How to Keep Yourself Healthy

Essential cleaning tips from an expert in the field.

By Carlin Flora, published on September 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Preoccupation with germs is one thing. A healthy respect for hygiene is another, especially since many people and products travel globally. Microbiologist Anne E. Maczulak, author of The Five-Second Rule and Other Myths About Germs, offers essential cleaning tips.

  • HANDS ON Washing your hands after using the restroom eliminates 80 percent of dangerous germs. Use warm water and soap for a full 20 seconds (two rounds of "Happy Birthday" if you prefer humming to counting).
  • HANDS OFF Avoid touching your face. Germs enter you via eyes, nose, and mouth. Some adults touch their face up to 100 times a day; children do it even more.
  • BEWARE HOTSPOTS There are five places in the home where germs love to lurk: kitchen sponges and dish cloths, the air blown from a running vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, a toilet during a flush, and the kitchen trash can. Ideally you should:

    Change sponges every week or sanitize them with chlorine and water.

    Replace the vacuum bag once a month.

    Wash your clothes with an antimicrobial laundry additive.

    Keep the toilet lid down while flushing.

    Disinfect toothbrushes regularly.

    Disinfect the inside of the trashcan each time the liner is replaced.

  • SLICE SAFELY Don't forget to clean the cutting board. There are 200 times more fecal bacteria on the average home cutting board than on the toilet seat. Immediately after use, wash with hot soapy water and rinse well. Pat dry with paper towels, then air-dry completely.
  • HANDLE WITH CARE Be mindful of places touched by wet hands or raw meat—the refrigerator handle, the cabinet where the garbage can sits, sink faucet handles.
  • SCRUB RIGHT Use "disinfectant" or "antimicrobial" cleaning products and heed instructions. If advised to leave a product on for 10 minutes, do so, then wipe off with water. Clean sink drains by running water and pouring a little bleach down them.
  • WATCH THE WASH Doing laundry in cold water saves energy but spares germs. The dryer kills some microbes, but not salmonella bacteria or hepatitis A virus.
  • DEBUG HOTEL ROOMS Telephones and remote controls are germ hideouts; it's wise to keep disinfecting wipes in your suitcase.
  • ONE PLACE NOT TO WORRY ABOUT: Frequently asked, "Can I catch something from a public toilet seat?" Maczulak answers, "Not unless you really try. The average office has 21,000 microbes per square inch of surface—400 times dirtier than a toilet seat."