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Home Hygiene: Tips, Resources, and Best Practices for the Prevention of the Spread of Illnesses

No one likes to be sick. Not only do you feel less than your best when you’re ill, but you often have to take time off from work or miss school to avoid getting co-workers or classmates sick. But what about spreading illness in your home? Viruses like the flu virus and stomach bugs are notorious for making their rounds through families, one-by-one. Or, if you’re particularly lucky, nasty viruses take all your family members down at once, leaving no one feeling up to the task of providing the TLC we like to provide our loved ones when they’re ill.

That doesn’t have to be the case. That’s why we’ve put together this thorough, detailed guide – to give you the best home hygiene tips and tricks to prevent the spread of germs and illness in your home. From keeping the frequently touched surfaces around your home properly disinfected to knowing what to wash and when to keep the rest of your family healthy, never again will one family member bringing home a virus from work or school mean the rest of your family is destined to suffer, too.

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Understanding How Germs Spread and Cause Illness

The following resources and information outline the importance of understanding how germs spread and cause illness and offer information on the specifics of how germs are spread and the most common ways people become sick from the spread of germs.

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Know how germs are spread. Knowing how illnesses are spread from one person to another is the first step in proper home hygiene to prevent the spread of illness. This fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers useful information on how germs (and thus, illness) is spread from one person to another – primarily through tiny droplets made when people talk, sneeze, or cough.

Hygiene is fundamental to preventing the spread of germs, illness, and disease, despite vaccines and antibiotics. While modern medicine goes a long way in preventing and treating illness, this article points out that families share an important responsibility in prevention, as well.

A 2008 meta-analysis found that improvements in hand hygiene result in 31% reductions in gastrointestinal illness and 21% reductions in respiratory illness. The analysis described in this article evaluated hand hygiene trials published between January 1960 and May 2007 and demonstrates a clear benefit to improved hand hygiene for the prevention of illness.

High-traffic areas of your home and items that are touched frequently are germ banks. According to WebMD, one study found that the kitchen sink has more bacteria than the toilet or garbage can.


Tips for Properly Cleaning the Surfaces in Your Home to Prevent the Spread of Illness

The following resources offer helpful information on how to properly clean the surfaces and items in your home to prevent the spread of germs and illnesses.

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Clean and disinfect the frequently touched surfaces in your home regularly when someone is sick. You should regularly clean your home anyway, but it’s particularly important to make sure the surfaces family members touch most often are disinfected when a family member is ill.

Cleaning removes dirt and grime; sanitizing kills germs. As this resource explains, some items should be cleaned to remove dirt and then sanitized, which kills some germs. Surfaces in bathrooms, counters, toys, dishes, and silverware should be both cleaned and sanitized.

Hygienic cleaning practices help to prevent the spread of germs and illness. As this article explains, hygienic cleaning involves focusing your efforts in the areas where germs are most likely to spread from and cause infection. It’s also important to recognize that good home hygiene isn’t a once-weekly, deep cleaning, but an ongoing part of your daily life.

If children are sick, give them hard-surface toys that are easy to clean. Encouraging children to play with easy-to-clean toys when they’re sick means it’s easier for you to keep the spread of germs to a minimum.

Cleaning “as-you-go” allows you to remove dirt in high-risk areas. “Cleaning is very important as germs do not have anywhere to live once dirt has been removed. You should clean regularly (particularly in high-risk areas), instead of once a week. You should clean areas like the kitchen and bathroom ‘as you go’. You don’t need to clean floors as often as you clean high-risk areas,” according to this resource from Health Service Executive.

Wipe down surfaces like countertops in your home daily with disinfecting solution or disinfecting wipes. This article from CBS News offers a variety of useful tips for keeping your home clean and sanitized when a family member or visitor is sick, including room-by-room disinfecting tips. For instance, you should use paper towels to dry hands after washing, or at a minimum, use a separate towel for each member of the household – and wash them weekly.

Don’t forget to microwave your sponges. Microwaving your sponges on high for two minutes once weekly will disinfect them, or you can opt for a five-minute soak in a bleach solution. As this article points out, “The microwave method has even been shown to kill 99 percent of bacteria.” This article lists a total of 21 most germ-friendly places in your home, including those you don’t think about as frequently, such as cutting boards, bath mats, and the coffee maker.

Don’t neglect the windows and door tracks. These areas tend to accumulate dust, dirt, and dead bugs, and not keeping them clean can make you more susceptible to colds and respiratory illnesses. This article discusses five of the dirtiest areas and items in the home and offers tips for keeping them clean and germ-free.


Choosing the Right Cleaning Products and Proper Handling

The following resources provide information on selecting the best cleaning products, how to use cleaning products appropriately for maximum effectiveness, and handling tips to ensure your safety when using cleaning products and chemicals around the home.

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The flu virus is very weak outside the body when exposed to air, but disinfecting hard surfaces (where the virus is most likely to survive), such as doorknobs, countertops, keyboards, remote controls, toys, and similar items is a good idea.

