Parents have always been concerned about germs coming into their homes. Children are notorious germ-magnets, and once they start going to school with other germ-magnets, illnesses tend to spread quickly and easily. For many parents, keeping their kids healthy has long been a matter of good hygiene, good nutrition, and a clean environment.
And then COVID-19 happened. And the germ game changed.
Many parents have taken comfort in the fact that this global pandemic doesn’t seem to have serious consequences for children. That said, no parent wants to see their child get sick. With much about this coronavirus still unknown, it’s important that every family everywhere take precautions to not only keep themselves healthy, but to help control the spread and flatten the curve so that people who do get sick can get the help they need.
For many families, this means staying home as much as possible. And if we’re going to be confined to our homes, we want to make sure that our homes are safe and healthy places to be.
We’re all doing our best, but let’s be honest: it’s impossible to contain 100% of the germs with 100% success, especially since germs have their ways of getting into your home, no matter what precautions you take.
We want to help parents everywhere stay informed and have some peace of mind, so today, we’re highlighting those sneaky ways that germs can get into your home, along with some tips about how to protect yourself and your family.
(By the way: while we’re writing this in the midst of the coronavirus situation, these tips can be used all the time to help you keep your home happy and healthy.)
How germs get in: On your hands
This is the most common way germs move from one place to another. That said, even though it is extremely common, it’s easy to forget about it. We touch so many things outside of our homes on a daily basis: shopping carts, payment processors, touchscreens, vending machines, door handles, products on the shelves, and more.
All it takes is one infected surface to transfer the germs onto our hands. From there, we might touch our faces (exposing ourselves to illness), or touch other surfaces (spreading the germs). This especially becomes a problem at home, where you’re touching everything from the doorknobs to the refrigerator handles to the buttons on the washing machine. It’s no wonder viruses spread so quickly and are often shared among family members.
What to do about it:
Wash your hands. It might sound overly simplistic, but it’s sound and important advice that we should really be following all the time. At the very least, you should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at the following times:
- After using the bathroom
- Before preparing or eating food
- After changing a diaper or helping a child use the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- When you return home after being in a public place
How does hand washing help? The soap acts as a surfactant: it breaks down the dirt and oils on your skin, which then allows the water to wash them away, taking the germs with them. Because of this, handwashing is truly the best and most effective way to physically keep germs from getting inside your body and/or around your home.
How germs get in: On your clothes.
Germs are readily transmitted by hand, but that’s not the only way they can get into your home. Viruses and bacteria can also live on fabrics, which means that you and your family’s clothing can also bring these germs inside. This could also apply to any new clothing that you purchase and bring into your home; after all, it’s been handled by someone at some point.
What to do about it:
Under normal circumstances, washing clothes regularly (preferably in the warmest water the fabric can handle) is probably enough to keep your home and family safe from whatever germs might be on your clothes. Make sure you’re regularly washing other fabrics in the house too, including bed linens and bath towels, which can also harbor bacteria.
Other times—like during cold and flu season, or when the world is dealing with a pandemic, for example—you might want to take some additional steps.
For instance, you could have your children change their clothes when they return after leaving the house (for school, errands, etc.). You could consider changing your clothes after going to the store to get groceries. Basically, changing your clothes any time they might have been exposed to germs isn’t a bad idea.
Additionally, you could use a sanitizing detergent or additive. While such products may be difficult to find in stores right now, this article offers some alternatives, including white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, oxygen bleach, and good old fashioned sunlight. Of course, make sure that whatever you choose to use is safe for your clothing fabrics.
How germs get in: Shoes
Just as germs can live on the fabric of your clothes, they can hitchhike on your shoes as well. Most of us don’t like to think about the vast number of germs that are on any given floor at any given moment, but if you do think about it, you’re likely to become a lot more wary of how you treat shoes in your home. One study showed that the outside surfaces of shoes can have 140 times the amount of bacteria as the inside surfaces.
What to do about it:
Many families adopt a “no shoes in the house” rule that helps them keep germs on shoes and off of all the other surfaces in the house. Make your kids take their shoes off as soon as they get home (maybe consider getting each of them a pair of house slippers that are only worn indoors?) and you won’t have to worry as much about the germs their shoes might be bringing in.
How germs get in: Your phone
Let’s face it: your phone might as well be your hands in terms of germs. That’s because you’re likely touching your phone along with anything else you touch when you’re out and about.
Even if you’re being careful, the odds are good that you’re picking up some germs, somewhere, and transferring them to your phone the second you answer a call or send a text. And then, you bring your phone home and set it down on the counter while you wash your hands, and just like that, you’ve invited new germs into your house.
What to do about it:
Phones are tricky to clean, since most cleaning chemicals aren’t exactly great for the materials of your phone, but an occasional wipe down with an antibacterial cloth is fine. You can also clean your phone with distilled water and isopropyl alcohol (1:1 ratio) and a microfiber cloth. Ultimately, one of the best things you can do is simply be mindful of how and when you touch your phone, and how clean your hands are before and after touching it. After you’ve cleaned your phone, consider washing your hands before and after using it, and use speakerphone when possible to avoid bringing it close to your face.
Other tips for staying healthy
Handling the germs that sneak into your home can make a big difference in protecting your family from illness. But at a time when everyone is concerned about their health and the health of their loved ones, it never hurts to be reminded of some of the other best practices to follow when it comes to staying healthy.
Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep helps keep your immune system strong, so sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to illness.
Eat healthful foods.
Likewise, good nutrition helps to bolster your immune system, so make sure you’re eating nutrient-rich foods and limiting excessive sugars or other low-nutrient foods.
During the COVID-19 pandemic we’re currently facing, some families have no choice but to stay home. Others are not under such tight restrictions (yet), but are still limiting their contact with the outside world. This is a great way to not only protect yourself and your family, but to slow the spread of the virus and keep it from overwhelming our communities. As much as possible—stay home!
Also, coronavirus aside—staying home is a good idea when you’re feeling sick. You won’t pass the illness on to others, and you’ll be able to give your body the rest it needs to recover.
We hope you and your families are keeping your spirits up during this trying time. Be cautious and follow best practices, and rest easy knowing you’re doing what you can to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.