We share our world with microbes: bacteria, viruses, and fungi (eg mould). They have been around far longer (and in far more areas of our planet) than we have, and they will probably long outlast us. In our thousands of years on Earth, humanity has succeeded in eradicating only one infectious disease — smallpox, caused by a virus.
So avoiding microbial life is not possible. (More importantly, though, it is not healthy, but that’s a topic for another Website.)
So if we cannot completely free our home from all microbes, what can we do to eliminate pathogens (harmful microbes), or at least reduce our exposure to a level that a healthy, normal-functioning immune system can handle?
Note this implies that doing everything we can to maintain a strong immune system and practising personal hygiene always should be our first line of defence against infectious diseases. We know that prevention is better (more effective, works faster, costs less) than cure.
Here are some pro hygiene tips for the home:
Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same thing. Cleaning means removing dirt, grime, and other visible stains; it does nothing to prevent the spread of bacteria. Disinfecting (‘hygienic cleaning’) on the other hand refers to eliminating pathogens, dust mites, and pet dander (tiny particles of skin shed by cats, dogs, rabbits, etc). Disinfectants can be chemicals (bleach, acetic acid, citric acid), natural products (hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar) or strong acidic water (from water ionisers).
Carpets, rugs, upholstery, and bedding, especially in humid climates such as Singapore’s, are breeding grounds for dust mites and collectors of dirt, grime, and food particles. Sanitise them regularly.
Cutting and chopping boards are some of the highest-risk items in the kitchen because they come into contact with so many foods, especially raw meats. They need both cleaning (scrubbing and washing) and sanitising (using baking soda and white vinegar, or a chlorine-based bleach), preferably right after use.
Living rooms tend to have lots of germs simply because they are used so often. Vacuum or sweep and mop the floor every day. Wash and sanitise the sofa and cushion covers at regular intervals.
No, the toilet is NOT the filthiest part of your home. That honour belongs to the kitchen sponge, your phone, the kitchen sink, the cutting board, remote controls, computer keyboards, and knobs and handles. What do almost all of these have in common? They are used every day — but hardly ever sanitised. Regularly wash what you can and use sanitising wipes for the rest.
Use air scrubbers to help remove dust, gasses and other contaminants in your home.
Sunlight and hot water are excellent for killing germs. Vinegar does an excellent job of cleaning and deodorising. Mix equal parts of water and vinegar in a spray bottle to form a solution that can clean most areas of your home. Note, though, that it can damage or discolour surfaces so test it on a hidden area first. Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Mix lemon juice with vinegar or baking soda to make a cleaning paste. Baking soda is a very effective deodoriser.
Cleaning your home removes only visible dirt and clutter; it does NOT prevent the spread of infections caused by pathogens. You also need to practise hygienic cleaning; this is the best way of preventing infections, allergies, asthma, and many other illnesses.