface.

Pottinger recommends using separate cutting boards for meat and vegetable preparation and washing them after each use. For the best results, skip handwashing and put cutting boards in the dishwasher and choose the “sanitizing” cycle to kill bacteria.

“These cycles have higher heat and longer drying times,” he says. “Even in standard cycles, the water is so hot … and the scrub is so aggressive that it should do the trick.”

4. Pet bowls and toys

Admit it: You rarely scrub the dog’s or cat’s food and water bowls. A survey done by Petco found that 20 percent of pet parents waited at least a month before cleaning pet bowls even though they are breeding grounds for bacteria, mold and yeast. Their favorite balls and stuffed toys also need routine cleaning.

Put dog or cat bowls and plastic toys in the dishwasher and toss stuffed animals in the washing machine to reduce your four-legged friend’s exposure to germs that could cause illness.

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5. Coffee maker

Do you take your coffee with cream and sugar? How about a dash of bacteria? Microbiologists swabbed coffee drip trays and found up to 67 different bacteria hanging out with the dredges of your morning brew, including several strains that cause illness. (A study from NSF International, an independent public health organization, found that coffee makers were among the top five germiest spots in the house).

Cleaning your coffee maker is as simple as filling it with equal parts vinegar and water and setting it to brew. Run it again with water to flush the vinegar taste from the coffee maker.

6. Kitchen sink

Even sinks that look clean can harbor germs and bacteria. Washing pesticides off produce or rinsing knives after cutting raw meat contributes to the pathogens circling the drain.

“Certain microorganisms love water and grow in areas where there’s continuous moisture,” explains John Swartzberg, M.D., clinical professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. “The bacteria that grow in water-loving places tend to be more resistant to antibiotics.”

Clean the sink basin with a disinfectant daily to remove bacteria from food prep areas.

7. Garbage can

Tossing everything from soiled paper to food scraps into the trash can creates a warm, moist environment where bacteria thrive. Since you’re not eating out of the garbage can, the bacteria lurking there likely pose little risk to your health — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a good scrubbing, says Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona.​“It’s a good idea to clean [your garbage can] with a disinfectant for odor control,” Gerba says.

Take out the trash and then scrub the container with a disinfectant; wipe it dry before putting a trash bag back in.

8. Mattress

You change the sheets regularly but when was the last time you cleaned your mattress? The combination of sweat, dead skin cells and food crumbs adds up to a lot of bacteria. A mattress manufacturer found that mattresses that were seven years old had an average of 16 million bacteria on their surfaces.

Sprinkle baking soda on the mattress and then vacuum it up. In addition to reducing odors, vacuuming your mattress may also reduce allergy symptoms, according to research. To tackle tough stains, create a 50/50 vinegar and water solution and use small amounts to scrub the stains. Let the spots dry before putting the sheets on.

9. Shower curtain

Your shower curtain liner may be the dirtiest spot in the bathroom, harboring 60 times more bacteria than your toilet seat. Mold is the biggest issue on shower curtain liners.

“Mold produces spores that could cause an allergic reaction,” Gerba says.

Cleaning it is as simple as spraying a bleach-based product on the liner, letting it sit for a few minutes and rinsing it off, he adds.

The next time you’re stuck on a conference call or waiting for a commercial break to end, tackle one of these quick cleaning tasks for a cleaner, germ-free home.

10. Cellphone

You use your cellphone to make calls, video chat, post on social media and shop online. All of that surfing, scrolling and calling, which adds up to more than 3½ hours of screen time per day for adults over 60, means a lot of exposure to germs. In fact, researchers have called smartphones “a ‘Trojan horse’ contributing to the transmission of microbial infections in epidemics and pandemics.”

“The mobile phone is a surface that’s touched a ton but almost never cleaned,” Pottinger says.

Pottinger suggests using an alcohol-based wipe to clean your smartphone. A few quick swipes across the screen and case will remove germs and bacteria, leaving you with a cleaner device.

Video: ​How to make your own natural cleaners

Jodi Helmer is a contributing writer who covers gardening, health and the environment. She has also written for 
Scientific American, National Geographic Traveler and NPR. 

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