Where germs hide, plus three natural surface cleaners
When everyone around you is coughing, sputtering and coming down with the flu, it's enough to make you want to encase yourself in a bubble and avoid contact with humanity at all costs.
While you can't control the cleanliness of public surfaces, you can declare your home a germ-free zone by using natural cleaning products found right in your kitchen cupboards.
Dr. Donald Low, the microbiologist-in-chief at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, explains it's human interaction with surfaces -- not the surfaces themselves -- that proliferate the germs that make us sick. "Generally, not much lives on household surfaces that we have to worry about. Surfaces become contaminated with our body secretions or during the preparation of food," he says.
Where germs hide
During cold and flu season, pay special attention to surfaces that may have been contaminated. Countertops, door handles, computer keyboards and the telephone are a few places where germs tend to live. "When someone has an infection, it's certain that surfaces will become contaminated, and many viruses can survive for long periods of time outside the host -- influenza can survive for 24 hours," says Low. "When someone in the home is sick, everyone needs to be more judicious than they normally are at washing their hands, coughing into their elbow and thoroughly cleaning all surfaces." Coughing into your elbow keeps germs off your hands, which you'll use to handle many objects throughout the course of the day.
It's also important to ensure that countertops are cleaned after preparing food, since germs can be rampant in certain foods. "Fresh vegetables are often contaminated with bacteria, chicken with salmonella and campylobacter and beef with E coli," says Low. "Once we finish preparing food, we need to clean the area properly -- our counter tops, utensils and anything used in food preparation -- in order to avoid transmission of these bacteria."
3 cheap and cheerful alternative cleaners
Toronto-based naturopath Tannis McLaren shares her top picks for natural, inexpensive cleaning products that will kill germs living in your home. Best of all, most of these items are likely in your kitchen already.
1. Lemon: Lemons are acidic and contain antibacterial and antiseptic agents perfect for cleaning contaminated surfaces. Lemons are also a natural odour eater and provide a refreshing and energizing scent.
How to use: Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle with baking soda. Use the fruit to scrub household surfaces and stains. Add salt and use to scrub contaminated cutting boards.
Tip: Squeeze the juice from half of a lemon into the wash cycle to get rid of odours in dirty clothing.
2. White vinegar: Vinegar is a disinfectant as well as a deodorizer. Not crazy about the smell? Don't worry, the smell disappears once it dries. You can also add some lemon juice to help neutralize the strong odour. Vinegar can remove stains, plus it dissolves grease and removes mildew and soap stains.
How to use: To make an all-purpose cleaner that will clean most surfaces in your home, mix one part water with one part vinegar in a spray bottle. Be sure to dilute vinegar properly because it can eat away at some surfaces.
Tip: You can use vinegar as a fabric softener. Add one tablespoon to the rinse cycle.
3. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): Can be used to scrub surfaces, including shiny materials, without scratching. It's also a natural deodorizer. Add baking soda to lemon and white vinegar to make an all-purpose surface cleaner.
How to use: A solution of three parts warm water to one part baking soda with a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar will clean most surfaces.
Tip: You can use baking soda to clean and polish aluminum, chrome, jewelry, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel, copper and tin. You can also use it to unclog and clean drains.
Low's final tip: No matter what kind of cleaner you use, a good scrubbing eliminates the bacteria by diluting it and removes it from the surface. "The most important tenet when cleaning household surfaces is the application of elbow grease!"