Since this time last year, lots of people have been stocking up on cleaning supplies and some are still disinfecting every surface in their home, thinking it’s better to be safe than sorry. ButDr. Elizabeth Scott,an associate professor of biology at Simmons University and co-director and founder of the Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community, warns that this isn’t the best approach. She explains that overusing and misusing disinfecting products to create an “illusion of safety” can actually do more harm to our health and the environment and there’s even a name for it - “hygiene theater.”
For one thing, she says overusing chemicals can be a health risk to those with asthma or respiratory conditions. Plus, overusing or misusing disinfecting chemicals could actually make certain bacteria - like staph - stronger and resistant to disinfectants.
So what should we be doing instead? Scott and the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene recommend this targeted approach.
- Use the right product for the correct task- Not all surfaces actually need to be disinfected, like when you’re only trying to clean crumbs and fingerprints off a counter, you can just use soap and water or an all-purpose spray. But if you’ve prepared food on that counter or someone coughed on it, that calls for disinfecting.
- Some surfaces don’t ever need to be disinfected- Focus the disinfecting on “high-touch” surfaces that may have potentially harmful germs lingering on them, like doorknobs, light switches, and toilet and sink handles. But windows? Not unless someone’s sneezing and licking the glass. Same goes for floors, which may be dirty, but unless you have a baby crawling around, they don’t need to be disinfected.
- Use proper technique- Doing it wrong can be more of a risk than not doing it at all. Read product labels and follow directions, some disinfectants need time to stay on surfaces to kill germs.