Ideally, most of us want to have a clean home year-round. A clean home is sanitary, visually appealing and let’s not forget, pretty convenient for when your relatives stop by unexpectedly.

But at no other time of year do we feel a stronger urge to clean than during cold and flu season. In a 2018 study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that anywhere from 3-11% of the U.S. population catches the flu each winter, depending on that year’s strain. And when you consider additional viral threats like COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and norovirus, you end up with even more motivation to don those rubber gloves and start scrubbing.

In addition to warding off viruses, keeping your home clean can have a lot of other health advantages, too. We’ll cover the benefits of a clean home, how often to disinfect, and tips for the most effective ways to do it to keep you and your family healthy.

What does disinfecting mean?

Before we get started, let’s break down the meanings of the most common cleaning terms: Clean, sanitize and disinfect. Here are the definitions, according to the CDC:

  • Clean: To remove visible dirt, dust and grime from surfaces by wiping or scrubbing with water and soap.
  • Sanitize: To reduce the number of germs to levels that public health regulations deem safe. Surfaces should be cleaned first, then sanitized by using weaker bleach solutions or sanitizing sprays.
  • Disinfect: To kill the majority of germs on a surface or object. This is done by using stronger bleach solutions or disinfecting chemicals. Like sanitizing, surfaces should be cleaned before disinfecting.

When to sanitize and disinfect your home

Your regular cleanings don’t usually have to include sanitizing and disinfecting because a mixture of dish soap and water (or other all-purpose cleaner) can remove most germs and bacteria. It’s also safe to use on nearly every household surface.

Sanitizers or disinfectants are only needed if:

  • Someone who lives in your house has been sick recently
  • Someone who visited your house was sick
  • You live with someone who has a weakened immune system

It’s a good idea to actively combat any germs or viruses introduced into your home as soon as you can with a thorough disinfecting.

Benefits of regularly cleaning and disinfecting your home

Some benefits of cleaning your home may seem obvious, like not wanting mold in the shower or dust bunnies in the corners of the kitchen. But other advantages can be lesser known. Here are some of the top benefits to cleaning and disinfecting your home.

Kick viruses to the curb

Removing (or killing) germs and bacteria from your home can keep you and your family from getting sick. Or if you were recently sick, disinfecting can help prevent others in your household from getting it. When viruses and bacteria – like those that cause cold, flu, COVID-19 and RSV – have fewer numbers, they aren’t as able to infect.

Improve your indoor air quality

Reducing the amount of dust in your home improves the air quality, something that can make a significant difference for people with conditions like asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you want to take clearing the air a step further, invest in an at-home air purifier.

While houseplants have been promoted as natural air purifiers, the science behind this claim is inconclusive. But the mood boost we get from having plants in our home is scientifically proven.

Reduce stress

Life can be chaotic, but your home doesn’t have to be. Maintaining a clean and organized living space, while it does add additional tasks to your to-do list, can help you keep a clear head as you go about your day. Decluttering your home can help you declutter your mind for less stress at home.

Enjoy better sleep

A clean home promotes healthy, restful sleep. Freshly laundered sheets and a tidy bedroom reduce your exposure to dirt, dust and dander, which is especially important if you have allergies. And the knowledge that the rest of your home is just as neat and orderly can help relax your mind for sleep.

Get active

A thorough clean does burn calories, but not as many as we’d like to think. The full body movements involved in vacuuming, sweeping, mopping and vigorous scrubbing can help you work up a sweat, but general tidying usually doesn’t get our heartrate up high enough.

Try incorporating some traditional fitness moves during your cleaning sessions to make it more of a workout. Step into a lunge each time you push the vacuum or mop across the floor. Do some calf raises as you dust and organize high shelves. Rather than bending at the waist to reach those lower nooks and crannies, hold a squat instead or get down on your hands and knees for cat-cow yoga poses.

Prevent accidents

As mentioned above, decluttering is essential for several reasons, but it’s especially important if someone in your home is elderly or has a mobility impairment. Keeping your floors and stairways free of clutter reduces the chance that you or someone else will slip and fall.

When we’re vigorously scrubbing, spraying, wiping and vacuuming, we want to know that our efforts are paying off. Take notes on these tips for the most effective ways to clean and disinfect your home, and how to keep it germ free.

1. Keep your hands clean

One of the best ways to keep your home germ free is to stop germs from coming home in the first place. To do so, wash your hands often. We hear it all the time, “Wash your hands and don’t touch your face.” But how important is that advice? Crucial, actually.

Our hands bring germs and bacteria into the home, then spread them to other surfaces quite rapidly. Not to mention touching your face or your food with dirty hands is the quickest way to get germs into your nose and mouth, making you sick. You can choose to wear latex or nitrile gloves during your cleaning sessions for added protection, but gloves become essential if you have any kind of cut on your hands or you’re using harsher cleaning chemicals.

