From BPA to bed bugs to bacteria-laden devices, your home may be filled with more unwanted critters than you’d care to think about! Read on to learn how you can keep the most dangerous microbes to a minimum.
1. Dust Mites
No matter how picky we are about our bunkmates, there will always be unwelcome visitors. Namely, dust mites. They love a warm environment like your bed just as much as you do. And since they snack on dead skin cells, they have no reason to leave. Good news is, they’re harmless unless you have allergies or asthma. To keep their count down, wash your sheets in hot water regularly, and fluff your pillow in the dryer on its hottest setting. The most recent information on dust mites suggests that using a combination of physical measures — including pillow and mattress covers, washing bedding in hot water and carpet removal if necessary — is better than chemical treatments. But be forewarned: At least three to six months of sustained intervention is necessary to show real benefit. That means you should put measures in place that you can maintain over time and expect symptoms to improve gradually.
2. Kitchen Germs
Your kitchen contains more germs than any other room in your home (including the bathroom!). Although nothing you can do will completely eradicate all bacteria living under your roof, you can keep your unwanted roommates in check without resorting to harsh chemicals: Keep a spray bottle of undiluted white vinegar handy and use it to spritz your cutting boards and countertops, then let them air-dry overnight (the smell will dissipate quickly). White vinegar is a natural, nontoxic antibacterial and fungicide, which means you don’t have to worry about contaminating your food prep area with any chemicals. It’s also incredibly economical.
3. Bisphenol-A (BPA)
Benjamin, Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate, may have been right to cringe at the word plastic. Bisphenol-A, a widely used additive in plastic containers and cans, has long been suspected of contributing to hormonal disruptions and neural development issues in children. Recent studies have begun to look at the health effects of BPA in adults — in 2009, researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom found that adults with high levels of BPA in their urine had a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease and suffering from impaired liver function. Despite these dangers, more than 90 percent of the American population has detectable levels of BPA in their bloodstreams. To minimize your exposure, avoid plastic water bottles, discard any plastic containers that have scratches, and don’t microwave or place hot liquids or food in plastic containers. Because BPA is also found in the lining of cans, consider cooking with dried beans and frozen vegetables instead of their canned counterparts.
4. Environmental pollutants
Environmental exposures and lifestyle habits account for about two-thirds of all cancers in the U.S. A presidential panel says environmental pollutants pose an unnecessary cancer risk. According to the President’s Cancer Panel, nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market are understudied and largely unregulated. Though what risk they pose is unknown, you can take steps to minimize your chemical exposure. Mark Liponis, MD, corporate medical director at Canyon Ranch and author of Ultra-Longevity, recommends having the radon levels in your home checked, filtering your tap water with a charcoal filter and opting for organic personal care products such as shampoos and soaps.
5. Pesticides On Produce
For most produce, rubbing them under water is the best way to remove pesticides. It also lowers bacterial count by tenfold. If your fruits or vegetables are hardy enough, use light friction when you rub. Some produce, however, like apples, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes have an edible wax coating, which protects them from bruising but can also trap pesticides and dirt underneath. For these items, a mild soap and water mix or ready-made produce wash can help remove the wax and whatever is trapped underneath.
Bedbugs are back with a vengeance. The good news is that scientists have found no evidence that they transmit diseases. More of a nuisance than anything else, the bloodsuckers can leave you with a red, itchy rash, and they can be difficult to get rid of without professional help. Many store-bought insecticides are ineffective in treating bedbugs — and can make you sick if used improperly. That’s why you should always use products according to their instructions, and if you’re still bothered by the critters, get professional help from a licensed, pest-management company.
7. House Pests
The safest way to keep insects and other critters out of your home is through prevention. Don’t leave any food out, including dog food, and wipe counters clean of crumbs and food scraps after each use. Store all food in sealed containers, and empty your garbage frequently. Insects need water for survival and are drawn to wet or damp places. To keep your home bug-free, fix leaky plumbing, repair water-damaged areas, and don’t leave standing water anywhere in the house, including in plant trays. Critters can enter the home through cracks or crevices in the walls, so seal off any openings. In addition, keep screens over floor drains, patch holes in window screens, and be sure all of your doors and windows are sealed securely. Avoid storing newspapers, paper bags and boxes in the home for long periods of time — they make perfect hiding spots for insects. If you have pets, bathe them regularly and wash areas where they sleep often. Healthy plants resist pests better than weak ones, so keep houseplants and the ones in your yard in good condition. To deter termites and ants, keep mulch and wood chips away from your home. Finally, clean up pet droppings around the yard; these attract flies, which can spread bacteria.
8. E. coli
Worried about the risk of E. coli-tainted lettuce? Food safety experts say whole lettuce heads are safer than the bagged variety. When it comes to E. coli safety, produce that is more processed stands a greater chance of being contaminated. That’s because it has to go through more hands during the harvesting and packaging phases. Bacteria also tend to linger on the outer leaves, because they come in contact with more substances. Toss out the outer leaves and wash the rest of the lettuce thoroughly before serving. The only way to kill E. coli is by heating it, so if you want to be extra careful, choose leafy greens that you can cook thoroughly.
9. Bacteria-Laden Devices
Cell phones, remote controls and bathroom soap dispensers are rife with germs. Wipe them down daily and wash your hands often. These items can harbor bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella and viruses like the flu. Use sanitizing wipes to clean your phone and remote control. Wash your hands often, and for at least 20 seconds. Scrubbing for that long will help ensure that you wash away whatever germs might have gone from the soap dispenser to your hands.
Considering a humidifier to combat the dry winter air? Bacteria and fungi often grow in the tanks and can be released into the air you’re breathing. Children, seniors, and people with lung conditions or respiratory allergies may be particularly susceptible to these kinds of pollutants, causing flu-like symptoms, allergies, and respiratory irritation or infections. Following a few safety precautions can help keep levels of bacteria and mold down. Choose warm mist or evaporative humidifiers over ultrasonic or cool mist ones — these generally disperse fewer microorganisms into the air. Keep warm mist humidifiers out of the reach of children because of the risk of scalding burns. Use distilled water instead of tap water, or use demineralization cartridges, if recommended for use with your humidifier. Change the water daily, and clean and dry your humidifier at least every three days. Remove any scale, deposits or film that has formed inside the tank and allow it to air-dry completely.