One of my first memories is the pungent smell of alcohol. Every night, my mother would spray the kitchen sink and counters isopropyl to cleanse them. And no wonder: She took care of me for months when I got a bad yeast infection. salmonella when I was a kid. at bacteria was your enemy. She recently admitted: “I just got crazy about it.” “I’ve really become germs. “
It’s no surprise, then, that I also have germ phobia. I keep a dizzying collection of antimicrobial wipes in my basement, I have at least seven bottles of hand sanitizer stashed in my house and car, and I keep an emergency bag in my closet full of bleach wipes and other powerful tools. In case our house gets a frightening stomach infection. (I might add: There’s a difference between cleaning and tidying. I’m fanatic about the first, but lazy about the second.)
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today because of pandemicI’m not alone in bacterial paranoia. In a 2021 survey of 2,000 adults in the United States, 42% of respondents said they were now known as germs. But our fears aren’t always justified, I learned this week when I interviewed chemists and cleaning experts. Many common cleaning practices are not effective and some are simply unnecessary.
Focus on the bad germs
I often feel guilty for thinking viruses and bacteria are unequivocally “bad,” but Many bacteria do good things Like the ones in our gut that help us digest food and build our immunity. Microbes are absolutely everywhere,” said Erica Hartmann, an environmental engineer at Northwestern University. “And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Research indicates that Children who grow up on farms, surrounded by microbes, are less likely to develop asthma and allergies than other children.
Before going into the nitty-gritty, let me explain the scientific difference between Cleaning and disinfection. Cleaning removes things – dirt, crumbs, germs, dog hair – from surfaces. On the other hand, disinfection kills things – usually viruses and bacteria. Dr. said. Hartmann, but we only have to worry about killing (disinfecting) dangerous disease-causing germs. We can often predict where they will be.
For example, you probably don’t need to disinfect kitchen tables every day unless you’re handling raw meat. You also don’t need to sanitize your bathroom excessively unless someone in your household has an infection that spreads through feces, such as salmonella or Norovirus.
For common messes — like when my 11-year-old drips sweet syrup all over the kitchen counter for breakfast — you don’t need to grab a sanitizing napkin because soap and water will remove the sticky residue. (Soap is also great for removing germs from your hands, but you need to lather well and wash for 20 seconds.)
Wondering why not cleanse everything? There are long-term risks associated with the overuse of some disinfectants, such as quaternary ammonium compounds. These “quats,” as they are called, are found in many popular household cleaning products, including sprays and wipes made with Lysol and Clorox. Dr. said. Hartmann. Paul Mitchell, a chemist who studies disinfectants at the University of Texas at Austin, said that also — although experts I spoke to disagree about how concerned we should be — disinfectants like bleach, ammonia, and kiwis release potentially harmful gases. . So use disinfectants when you need to sanitize, but not when you just want to clean.
Choose sanitizers and use them wisely
When you have reason to worry about bad germs, yes, kill them all with a disinfectant, but remember that some chemicals work better than others. Simple soap and water can kill germs when foamingIt won’t be as foolproof as other, stronger options if you’re trying to eliminate microbes from surfaces, said Bill West, a chemist at Emory University. Most effective disinfectants are bleach, isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, and quaternary ammonium-based cleaners.
If you use a sanitizer that releases fumes, such as bleach or ammonia, air the area first by opening doors or windows, or use a disposable face mask and dispose of it later, Misztal suggests.
And I hate to tell you, but you’re probably sanitizing everything wrong. Many people spray or smear disinfectant on surfaces and then immediately wipe up the product with a paper towel or sponge, but this removes the chemical before it has a chance to disinfect, West said.
If you are using a store-bought product, the disinfection time should be on the label. Lysol disinfectant spray, for example, needs to stay on the surface for three minutes. Recommendations for a bleach solution range from 1 to 10 minutes. Cassandra Kauff, an ethnobotanist at Emory University, said alcohol-based solutions don’t need to be cleaned afterwards because they eventually evaporate. Dr. said. Hartmann.
Want to know more about other disinfectant options? More information to follow
- You can make disinfectants at home to save money. For a disinfecting bleach solution, mix a third cup of household bleach with a gallon of water. (Note that bleach dissolves quickly in water, so you’ll need to make a fresh solution every day. Never mix it with chemicals other than water.)
- Dr. said. jerk. She stressed the necessity of mixing alcohol with water, otherwise it would evaporate before it had the opportunity to purify.
- You can also make or buy plant-based disinfectants, some of which are less toxic and more environmentally friendly than traditional options. Note, however, that plant-based sanitizers may not work as quickly or as completely as bleach, quats, or alcohol. Household vinegar, for example, is a common plant-based disinfectant, but it’s not as effective at killing germs as bleach or alcohol. One study, for example, found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, was not inactivated even after immersion in a strong vinegar solution for five minutes. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of disinfectants that meet certain health and environmental safety standards.
If you want to know which disinfectants are effective against pathogens, check out Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Note, for example, that norovirus, which causes stomach problems, is a particularly resistant virus, and that bleach solutions are more effective against them, Hartmann said.
Bottom line: We germ-phobes can still rejoice at killing germs, but maybe not all germs are. When I need to clean up a spill, I use soap and water or a mild cleaning spray, not disinfectant. But after handling raw meat, or when a family member gets sick, I use a stronger substance to clean contaminated surfaces and make sure I leave it there long enough for it to take effect, with the windows open. And while I wait, I may have a chance to put my house in order, too. / Translated by LVIA BUELONI GONAALVES
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