Thursday, January 11, 2007

How to Disinfect

How To Disinfect

Disinfecting doesn't mean you have to don surgical scrubs and autoclave everything in sight

How to Disinfect
Monica Buck

Disinfecting should be the second step in your housework routine, after dusting. That doesn't mean you have to don surgical scrubs and autoclave everything in sight. There's a difference, after all, between disinfecting and sterilizing, and chlorine bleach is usually overkill (with the exception of occasional use on food-preparation surfaces that come into contact with raw meat and potentially harmful bacteria).

According to Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts (Scribner, $24,, "you do need to sanitize occasionally in the kitchen, but by and large, using detergent and hot water is enough."

Chlorine bleach doesn't really deserve its gleaming reputation anyway. "People don't use bleach correctly," says cleaning authority and author Don Aslett. "It rots mops, oxidizes toilets, and makes the ring on the toilet white but doesn't clean it."

How to Disinfect
Monica Buck

The Basic Tools
  • Mr. Clean or Formula 409. An all-purpose cleanser can disinfect most surfaces in both the bathroom and the kitchen.

  • Hydrogen peroxide. It's a great germ-killing alternative to chlorine bleach, the fumes of which are particularly harmful when inhaled in tight spaces.

  • Spray bottle. A spray bottle filled with clean water will rinse off the cleansers you use on shower and tub walls, toilets, and bathroom and kitchen counters. This helps prevent a soapy film from forming and attracting more dust and dirt.

  • The Basic Rule

  • Save the dirtiest surfaces for last. "Work from areas of low contamination to areas of high contamination," says Jeff Bredenberg, author of 2,001 Amazing Cleaning Secrets (Reader's Digest, $11, That means when you clean the bathroom, do the toilet at the end, so you're not introducing dirt to surfaces that were relatively clean to begin with.

  • Disinfecting the Tub and Shower

  • Regularly: Once a week or so, apply an all-purpose cleanser, which can eliminate up to 97 percent of germs and bacteria. If you can make it part of your daily routine, use Seventh Generation Shower Cleaner ($4, for store locations) to prevent germs and soap scum from building up in the first place. It contains hydrogen peroxide and can be used while you are taking a shower.

  • When Needed: If you have more buildup, wet your tub and sprinkle on a nonabrasive powdered cleanser, such as Bon Ami ($2, for retail locations), to create an on-surface paste, or use a creamy cleanser, such as Soft Scrub. Let it sit for five minutes. (Bon Ami is a much gentler alternative to scouring powders such as Comet and Ajax, which can scratch porcelain, causing it to become porous and therefore more receptive to germs.) Use a spray bottle filled with water to rinse (if you have a handheld showerhead, use that instead). Dry thoroughly with a clean towel.

  • Disinfecting the Bathroom Sink

  • Regularly: A slightly damp microfiber cloth or a pretreated Formula 409 wipe can remove daily gunk, such as toothpaste and hair.

  • Disinfecting the Toilet

  • Regularly: The germs from your toilet aren't fatal — but the idea of germs from your toilet migrating to your toothbrush is less than life-affirming. Studies have shown that traces of bacteria from the toilet can be found on toothbrushes. The easiest fix? A daily swabbing of the offending fixture, using a toilet brush and a splash of all-purpose cleanser.

  • When Needed: If your bathroom starts resembling a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, your toilet might need something stronger than a general cleanser. Douse the toilet bowl and rim with Don Aslett Safety Foam toilet-bowl cleanser ($7,, which is industrial strength but contains no bleach. Let it sit for about five minutes. Next, swab the bowl with a toilet brush. Flush. Every few weeks, clean the toilet's exterior with an all-purpose cleanser and a microfiber cloth or sponge.

  • Disinfecting Kitchen Counters and Sinks

  • Regularly: With dishwashing liquid and a damp microfiber cloth or sponge, wipe down your counters, cooktops, and sink every night after dinner is over. Rinse the cloth or sponge thoroughly and wipe again.

  • When Needed: For a deeper clean — or after working with raw meat — sprinkle Bon Ami (or use Soft Scrub) on a sponge. Go over the dirty surface, then let the cleanser sit for five minutes. Rinse with a clean wet sponge and let air-dry (towel drying can recontaminate surfaces).
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