You know to take extra precautions out in public during cold and flu season, but did you know there are plenty of things in your home that could be making you sick as well? Here are 10 common household things that could be harboring nasty germs.
Here’s something to think about when you crawl into bed tonight: Your sheets are a breeding ground for dust mites. Mites are microscopic, but these little pests can make it easy for you to get sick. While they don’t bite, the allergen they create comes from their fecal pellets and body fragments, according to the American Lung Association and they can be a major trigger for those with allergies and asthma. Ongoing exposure, for those who are sensitive to mites, can cause an immune system response that can trigger anything from a runny nose and watery eyes to persistent coughing, congestion and even an asthma attack.
To fight dust mites, keep the humidity in your house below 50% and wash your sheets in hot water once a week. If you don’t, this is how bad it is to not wash your sheets every week.
Your Shower Head
While you may not be able to see it, there could be dangerous bacteria lingering in your shower head. “Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) is a bacteria that occurs naturally in water and soil but has also found its way into plenty of shower heads,” according to Prevention. “While many of NTM’s 150+ species are completely harmless, others can cause severe lung infections, particularly in people who have a weakened immune system.”
To prevent the growth of bacteria, clean out your shower head regularly. Just remove it and submerge it overnight in vinegar (check the manufacturer’s website first to make sure vinegar won’t harm the finish). If you want more details, read how to clean showerheads.
It may look clean, but your refrigerator is likely harboring some nasty germs. Spills can creep into shelf crevices and trays where mold and bacteria can grow if the spills aren’t cleaned up right away. Plus, fruit and vegetable drawers can be easy to ignore, but bacteria can linger, get on your food and make you sick.
The USDA says you should wipe up spills immediately and clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water and then rinse. Plus, once a week, throw out any perishable foods that should not longer be eaten. “A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is four days; raw poultry and ground meats, one to two days,” the USDA notes. For more tips, here’s how to clean a refrigerator and keep it clean.
Your Hand Towel
Just because you use it when your hands are clean, doesn’t mean your towel is clean. While you likely have one hand towel in a bathroom that is used by everyone after washing their hands, know that germs can be on a towel for hours. “In fact a towel is rather a good spot for them to be sitting as it’s in a slightly damp atmosphere,” John Oxford, a professor of virology at Queen Mary University in London told the BBC.
Regarding hand towels shared by family members and guests, Oxford says, “I’d advise using a few paper towels to throw in the bin, or individual towels.”
Your Remote Control
Consider how many hands touch your television, DVD player or stereo remotes each day. Same goes for video game controllers. Remotes are filled with all sorts of germs, especially if they aren’t washed regularly. In fact, WebMD reports a television remote has 70 bacteria per square inch!
Once a week, use an anti-bacterial wipe to disinfect remotes and controllers. Clean them more often if something in the home is sick. Another option is to use voice commands to control your electronics.
Your vacuum may help you clean your house, but it too needs to be cleaned. “Vacuum bags can be an important reservoir of bacteria, molds, endotoxins, and allergens,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This can trigger allergies and breathing complications.
Clean out your vacuum regularly and consider wearing a mask when using your vacuum.
When was the last time you replaced your toothbrush? There are more bacteria in the mouth than anywhere else in the body, so surely your toothbrush is harboring bacteria. “In addition, most people store their toothbrush in the bathroom, which tends to contain numerous airborne bacteria because of the warm, moist environment,” according to Delta Dental.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests not sharing toothbrushes, rinsing them with tap water after each use and letting them air-dry in an upright position. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if the bristles are worn out.
Your Air Freshener
You may think you’re giving your home a fresh, clean scent, but air fresheners can release volatile organic compounds (known as VOCs) into the air, according to the National Capital Poison Center. “Health problems are thought to occur from the chemicals in the air fresheners and from their secondary pollutants. Secondary pollutants are formed when a product’s chemicals combine with the ozone already in the air,” the center reports. “Even when these products are used as directed, there are concerns about health problems with repeated exposure.”
Think of your computer as you would your electronics’ remote controls—full of bacteria and germs. Every time you touch something with germs and then touch your keyboard or mouse, you’re spreading those germs to your computer.
Be sure to wipe down your computer, especially your keyboard and mouse, regularly.
Your Kitchen Sponge
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but your kitchen sponge is one of the dirtiest things in your entire home. It is harboring millions of bacteria, according to the New York Times. Every time you use the sponge to clean surfaces, all those germs are going somewhere and that somewhere is right into that sponge.
“Don’t use your sponge to scrub off chunky food debris or wipe up fresh meat juices, dirt from fruits and veggies, unpasteurized milk stuff, vomit or your pet’s droppings. Just use a paper towel, cleanser or running water,” The New York Times notes. In addition, experts suggest that you replace sponges once a week, or sooner if they smell bad.