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To a virus, there’s not much difference between your throat and a wet sponge. Both are perfectly fine places to live and grow. The lesson here? Germs will thrive wherever there is a warm, damp place. In your home, that includes a few things you’d never consider cleaning. Here are a few things and places in your home that warrant your occasional attention:
1. The kitchen cutting board. There are 200 times more fecal bacteria on the average home cutting board than on the toilet seat, according to research by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, and a nationally known expert on household germs. To get it clean, run it through the dishwasher; spray it with straight 5 percent vinegar, and let it set overnight; microwave it on high for 30 seconds; or swab it with alcohol.
2. Telephone receivers. In his research, Dr. Gerba found significant numbers of illness-causing bacteria and viruses on telephone receivers.
3. The dish sponge. Your kitchen sponge is the germiest thing in your house. When researchers at the USDA tested common methods of disinfecting sponges — soaking them in bleach or lemon juice, microwaving, or washing in the dishwasher — they found that microwaving for one minute zapped the most germs, followed by a trip through the dishwasher. Every evening, after the last dishes are cleaned, zap the sponge.
4. Shower curtains. They get wet most every day, and they often stay wet, making them a perfect habitat for mold.
5. Indoor garbage cans. Particularly those in the kitchen and bathroom. Emptying them isn’t cleaning them. Regularly scrub them to make sure germs aren’t germinating.
6. Automatic dishwashers. Take a close look at the edges of the door on your dishwasher. Many are breeding grounds for mold and mildew. The same goes for the rubber cushioning that surrounds most refrigerator doors.
7. The washing machine. “If you do undergarments in one load and handkerchiefs in the next, you’re blowing your nose in what was in your underwear,” Dr. Gerba notes. Make your underwear the last load, and at least once a month, run a hot cycle with vinegar to clear out germs in the machine. Also be sure to move washed laundry to the dryer as quickly as possible. Germs that survive the wash can start flourishing quickly. Once a month, run a hot cycle with vinegar to clear out germs in the washing machine.