There are some things in our homes that we know have an expiration date, but household goods, such as cleaning supplies, may not be something that readily comes to mind. Add in the rising cost of goods, and you may be holding onto household items a bit longer than you typically do just to stretch a dollar. After all, when that dish sponge still looks like it’s in good shape, it can be easy to turn a blind eye.
However, these items can quickly become breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses all on their own, making them less effective at cleaning and diminishing the spread of germs that can make you and your family sick.
That’s why we asked Nikhil Bhayani, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and infectious diseases and epidemiology physician advisor at Texas Health Resources, for his insight on what you should be replacing more frequently — and how to know when it’s time to give these items the boot.
Sponges help us make quick work of dirty messes day in and day out. So, it may not be too much of a shock that sponges are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to harboring germs, bacteria and viruses.
“The dish sponge seems to be a huge culprit because they need to be replaced regularly to avoid them becoming overpopulated with germs and bacteria,” he explains. “Sponges are more susceptible to bacteria thriving in them simply because they’re used in wet and warm environments. This can be particularly harmful in the kitchen, where you can risk being exposed to salmonella or E. coli if you keep using old sponges.”
Bhayani’s tip? Throw these out every three to four weeks. You may be asking yourself — what is the best way to sanitize them between uses? Bhayani adds that while the old wives’ tale of throwing them in the microwave or dishwasher can work in a pinch, it’s better to just toss them out when their time is up.
Additionally, Bhayani says if you use a loofah in the shower, that should also follow the same replacement schedule.
Mop Cloths or Heads
Think of all the tough messes you call on your mop to tackle. So it might come as no surprise that your mop head or cloth can house more than eight million bacteria per 100 cm2, which might actually be making your floors dirtier each time you use it.
If your mop head or cloth can be taken off and sanitized, aim for doing so every other month. If it can’t, follow suit by replacing your mop on the same timeline.
Toothbrushes do a great job of getting your teeth clean but giving them a quick rinse under the water before placing them back in their typical resting place doesn’t mean it’s clean. Actually, where you choose to store them between uses can also contribute to the number of germs, bacteria and viruses they can become home to.
“With toothbrushes, we recommend you replace them every three months. While you might think that’s a bit overkill to be replacing it every month, just imagine how much bacteria and viruses can potentially build up on something over the course of three months,” Bhayani explains. “Imagine leaving your toothbrush on the counter of your bathroom next to the toilet. There’s evidence that proves that when we flush the toilet and don’t close the lid beforehand, fecal matter, bacteria and viruses are launched into the air during the flush, and they typically stick around for a while wherever they land. And that just opens up an opportunity for you and everyone else in your household to potentially get sick.”
Bhayani recommends keeping your toothbrush covered, whether it be in a drawer or out on your counter. As for those UV sanitizers you may have seen before and wondered if they actually work, Bhayani gives them a big thumbs up for helping you keep your toothbrush clean.
And don’t overlook the holder your toothbrush resides in. In 2011, NSF International swabbed 30 everyday items in 22 different households and found that approximately 27 percent of all toothbrush holders tested positive for Coliform, a class of bacteria that includes dangerous strains like E. coli and Salmonella.
Yep, the same machine that provides the perfect jolt of energy every morning can also be providing you with a bit more than you bargained for. One 2015 survey published in the journal Scientific Reports analyzed 10 Nespresso machines and found that every single one contained some sort of bacterial community. Specifically, each machine contained anywhere from 35 to 67 different bacteria genera in its drip tray alone.
Additionally, an NSF International study of kitchen products in 2011 found that 50% of the sampled reservoirs in coffee makers had mold or yeast.
Clean and descale your coffee maker at least once every six months with either a solution provided by your machine’s manufacturer or by running vinegar through it followed by as many cups or carafes of water as you need to flush the vinegar. Help prevent mold and yeast growth by always leaving the lid open to help air out the reservoir and components.
You might chuck your razor only after you can noticeably tell it’s getting dull. Or maybe on rare occasions, when you notice rust has taken up shop on the blades. However, Bhayani says you should always replace your razor after 10 shaves.
“As those blades get dull, you’re going to need to apply a lot more pressure to get a close shave. Applying more pressure means the skin is going to be subject to more abrasion, and more abrasion can potentially increase your risk of infection,” says Bhayani. “We’re talking something as minor as an infection of the hair follicles, called folliculitis, all the way up to a staph infection, if you’re not careful. Believe it or not, I’ve definitely seen patients in the emergency department who end up developing a skin abscess from using a razor past its prime and they’ve let it go so long that it has to be drained by a surgeon.”
Bhayani adds you should also never share razors for the same reasons listed above.
While loofahs do a great job of lathering you up and exfoliating, all the things that make loofahs great at getting you clean also set them up for being great environments for some not-so-clean things.
“Loofahs set up perfect environments for breeding bacteria and mold,” Bhayani explains. “Think of all those nooks and crannies that can be really hard to fully dry out between uses, especially in warm, wet environments such as your shower or tub. The longer something stays wet, the bigger potential for mold growth. We see a lot of allergic skin reactions in people who use loofahs.”
Bhayani recommends tossing your loofah every three to four weeks, or sooner if you notice mold growth.
Researchers from the University of Mauritius analyzed 100 kitchen towels after one month of use and found that approximately half of them were carrying some sort of bacteria. And if you have a big family, the bacteria housed on kitchen towels can be more than a kitchen towel found in a smaller household.
The good news is Bhayani says laundry sanitizers do a good job of nixing any lingering bacteria and viruses that regular laundering may not be able to get. But do make sure to follow all product recommendations in order to ensure proper sanitization. Toss your kitchen towels in the wash at least once a year, but preferably every few days, if you can.
While keeping up with the items in your home that help keep it clean can sometimes be counterintuitive, and maybe even at times a bit expensive, Bhayani says making an effort to replace or properly sanitize these items frequently can help mitigate illnesses down the road.
“Only you can really know what’s most important for your health and the health of your family and balancing that with your budget,” Bhayani adds. “But I highly recommend that if there is going to be one thing you really stay on top of in terms of replacing on a regular basis, it’s whatever you use to wipe down surfaces in which you’re handling food, whether that’s a dish sponge or a washcloth or both. This is where cross-contamination really becomes a concern, and, potentially, food poisoning. And that can spread very quickly through your entire household, which could lead to you needing to call out from work or school, or making a potentially costly trip to the doctor, or ER.”
Finding a physician who can partner with you for your health is essential. We can help find a physician that’s appropriate and convenient for you. Call 1-877-THR-WELL (847-9355) or visit TexasHealth.org/FindaProvider today.