The coronavirus has sent many Americans home to ride this pandemic out. All the increased food preparation, laundry and cleaning puts family members — as well as houses and apartments — under increased stress.
There are things you can do in this time of heightened awareness to help keep germs under control and make the most efficient use of home appliances. We have been speaking to experts to address some of these issues. Here are some highlights.
Don’t stand with the fridge door open as you contemplate your next WFH snack.
With all the extra opening and closing of refrigerator doors, warm air could be lowering the temperature, which is not good for the food. It also wastes energy. During a recent live Q&A with Carolyn Forte, Good Housekeeping Institute’s director of home appliances and cleaning products, a reader asked whether the 41 degrees in her KitchenAid was a worrisome temperature. Her family had been using it a lot. Forte answered that a good temperature is 36 or 37 (definitely below 40), but refrigerator temperatures do fluctuate based on when the defrost cycle kicks in. “You may have opened it just at that time. I’ve done that myself and gotten a little worried, too,” Forte wrote.
Forte further suggests asking your family to figure out what they are eating before they open the door. As regular maintenance, you should be vacuuming the coils on your refrigerator so it isn’t overworked from being clogged with dust, pet hair and dirt. Check your manual for where these coils are located. Some are accessed by removing the front panel, and some are in the back.
For the reader with the KitchenAid, Forte wrote that it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the temperature: “If it continues to rise, you may have to call for service. Fingers crossed, not!”
Check to see whether you have a sanitizing cycle on your washing machine, dryer or dishwasher.
Many newer washing machines, dryers and dishwashers have a sanitize-cycle option. Some consumers may not be aware of these cycles or know how they work, said Steve Hettinger, GE Appliances director of engineering for clothes care. These cycles offer the hottest temperatures available in your appliances, making them the best choice for anyone concerned about germs. World Health Organization statistics show that temperatures of 140 to 150 degrees are enough to kill most viruses.
If your washing machine has a sanitizing cycle, you might want to use it for bedding, or clothing you have worn outdoors, Hettinger said. Standard hot-water cycles in washers tend to be as warm as your hot-water heater setting, traditionally about 120 degrees. A sanitizing cycle can vary in different brands and models but may include hot-water temperatures that reach 140 degrees, and additional agitation time, rinses and spins to remove soils and bacteria. Some models also require an oxygen bleach cleaning additive to power the sanitizing cycle. (Both bacteria and viruses are germs, but machines are only tested for killing bacteria.)
Some dryers also have sanitize cycles that Hettinger says use extended periods of high heat at 145 degrees to kill germs. They could be useful at this time for bedding, especially when someone is ill. If you don’t have a sanitizing option, he suggests drying a load normally using a high heat setting immediately followed by a timed dry cycle on high heat for a minimum of 45 minutes.
If you have a dishwasher, this may be the time to use it on a regular basis rather than washing dishes by hand. During the sanitize cycle in GE Appliances dishwashers, the water will reach at least 150 degrees to kill 99% of germs, said Adam Hofmann, GE Appliances director of engineering for dishwashers. The water temperature in a normal dishwasher cycle is 125–135 degrees, and hand-washing temperatures are even lower and vary based on the tolerance of the person washing dishes, Hofmann said. The company statistics say that a sanitizing cycle kills 99% of bacteria. (There are no statistics on viruses.)
Each model or manufacturer may have different instructions on how to use a sanitizing cycle. Some models may have sanitize as a dedicated cycle, and others may have sanitize as an add-on to a standard cycle. Check your user manual for instructions.
Your bathroom needs extra attention.
Forte says bathrooms are now being used all day by family members who used to leave to go to work or school, so clean touch points frequently: faucets, light switches and doorknobs. Towels are getting used more than ever, she says. Change out bath towels every few days, and hand and dish towels every other day. Make sure to hang towels up between uses so they dry.
Take care of your plumbing, too. Disposable disinfecting wipes or paper towels should not go in the toilet, unless you want a sewage backup. (Even “flushable” wipes aren’t a great idea.) Instruct your family to clean out the drain or hair catcher in the tub or shower after every use.
Also be aware that your toothbrush can spread germs. If anyone has been sick, toss their toothbrush or toothbrush head for safety, Forte said. If you want to clean your toothbrushes during this time of increased concern, soak them in a mixture of one ounce of 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with five ounces of water for about 10 minutes. Then toss the solution and rinse with tap water. If you share one bathroom, a person who is sick should keep their toothbrush in another place.
It would be a good idea to have some extra toothbrushes or toothbrush heads on hand at this time.
Any soap is good soap.
Some stores are reporting a shortage of disinfecting soap and any liquid soaps, so now may be the time to bring out that bar soap you have in your linen closet or bathroom vanity. Washing your hands with either liquid or bar soap for 20 seconds is effective, said Brian Sansoni, senior vice president at the American Cleaning Institute. Sansoni said some people may prefer liquid soap because otherwise you’re sharing the bar soap with other people. Although some research has found that bacteria can stay on frequently used bar soap, a widely cited American Journal of Public Health report from 1965 found that the bacteria don’t seem to transfer to the next user. “So the greater threat is not washing your hands thoroughly,” Sansoni said in an email. “Use whatever type of soap you prefer.”
Open the windows for a nice breeze — but don’t expect it to blow the germs away.
“That’s what we used to do: open all the windows in the house,” said Glenn Wortmann, director of infectious diseases at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “You’d see that in the old TB sanitariums. They made sure to always let the air come through.” Fresh air can be a mood booster, but there is no science showing that it can blow away germs. “A lot of this is just whatever makes people feel better,” Wortmann said. While on cold days it isn’t really an option, he adds, now that spring weather is here, “there is no downside in doing it.”