When's the last time you replaced your pillows? Or cleaned your keyboard? You're using things every day that seem perfectly fine (where "fine" is defined as "functional"), but that, frankly, are absolutely gross. More practically, they're also likely to contribute to illness in small ways that add up over time, or make you feel worse when you finally do get sick. Here's a list of things lurking in your home or office that you may or may not know are secretly filthy and need to be cleaned or replaced, stat.
Title photo by Scott Gardner.
Exactly how frequently you should replace your pillows is a hotly debated topic, but most people suggest that you swap out your pillows every couple of years to keep them free of dust and dead skin, dust mites, dust mite... leavings, dust mite remains, mould and other nastiness. A 280g pillow can double its weight in three years, with the added bulk being entirely dust mite remains and other grossness you don't want under your head. Photo by Sergio Martínez.
If you have cheap pillows and are thinking about replacing them, don't let us stop you, but if you love your pillows or have pricey ones, or aren't allergic to dust mites, you may not have to replace them. Regular washings with the rest of your bed linen (or hand-washings) and a tumble in a hot dryer will keep your pillows clean and eliminate the dust mite problem, and fluff them up nicely at the same time. Also, consider picking up zippered pillow covers that are machine washable and provide a protective barrier between your face and an old, dirty pillow. If you take off that cover to wash it one day and your pillow is a shade of yellow, though, it might be time for a new one.
You keyboard is gross. Seriously, it's dirtier than a toilet seat, and while that bodes well for toilet seats everywhere, it definitely means you should clean your keyboard ASAP. We've shown you how, and I'm a big fan of a few light passes with a Magic Eraser (it's mildly abrasive, so careful not to rub off the letters) to keep it tidy. If it has been a really long time, you might want to up the ante with a good, thorough cleaning after removing the individual keys.
When's the last time you replaced your toothbrush? Now, you don't need to replace your toothbrush every time you're sick, but dentists suggest you change your toothbrush every three months or so. Only about 9 per cent of us actually do so. Photo by Dustin Tinney.
Part of the problem is that the longer you let your toothbrush sit around, the more it plays host to a world of bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Now, most of those bacteria are harmless and live in your mouth anyway, but the longer you let your toothbrush stick around, the bigger those colonies get. Plus, over time, the bristles get soft and frayed, and the toothbrush is overall less effective at cleaning your teeth. Consider replacing it or picking up a toothbrush with replaceable brush heads.
Light Switches and Door Handles
These innocuous fixtures are everywhere, touched by everyone, and never, ever really cleaned -- especially in public places. At home, the risk of illness is usually lessened by the fact that there are only a few people walking around your house at any point in time, but in public these two can be germ-ridden beasts waiting to hitch a ride on any passerby. Think about how many people touch the doors to the bathroom in your office, both on the way in and out, regardless of whether they've washed their hands. Some people don't bother washing, others wash and hit the light switch or grab the doorknob with wet hands, which just adds moisture to the mix. At home, clean off your light switches and door handles when you clean the rest of your home -- it doesn't need to be too often. At the office, wash your hands thoroughly, keep some hand sanitiser nearby, and on your way out of the bathroom, use the paper towel you're drying your hands with to open the door, then toss it in the trash next to the door on your way out.
Your Rubbish Bins
Taking out the rubbish is not the same as cleaning your rubbish bin. It doesn't matter how well your aim is, your trash can lid and body are probably filthy, especially if you have a large outdoor unit that you drag to the curb every week for your council's garbage collectors to empty. Before you bring that nasty bin back inside, or put a fresh bag in your kitchen rubbish bin, spray it down with a little disinfectant. Every couple of weeks, give it a good scrub in the bathtub with a bleach-based solution to make sure it's nice, tidy, and doesn't have a small colony of bacteria growing on the lid. Doesn't hurt to wash your hands every time you take out the rubbish or replace the bag either.
Mobile phones and traditional handsets are both filthy. Mobile phones are especially bad, with one study concluding that an alarming number of them have faecal bacteria lurking on them. That's right, poop. That shouldn't be a surprise considering how many of us take them to the bathroom, but it does mean that we should spend more time cleaning them. Our desk and cordless phones may not come to the bathroom with us, but they're also covered in the germs left behind from our talking, sneezing, coughing and more. Photo by Cheon Fong Liew.
A few alcohol wipes will take care of your office or home phone, but your mobile phone requires a little more love and care. A microfibre cloth will take care of the dirt and oils on your phone, but a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar will handle the rest. We'd suggest you give your phone a good cleaning once every couple of weeks and a wipe-down with a microfibre cloth every few days.
Your Toilet Flusher
This won't surprise some of you, but the rationale is simple: most people, in public or in their homes, touch the toilet flusher switch or knob right after using the bathroom and prior to washing their hands. At the same time, most of us remember to clean this at home when we clean the toilet (we hope -- don't just pay attention to the bowl!) and most cleaning crews in public places do the same, or their toilets have auto-flushers. Still, it's a good reminder to practise proper hand-washing whenever possible.
Your Remote Control
You may not guess it, but that remote control sitting on the couch in front of the TV is actually a hotbed for bacteria and viruses, and it's an object that most people almost never clean. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona showed that remote controls in hospital rooms, hotel rooms and homes had more bugs growing on them than toilet seats, door handles, the bedspread and sink handles. Think about it: your remote gets dropped on the floor frequently, you may hold on to it while you're eating, it gets lost behind or under the couch, and most remotes have tiny spaces between buttons where dirt and gunk can check in. Give your remote a good rub down with a lintless cloth and a little rubbing alcohol. Since it's next to impossible to take a remote apart, proper hand-washing is the key here to staying healthy and germ free. That and replacing your remote when it starts to collect a fine layer of cruft that no one wants to touch. Photo by espensorvik.
We're not saying you should live your life in constant fear of bacteria. The big takeaways here are that you should clean the things in your life that you use regularly that you may not remember are probably gross, and any other time, remember to wash your hands. A few simple, minor changes can go a long way towards making sure you -- and the other people you come in contact with -- stay healthy and well.
Any common places we missed that you'd suggest cleaning? Share your thoughts in the comments below.