Your home should be a healthy haven — comfortable and safe. Unfortunately, unseen dangers throughout your home can threaten you and your family's well-being. And these are not the bump-in-the-night, paranormal kind of intruders either. Chemicals, germs, viruses, and other pests can do you harm if left unchecked. Healthline takes a look at some of the trouble spots around the home and offers solutions on how to maintain a safe and healthy home.
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Everyone gravitates to the kitchen. It is part restaurant, part entertainment center, and part family room. It's also ground zero for the most trouble spots in the home. Practically every surface is a magnet for bacteria, viruses, germs, roaches, and other pests.
The humble sponge—no bigger than your palm—can hold mold, as well as thousands of germs and food-borne pathogens if not cleaned or stored properly.
Health Tip: Two things you can do: 1) Place the sponge in the dishwasher with the drying cycle on, or 2) get it wet and put it in the microwave to sanitize. (It will be very hot, so be careful taking it out.) Cloth dish towels can also harbor unhealthy microorganisms, even if they are only used for drying clean dishes. Wash them often using the hot cycle of your washing machine.
Never cut vegetables or fruit on the same cutting board that you use to slice raw meat, unless you thoroughly cleaned it between chops. Keeping veggies and raw meat separated will avoid cross contamination and the possible spread of salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria.
Health Tip: For added safety and peace of mind, have two cutting boards — one for raw meat and one for fruits, vegetables, and everything else.
Use a little counter intelligence by keeping all surfaces cleaned and sanitized after you cook. This extra step will help eliminate food bacteria such as campylobacter (a common cause of diarrhea) and will discourage roaches from feasting on the leftovers. These household pests can carry a number of germs and can also trigger asthma and allergies.
Health Tip: Sanitize the counter (one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water will do the trick) after wiping down with soap and water. This extra step will help kill remaining germs.
Bonus Tip: Keep a lid on possible roach infestation by washing dishes and utensils immediately after eating, storing food in tightly sealed containers, and keeping trash in a container with a top on it.
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Whether you sleep with a partner or not, you are never alone in bed. Dust, dust mites, and possibly pet dander, keep you company. These bed hogs add to poor air quality and can irritate the best of us — allergic and non-allergic alike - because dust mites produce waste and lay eggs. Add hair, dead skin, fungi, and pollen, and you get allergen-filled combination that can pack a wallop of nastiness to sensitive individuals.
Health Tip: Go undercover to fight these pests with zippered plastic mattresses and pillow covers. Once a week, wash all bedding in hot water (above 130 degrees F to kill dust mites), and vacuum uncovered mattresses regularly.
The toilet may be an easy mark as the usual suspect for potential health dangers in the bathroom. But it's for a reason you might not expect. Sure, you know to keep the bowl and seat clean, but how often do you clean the flush handle? Rotavirus, enterococcus, and other nasty pests can live here. Enterococcus can cause gastroenteritis while rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea among children.
Health Tip: Keep it sanitized with a disinfectant that specifically lists these unwanted guests on the label.
Floor to Ceiling
Mold can thrive in the bathroom, presenting a number of health problems from watery, itchy eyes to asthma attacks in certain individuals. Another danger lurking in your bathroom (and possibly throughout your house) is trichophyton. This fungus causes ringworm and athlete's foot and can be passed from one person's foot to the next via flooring.
Health Tip: Use a disinfectant designed to kill mold and fungus. After bathing or showering, wipe down the tub or shower walls and curtain with a towel or squeegee. Some shower curtains can even be laundered in the washing machine.
Bonus Tip: Put tissues in their place. After use, don't leave them lying around the room or on top of the counter. Throw soiled tissues away, and empty the wastebasket daily. Rhinovirus — the main cause of the common cold — spreads easily when people touch contaminated surfaces then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. These viruses and other microorganisms can live on surfaces (tissues, remote controls, phones, etc.) for days.
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Throughout the House
They do more than welcome you into your home or a room. These handles (and virtually all surfaces in your home) carry staph (short for staphylococcus), a common bacteria. While usually not a threat, staph can be harmful if it enters your mouth, eyes, cuts, or scrapes and can cause a wide spectrum of problems. Health Tip: A good swipe with an antibacterial cleaner will keep staph and other harmful microorganisms at bay.
If walls could talk, they would probably ask you to reconsider your paint choice—not the color but the type. Paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a huge source of indoor air pollution. These chemicals (also found in upholstery, textiles, and other building materials) can cause a number of health-related issues. Of critical concern are paints in older homes, as these might contain lead (the manufacturing of lead-based paint was banned in 1978).
Health Tip: Reduce your exposure to these toxic vapors by choosing low-VOC paints, milk paints, or whitewashes. In older homes, check for the presence of lead by hiring a licensed risk assessor or purchasing a lead home test kit at your local hardware store. If you discover lead in your home, inquire about lead-removal products at the hardware store or hire an experienced specialist to remove the lead.
Many carpets and the adhesives and padding needed for installation emit the same dreaded VOCs as paint. Some people experience flu-like symptoms after installing new carpet. Others complain of eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Health Tip: To avoid trouble, ask if the carpet can be aired out before installation. Also, open windows and doors and use fans to allow as much air to circulate as possible. Consider selecting carpet and related products that meet low VOC-emitting criteria for indoor air quality acceptance. Once in place, vacuum your carpets (and rugs) often to ease allergy-related problems due to dust and pet dander.
Bonus Tip: To help ventilate the room, open windows periodically, especially after installing new carpet or applying new paint on the walls. For any type of airborne VOC, consider using an air-purifier or houseplants to filter toxins out of the air. To learn which houseplants work best, click here.