January 23, 2019

How to Germ-Proof Your Home This Flu Season

This year’s flu season is one of the nastiest ever, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s the worst since the big flu epidemic of 2009. And lest you get too comfortable and think you’ve escaped it, remember that flu season lasts through May.

I refuse to be sidelined with the flu this year, so besides getting a flu shot back in November, I have been vigilant against germs, with a bottle of hand sanitizer as my constant companion. It’s hard to control the pesky viruses and bacteria as you’re out and about, but at least there are some things you can do to minimize the risk at home.

Sanitize what gets touched

Think about what gets touched throughout the day — doorknobs, light switches, cabinet handles, refrigerator doors and remote controls. They’re usually touched by multiple people, and they are teaming with germs. Flu viruses can stay on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours, so wipe them down with sanitizing wipes regularly.

Don’t share phones

Phones are one big germ party because you touch them with your fingers and cradle them to your face. Even if you’re the only person who uses your phone, it’s still a good idea to clean it frequently with a sanitizing wipe. And if your household shares a landline, clean that phone every time someone uses it. Better yet, don’t go near it. It’s probably telemarketers calling, anyway.

Clean tabletops

It’s gross to think about, but surfaces like desks and tables can contain up to 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. I’m not surprised by that figure. My desk is usually littered with a combination of cookie crumbs, used Kleenex and dog toys. Disinfect these surfaces before sitting down to work or eat. The same goes for desks and tabletops at your place of work.

Take off your shoes

The bottoms of your shoes are collecting bacteria all day long, so don’t bring those germs into your house. Take off your shoes upon entering, and if you really must wear shoes indoors, designate a pair of house shoes that never go outside. Wash your doormat regularly, as well, as they’re germ traps.

Beware of towels and sponges

Every time someone wipes their hands on a kitchen towel or runs a sponge across a countertop, germs can be spread. During flu season, use paper towels to wipe your hands instead of the communal towel hanging from the oven door. And sanitize your sponge on a regular basis by zapping it for a minute in the microwave, or put it in a hot cycle in your dishwasher.

Replace bed linens

If someone in your household is sick, replace the bed linens daily. And when you’re carrying the linens to the washer, don’t hold them against your body. Keep them at a distance, and wear gloves if you have them. I don’t mean to make you act like a hazmat technician, but the flu is serious business.

Tissues in every room

Have a box of tissue in every room so that every sneeze or cough goes into a tissue rather than into the air. Then throw away the tissue immediately. I like the step down trash cans with a lid — the germs are trapped in the canister and you don’t have to touch it. If you can’t get to a tissue in time, sneeze into your elbow.

Use a humidifier

Influenza germs spread more easily in dry air conditions, so raising the humidity level in your home can make it less likely for the virus to survive and spread. Using a humidifier also moistens the cilia, those tiny hairs inside your nose, helping them to ward off bacteria and germs.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.