It starts with a sneeze and then, all of a sudden, nearly everyone in your home is bedridden. Cold and flu season can be tough to combat, but the right precautions can prevent germs from spreading in your home, keeping sick days to a minimum. Sure, you’re already making sure to scrub your hands and keep your home relatively clean, but according to medical professionals, there are even more steps you can take to keep your space happy and healthy.
First, remember: When it comes to your physical health, a well-rounded diet, plenty of sleep, and a flu shot will go a long way, as will taking vitamin C supplements at the first sign of a scratchy throat or stuffy nose. Still, though, it’s impossible to totally prevent sickness, which is why we tapped a few doctors to share their tips for keeping your home as germ-free as possible, even if you’re sharing your space with someone who already has a cold.
First, Be Careful
Your cleaning supplies, if used incorrectly, might actually be making you sick in the short and long-term. Consider swapping out your heavy-duty sprays for options approved by the Environmental Working Group, and if you do use synthetic options, be careful.
“When you start to clean your home, never mix ammonia and bleach, as they form a toxic gas of chloramine vapors that is extremely dangerous,” says Gene Conti, MD, who currently practices in North Carolina’s Halifax Regional Medical Center. “It forms a respiratory irritant, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, headaches, and even seizures. This is one reason we see people in the ER.”
Clean Your Cleaning Supplies
Sure, you’re cleaning your home, but are you also cleaning the things you use to clean your home? Chances are they’re carrying around some pesky germs too. “A lot of people forget to clean their cleaning equipment regularly like rags or washcloths or even sponges,” says Dr. Robert Segal, cofounder of Labfinder.com. “Bacteria thrives on those things, and you should either clean those regularly and frequently or dispose of them.”
That task isn’t too time-consuming, though. “Wash all cleaning gear in hot soapy water and a drop or two of bleach,” advises Conti. “And microwave your sponges (while they’re moist) to bust bugs—one minute on high should do it.”
Address the Usual Suspects—and a Few Unexpected Places
Cleaning the obvious surfaces of your home will help you combat cold and flu germs, but there are a few additional steps that can make more of a difference. “Flu viruses can live for two to eight hours on hard surfaces,” says Conti. “Disinfect doorknobs, railings, light switches—and especially the TV remote control—with antiviral wipes, or by spraying a clean towel with white vinegar and then drying it with a paper towel. Stovetops, cutting boards, sinks, and faucets are also breeding grounds for germs—wipe them down daily and run cutting boards through a sanitizing cycle on the dishwasher to eliminate contamination.”
It’s also always important to regularly change your sheets, but when someone’s sick, it’s even more crucial to do so: “Changing the bedding, especially pillowcases, will help reduce exposure to contagious particles as well,” adds Dr. Dyan Hes, Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics.
Keep Your Floor Clean
Dirty floors aren’t just a nuisance—they can also be a sneaky place for germs to hang out. “Flu viruses can hang out in mud, dirt, and debris,” advises Conti. “Keep a doormat outside every entrance and wipe your feet. Go the extra mile and wash the soles of shoes regularly during the flu season.”
Go the Extra Mile
A statement piece in your kitchen can also cut down on your sick days—if you’re willing to make the investment. “If your budget allows, consider investing in a copper sink,” suggests Conti. “The EPA states that copper and copper alloys, including brass and bronze, are bacteria busters and may be effective against viruses as well.” As a bonus, it will also lend a cool, contemporary farmhouse vibe to your interior—Chip and Jo would totally approve.
Purify Your Air
It’s easier to breathe easy when you have the help of an air purifier. The right one can even help to filter out particles that make you sick.“It’s a good idea to invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter. Ideally, you want one that can trap particles as small as 0.3 microns. This should help capture flu particles in the air as well,” says Hes.
If you opt for an air purifier that also has a humidifier function, even better: “Keeping the humidity in the room to 40% to 50% will also limit the spread of flu,” she adds. “Use a cool-mist humidifier, which will also keep nasal and upper airway passages moist.”
A bit of preventative care can go a long way in cold and flu season, but keeping your home pristine can help even if sickness sets in. Clean up, get some rest, and stay well.
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