People tend to skip hand washing more often in the winter because wetness can dry out the skin. Don’t! Instead, have lotion ready to moisturize your knuckles after washing. You can also use hand sanitizer products that contain a 60-95% alcohol concentration every now and then to avoid fully washing every time.

2. Disinfect your phone

Your phone is one of your most-touched belongings, meaning the chances of it being contaminated with the flu virus or another nasty microbe are higher. Our phones tend to stay with us all day, going wherever we go. When you bring it home, it brings with it all the germs of where you’ve been, like a microbial passport. Note: Antibacterial wipes aren’t great for your phone. Instead, you can use a lint-free cloth and a mixture of equal parts water and isopropyl alcohol. Try to disinfect your phone daily or weekly.

3. Focus on the frequently used areas

Make sure the areas that get used often (like the kitchen and bathroom) and things that are frequently touched (like doorknobs, fridge door handles and remotes) are cleaned and disinfected either daily or every few days. It’s also a good idea to regularly disinfect toys, electronics – including your computer mouse and keyboard – and faucet handles, especially during the winter months, since the flu virus can live on them for several hours. (And norovirus even longer, unfortunately.)

4. Take your shoes off when you get home

We bring a lot of germs home on the bottom of our shoes. Keep those germs outside where they belong by taking your shoes off right as you enter your home or someone else’s. Place a shoe rack near your most-heavily trafficked entryway so you and your guests have an organized and appealing area to put shoes.

Removing your shoes when you get home is especially important if you have someone with allergies in the house, or an infant who is crawling along your floors. Plus, you’ll save yourself a ton of sweeping, mopping and vacuuming.

If you don’t like going barefoot in the house, buy yourself a nice pair of slippers. Just make sure you only wear them indoors, so you know those soles are clean.

5. Use the right products

What you use to clean can make or break your cleaning efforts. In addition to choosing the right products, you have to choose and maintain the right tools. Sponges, rags and mops can become filthy after just a few uses, and sometimes paper towel or disinfectant wipes are the most sanitary options because you can just toss them when you’re done (like in the case of toilet cleaning). In between jobs, make sure you’re washing your sponges, rags and mops regularly with boiling hot water to disinfect them.

Some cleaning products aren’t very effective at preventing the spread of illness-causing germs, and other cleaning products contribute to pollution. The CDC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offer a database of antimicrobial products that are great for cleaning and disinfecting, plus better for your health and the health of the environment. No matter what you choose, never mix different chemical-based cleaning products together unless you’ve done your research beforehand.

There are also a lot of cheap and easy homemade cleaning solutions that will do the trick. You can do more than you’d think with vinegar, baking soda and rubbing alcohol.

6. Become a laundry machine

Most people choose one day during the week on which to do all their laundry, but if the mountain of dirty clothes you’re faced with each laundry day is too daunting, you can choose to do just one load of laundry every day. In addition to your clothes, prioritize washing things that get touched a lot, like throw blankets, duvet covers, bed sheets, bathmats, bath towels, hand and dish towels, and rugs. Use the hot water cycle when appropriate for the material for maximum de-germing.

7. Always tidy after cooking

Treat your kitchen like that of a restaurant. Chefs don’t leave cookware soaking in the sink all night, nor do they close for the night with a filthy kitchen. After cooking and eating, don’t let the mess linger. Put the leftovers away, do your dishes, load the dishwasher and wipe down countertops as soon as possible. Your morning self will thank you.

Staying on top of kitchen cleanliness reduces the potential for foodborne pathogens spreading through your space. And don’t forget your kitchen table and refrigerator: wipe down the places where you eat daily and give your fridge a deep clean (with disinfectant) every 3-4 months.

8. Make cleaning easy so that you’re more likely to do it

Keep cleaning supplies like the disinfecting wipes, dust cloths and vacuum accessible around the house where they’re easy to grab. Storing them in a central, organized place can increase the chances you’ll grab them more often. Another small tip that can make a big difference: Find something that’s enjoyable to listen to while you clean, like a favorite playlist, podcast or audiobook. You might find that you don’t dread starting your chores, and you enjoy them more than you expected.

How often to clean and disinfect your home

When it comes to a cleaning schedule, different strategies work for different households. You can choose to set aside one day out of the week for all your cleaning chores, or you might find it easier to complete one or two chores each day. Of course, certain smaller tasks, like washing dishes and wiping surfaces, should be done at the end of every day. Waking up to a clean house can help you start the day on the right foot.

If someone in your household is sick, you’ll have to clean and disinfect with more frequency until that person is feeling better.

Don’t sweep routine cleaning under the rug

Let’s face it, there’s no way to fully protect your household from germs and bacteria. And you don’t have to, because they’re not always a bad thing. Regularly encountering certain microbes can actually strengthen your immune system and prevent children from developing asthma and allergies. It’s all about finding a balance in maintaining a home that is clean and comfortable, yet not overly sterile.

Still, living in a clean environment and disinfecting on a regular basis can make a big difference in how often you’re sick and how you feel in general.

If you do get sick, we have convenient options to get you the care and advice you need, when you need it.