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The surprising way to kill germs in your house after you’ve been sick


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Spending a sick day posted up in bed is, admittedly, a less-than-ideal reality of flu season. The one redeeming grace? Something as simple as a shower can make you feel like an entirely new person once you’ve kicked the bug. As it happens, a good steam (of a different sort) might be just the ticket to killing the germs that linger around your house post-flu.

The influenza virus can spread to 60 percent of the surfaces in your home when you’ve been sick.

Microbiologist and immunologist Jason Tetro, who’s a visiting scientist at the University of Guelph and bestselling author of The Germ Files makes the case for cleaning and disinfecting on the reg, but particularly when you’re sick—not just after you’ve gotten better. In fact, he says that the influenza virus can spread to 60 percent of the surfaces in your home when you’ve been sick. Gross, am I right?

“When it comes to cleaning, any surface that is commonly touched, which we call high-touch surfaces, is a risk factor for spreading the flu,” says Tetro. Given that the flu virus can survive for a few hours up to a few days, it’s not just in your head if it feels like you’re living in a petri dish post-flu. Even if you’ve been suffering from a different kind of viral infection (like the common cold), Tetro stands by these tips to disinfect your home.

Keep reading for the most common high-touch surfaces to disinfect, and how to hit them in three seconds flat.

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Cleaning household surfaces after being sick.
Photo: Stocksy/Milles Studio

How to locate the high-touch surfaces in your home

High-touch surfaces are exactly that, surfaces in your home that are frequently touched (and therefore more susceptible to hosting germs when you’re sick). According to Tetro, this can include faucets, kitchen countertops, refrigerator door handles, both sides of doorknobs, light switches, television remotes, keyboards, computer mice, and yes, your cell phone.

Of course, everyone’s habits are different. If you want to be sure you’re hitting all of your high-touch surfaces on cleaning day, Tetro has a super simple piece of advice for you: “Do a walk-through of your home just like you would if you were coming home from being outside.”

Pay attention to the things you touch first—obviously the doorknobs are on the list, but if you happen to reach for your water pitcher and a drinking glass, you know that the pitcher is on the list, too.

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How you can disinfect (almost) all of them, naturally

Now that you know *what* to clean, actually doing it couldn’t be easier. If you give the side-eye to harsh chemicals, you’ll love Tetro’s favorite method of disinfecting the things in your home: steam.

“The flu virus has this outer ‘envelope’ of fat,” explains Tetro. “If you can use heat to disturb that, then it’s not going to have the ability to get into your body.”

According to Tetro, a simple hand-held laundry steamer will do the trick. He recommends exposing the surface to the steam for at least three seconds to get the germ-busting benefits you’re after. If you’re a little skeptical about taking steam to your electronics (say, your laptop or phone), Tetro also says that you can turn to any kind of disinfecting wipe.

While you can’t deep-clean your whole office, you *can* steal these hacks to stay flu-free at work. Now that you know how to clean your place after you have been sick, here’s how to take care of an ill loved one without falling victim to the sniffles yourself.

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