Bleach is a relatively inexpensive and effective disinfecting agent. According to this resource from Mother Nature Network, bleach can kill some of the most dangerous bacteria, such as staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. coli and salmonella.

Look for surface-disinfecting sprays that are EPA-registered for killing germs on hard surfaces. According to this article from Good Housekeeping, products that kill the influenza A virus will also be effective against the H1N1 flu strain.

Vinegar hasn’t been tested as extensively as chlorine bleach, but it is a disinfecting option for those who prefer natural products. According to Rodale’s Organic Life, “The vinegar you buy in stores, whether apple cider, balsamic, white, or another kind, contains 5 percent acetic acid, which does have antimicrobial properties.” Some studies have shown that vinegar, used in combination with table salt or hydrogen peroxide, can inhibit the growth of some strains of E. coli, and it’s also an effective mold killer.

If opting for vinegar, white distilled vinegar is your best bet. ToxinAlert.com points out that because of its acidity levels, white distilled vinegar is effective at killing bacteria, mold, and germs, and it’s also environmentally friendly.

After recovering from an illness, it’s important to clean the overlooked areas. Wash pillows and bedding in hot water, replace or disinfect your toothbrush, and wipe down the refrigerator handle, to name a few.

Disinfecting wipes are handy to keep around the house, particularly for tricks like wiping down your credit and debit cards. As this article from ListPlanIt points out, “Think of all the people you hand those to.”

Toys and similar small items with hard surfaces can be disinfected by soaking them in a bleach and water solution. Mix one tablespoon of bleach with one gallon of water for the perfect disinfecting solution for toys.


Personal Hygiene and Self-Care Tips to Prevent the Spread of Illness

The following resources provide information on personal hygiene tips to follow to avoid spreading germs and illness to others when multiple people cohabitate in the same living quarters.

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Avoid contact with others as much as possible when you’re sick, especially if you have an illness like the flu. It’s easy to avoid contact with people at work or school by staying home, but your other family members will be sharing the same space. Staying in a bedroom or one area of the home will reduce the germs spread throughout the house.

Cover your cough. Something as simple as covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze can help to prevent the spread of germs to those around you.

Use proper hand-washing techniques. Simply rinsing off your hands isn’t enough to get rid of illness-causing germs and bacteria. This resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines proper hand-washing techniques.

That means washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. As this article points out, one study found the average hand-washing time to be just six seconds. It’s also important to remember to clean between your fingers and under your fingernails.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an effective way to maintain hand sanitation in the absence of soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers “significantly reduce the number of pathogens on the skin,” according to this resource from the Arizona Department of Health Services.


Proper Nutrition and Food Handling Tips to Beat Illness and Stay Healthy

Diet and nutrition is important when you’re sick as well as when someone in your family is sick. The following resources offer helpful information on the best nutrition and food handling practices to help you and your family stay healthy.

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Clean your hands before touching or eating food. People often become sick by picking up germs from common surfaces and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. So whether you’re sick or someone in your family is, washing your hands before touching or eating food can help you avoid spreading illness or getting sick.

If you have food poisoning, you should avoid handling and preparing food until 48 hours after you have completely recovered. If handling and preparing food is unavoidable, follow the tips outlined in this resource, including washing your hands with soap and water and drying them with a separate towel before handling food.

Separate raw meats from other foods. “Cross-contamination can occur when bacteria are spread from one food product to another. This is especially common when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. The key is to keep these foods—and their juices—away from ready-to-eat foods,” according to the FDA.

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States. According to the CDC, food can become contaminated when infected people who have stool or vomit on their hands touch the food, when food is placed on countertops or other surfaces that have infectious stool or vomit on them, or when tiny droplets of vomit from an infected person spray through the air and land on food. All of these modes of contamination point to the importance of proper hygiene for both people and household surfaces.

Follow good thawing, storage, and cooking practices for perishable foods, in particular. Cooking foods at the wrong temperature or not refrigerating perishable foods within two hours (or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) are just two of the many tips offered in this resource from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This article offers more detailed information on proper thawing procedures, and additional information on cleanliness and food handling best practices are found in this article.

Wash vegetables and fruits before eating them. This is especially important for fruits and vegetables that will not be cooked. “Avoid eating alfalfa sprouts until their safety can be assured. Methods to decontaminate alfalfa seeds and sprouts are being investigated,” recommends WebMD.

Use a thermometer to make sure meat and poultry (including ground meat and poultry) are cooked to the proper temperatures. Fish should be cooked until it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.


By understanding how germs spread and cause illness and taking some simple steps to keep your home clean, preventing colds, infections, and viruses from spreading through your whole family is no longer an impossible feat. Being diligent about maintaining a clean, healthy home is as easy as staying on top of keeping common areas and frequently touched surfaces clean, and using a bit of extra caution when someone in your home does fall ill.

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