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Here are a few principles and practical suggestions taken from chapter 9 of the aforementioned Germ Proof Your Kids (Harley Rotbart, M.D., Washington, DC: ASM Press, 2008).

– There are two main factors in keeping a truly clean home: one is using the right kind of detergent (see below); the other is establishing a consistent schedule for cleaning each room of the house. The doctor recommends the following as a “reasonable regimen”: clean kitchen sinks and countertops daily; bathroom sinks, countertops, and flush handles three to four times each week; toilets, and kitchen and bathroom floors, weekly. The bedroom and playroom of a sick child should be cleaned twice a day.
– For handwashing, use regular soap— that is, the kind that works by lifting and removing dirt and germs rather than killing them—until we have more conclusive evidence that antiseptics/antibacterials are more effective. He recommends liquid rather than bar soap if possible, to avoid the obvious pitfall of picking up new germs. That said, it never occurred to me that liquid dispensers can become contaminated, too, and so require some vigilance. 1) Don’t just top off refillable dispensers. Once they are empty, the bottle and pump should be thoroughly washed. 2) Between refills— and the doctor suggests “once a week, at least”— the pump surface should be washed and disinfected.
– In lab experiments comparing cleaning and disinfecting agents, bleach is most effective against Staphylococcus aureus and gastrointestinal germs; ammonia and phenol products are less effective but they also substantially reduce bacteria counts; and such darlings of green and/or frugal housekeepers as baking soda and vinegar simply do not work for these purposes.
– Germs love moisture, and moisture is abundant in the kitchen and bathroom. Ninety percent of gastroenteritis cases caused by salmonella occur at home, probably due to the practice of transferring germs from the sink to the counter via the used dishrag. Rotavirus, the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis worldwide, can last for days or even weeks on moist surfaces in the bathroom, and beyond: think faucets, sinks, toys, and diaper-changing areas.
– It’s a good idea to keep the toothbrushes as far from the toilet as possible; at the risk of sounding indelicate, the germs propelled into the air after flushing won’t cause any problems as long as you don’t ingest them.
– Kitchen sponges should be either discarded and replaced every day or two, or sterilized. (In my experience, the sponge will have to be discarded anyway after a couple uses and subsequent soaks in a bleach solution; this seems to cause my sponges to break down rapidly. Maybe they’re just too cheap.) Or, you could microwave the sponge *while wet* for 2-4 minutes, and that will drastically reduce the germ count.
– Use kitchen rags once, or at most for one day, before laundering them. Don’t use the rags you used to wash dishes to clean the counters, and vice versa. (I have been advised elsewhere to use a bristle brush: you won’t do so much replacing of sponges, or laundering of possibly contaminated rags, and it doesn’t trap bacteria as well as sponges or rags.)
– Use hot water and/or bleach whenever possible in the laundry.

September 2018
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