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Cleaning to kill household germs

When it comes to bugs and germs, we are outnumbered. There are billions of bacteria, viruses and moulds all around us and in our homes. However, effective cleaning routines and good hygiene can help win the battle.

If you think you don’t have time for cleaning, think how much less you'd have if you picked up a bout of food poisoning, a cold or flu through not cleaning.

Where are the germs?

Any busy area in the home that gets touched a lot by the family's hands can harbour germs and pass them on to the next person.

Not all germs are harmful but where there are germ strongholds the conditions are favourable for viruses like the flu, or food poisoning bacteria, to lurk.

Germ research has produced some surprising, and perhaps disturbing, facts over the years.

Kitchen sinks can be home to more bacteria than the toilet or bin.

In the bathroom, one surprise germ catcher was the toothbrush holder. These are often near the toilet and flushing sends a fine spray of mist that can contaminate them.

Toothbrush holders are often left out of a home's cleaning routine as they don’t seem to be an obvious germ hotspot.

Looks can be deceptive

A home may look spotless, but that doesn’t mean the germs aren’t there. A study found that 12% of surfaces that looked clean were actually heavily contaminated.

Cleaning surfaces is extra important if someone in the house has been sick, has diarrhoea, or has a cold or flu.

Wash those hands

Good hand washing can help stop the spread of germs around the home, especially after using the toilet, changing a baby's nappy and before preparing food. However, even with the cleanest hands an effective cleaning regime is needed.

Surface cleaning tips

The Hygiene Council recommends these surface cleaning methods:

  • If you can, rinse using clean running water after using a detergent-based cleaner. Dry the surface afterwards.
  • If rinsing isn’t possible, or if the surface is likely to be contaminated, use disinfectant.
  • To avoid spreading germs in cloths and sponges, use disposable cloths, or reusable cloths, which have been decontaminated and dried after their previous use.

Areas in need of regular cleaning include:

  • Cleaning cloths
  • Chopping boards and utensils
  • Toilet seat and flush handle or button
  • Taps
  • Kitchen work-tops
  • Door, drawer, oven and fridge handles
  • Light switches, control knobs, dials and touch panels
  • Phone handsets, mobile phones, remote controls, computer keyboards and mice
  • Sink, bath and shower
  • Rubbish bin lids


Washing machines sound like clean places, however an average washing machine load can contain 100 million E.coli.

Germs can spread from contaminated clothes in the washing basket and during the washing cycle itself.

Consider washing heavily soiled items separately. Although low temperature washes are eco-friendly, they may also be germ friendly. The Hygiene Council recommends using a high temperature above 60°C for clothes, linen, towels and other fabrics.

Handling dirty laundry is another time when hand washing is recommended once the wash is on.

To help clean the washing machine of germs, run it empty occasionally on a high-temperature.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 30, 2017

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