What you should clean – and how often

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us important lessons about basic hand hygiene and overall cleanliness.

Hopefully, you’ve developed some new routines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. But you still might wonder.

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Are you cleaning all the things you should? What needs daily cleaning? What can wait for a week, a month or more? Are you missing something?

What about that handy glass of water you keep on the nightstand?

“Wash it every day,” said Lori Grooms, director of Infection Prevention and Control for OSF HealthCare.

Don’t reinfect yourself

Really? What could go wrong with a glass of water when you’re the only person drinking from it?

Lori explained: “It’s not the water. It’s the germs on the glass. You put your hands and mouth on it. You put it down, but the germs stay. Then you pick it up and put it back to your mouth the next day.

“Let’s say you have strep throat, and you take antibiotics and are getting better. But if you go back to use that glass without washing it, the germs are still there. You could reinfect yourself.”

The no-brainers

Some surfaces and items are no-brainers to clean regularly:

  • Kitchen counters after every use
  • Same with the dishes – plates, bowls, utensils, cups and glasses
  • Door handles and light switches at least weekly – daily if you have a sick person in the house
  • Bathroom toilet, sink, handles and faucets

Those are pretty easy to remember.

Daily cleaning needed

But there are lots of things we touch every day – sometimes many times – that can turn into repositories for germs. And we often don’t think to clean them.

Start with your toothbrush. It’s easy to think that you’re washing it every day. After all, it’s in contact with running water. And toothpaste is like tasty soap for your mouth, right?

Think again.

“Wipe off the handle every time you use it,” Lori said. “And after you’ve been sick, throw it away and get a new one. It’s the same concept as the water glass. You don’t want to reinfect yourself with germs that stay on the brush.”

Then there’s your cell phone. Use approved disinfecting wipes to clean it every day. Same goes for your tablet or keyboard. It’s probably a good idea to do the same with the surface of your work station. Again, you might think you’re safe because you’re the only one using these items, but you can pick up germs from somewhere else. Be safe and wipe down.

And if you wear a badge or name tag to your job, wipe that down once a week, too.

Other personal effects

“It’s also really important to watch what you do with your purse or handbag,” Lori said. “Leaving it on the floor of your car, or setting it on the floor of a restaurant and then going home and dropping it on the kitchen counter is not ideal. Use a purse hanger. Or hang it over the back of your chair. Or at least put it on the car seat instead of the floor.”

Depending on the material it’s made of, you should clean your purse occasionally, too. Some material can be wiped, and some fabrics can be sprayed with a disinfectant.

Lori said it’s not necessary to wipe down your wallet, cash or bank cards. But …

Wash your hands after handling those things,” she said. “If you can’t do that, then use some hand sanitizer as soon as you can and wash later.”

Household cleaning

Lori said household items, from appliances to bed sheets, should be cleaned with varying degrees of regularity.

Sheets and pillowcases should be washed weekly. Do the bed spreads every three to six months – unless the user has been sick; then clean them immediately.

couple cleaning

Deep clean the bathroom weekly.

You should clean the exterior of your refrigerator at least weekly and wipe down the shelves inside quarterly.

Other candidates for quarterly cleaning include fan blades and upholstered furniture, which should also be steam-cleaned once a year. Non-upholstered furniture should be inspected and wiped more frequently.

“And if you use a frontloading washing machine, clean that quarterly,” Lori said. “Frontloaders tend to hold water. When it stagnates, you can get mold or mildew buildup. Always leave the door partially open to let it dry out – and then still clean it every three months.”

Clean and disinfect

It’s also important to understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting.

“Cleaning is the actual removal of soil or dirt. Disinfecting is the killing of germs and bacteria. You need to do both. And it’s important to clean first, then disinfect. If you disinfect without cleaning, any soil there is protected from the disinfectant.”

Finally, while vigilant cleaning goes a long way toward preventing disease, including COVID-19, it’s just one part of the strategy.

“It’s still important that everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated and takes proper precautions, such as masking in public and hand hygiene at proper times,” Lori said.

If you have not been vaccinated for COVID-19, schedule your appointment today. It’s our best shot. Also, if you’re eligible for a booster or unsure if you qualify, talk to your primary care provider.

Last Updated: April 13, 2022

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About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: COVID-19, Preventive Health