The filthiest spot in your home

·Head of Lifestyle
·6-min read

The worst of the lockdown restrictions may be easing, but working from home doesn’t appear to be disappearing from our lives any time soon.

However, with so many of us spending a lot more time in our houses, and with a greater global emphasis on hygiene thanks to our recent re-education about how important it is to keep our hands and surfaces clean, it’s worth thinking about ways to streamline the process.

One really easy way is to use a stick-vac, and the best stick vac on the market right now – no, I am not paid to say this – is the Dyson Outsize. Why? Because you can do your whole house in one go.

No more fiddling around recharging and emptying the barrel from room to room (or floor to floor). This beast of a machine is big enough and has enough battery life to bust all the dirt on your floors in one hit.

That means the convenience of a handheld vacuum cleaner is paired with the functionality of a larger, conventional vacuum.

Dyson's Outsize is a 'beast of a machine'. Picture: Dyson
Dyson's Outsize is a 'beast of a machine'. Picture: Dyson

We asked Gem McLuckie, an Advanced Researched Scientist in Microbiology at Dyson, for her advice on keeping our work-from-home surroundings clean.

If there was one part of the house you'd recommend everyone keep clean at all times, what would it be?

While people may think areas such as the toilet seat are the dirtiest, it tends to be high-touch surfaces such as light switches and TV remotes. These are the places a lot of people wouldn’t consider to clean on a regular basis. Even one of the most seemingly hygienic areas, the kitchen, is also another spot to continue to clean regularly. Food preparation surfaces such as chopping boards can harbour the most bacterial contamination. Dust collects on top of kitchen cupboards, this can then be disturbed and distributed on to the freshly cleaned surfaces aiding the spread of microbes and allergens contained within the dust. In order to control the transfer of microbes within the home, we should be frequently washing and drying our hands, as well as regularly cleaning high-touch and food preparation surfaces. 

Don’t forget about soft furnishings too. Dust is made up of a complex range of microscopic particles, including pollen, bacteria, skin flakes and dust mites. Dust mites actually feed on human and animal skin flakes, so areas where we spend a lot of time, like our beds, can harbor a lot of skin deposit and dust mites. Crucially, the proteins found in dust mite faeces are what can cause allergies – and dust mites can produce around 20 pellets a day. So while you may not be able to see the dust in your mattress, sofa, carpets or curtains, it’s important that you vacuum them regularly to reduce the amount of dust and associated allergens in your home.

Many of us are cleaning our houses more than ever now that we're both spending so much time in them and more conscious of pathogens. Do you foresee that continuing once the current pandemic ends?

Even without the context of having to stay inside, the WHO estimates that we spend 90% of our time indoors. As such, it’s important that people are aware of how to maintain a healthier home. However in our busy day to day life, housework can seem less important and time consuming. With the wide impact of a pandemic, I think many will have had their eyes opened to the potential for germs, bacteria and viruses to be transferred quickly and in ways they were not previously aware of.

This new awareness may encourage people to change some of their habits and behaviours, at least in the short term. As a microbiologist, I see the world through a different lens and what is invisible to the eye is never far from my mind – I just hope that people will gain a greater awareness of the importance of keeping their hands and surroundings clean and hygienic. Nowhere do we have more control over this than in our own homes. 

 What are some of the germs or bacteria you've identified in domestic environments that might surprise people?

As humans we carry a lot of different types of bacteria on and inside us and easily contaminate our environments in a variety of ways – most of these bacteria are harmless but some have the potential to make us ill and I think people would be shocked to know what really lurks in their homes. The bacteria and mould in each domestic environment will be influenced by the conditions, setting and occupants within the household. Pet owners, for example, will have different bacteria in their homes to people without pets – when looking at a dust sample under a microscope, this is one of the most obvious differences. 

When we bring pets, plants, people, food and furnishings into our homes, they all carry their own sources of bacteria and mould contamination. Effectively, we transport the outside, inside with us as we go about our daily lives, bringing microbes and allergens on our shoes, clothes and any other domestic items.

Once in the home, temperature and humidity influence what can survive and be prevalent within an indoor environment and consequently lead to differences in what can be sampled, grown in a lab and identified. There’s no practical way to reduce how much microbial matter we bring inside, so cleaning and vacuuming is essential to maintain low levels of bacteria and moulds to reduce the bioburden in our homes and maintain our wellbeing.

Weekly cleaning schedule

MONDAY

  • Wash bedding on a 60°C or 90°C wash to help to break down and reduce allergens 

  • Wash or replace duvets and pillows to reduce the amount of dust mites and skin flakes present in your bed.  

  • Vacuum both sides of your mattress to remove dust mites and skin flakes. 

TUESDAY

  • Remove dust from kitchen cupboard tops, using either a vacuum with an advanced filtration system or by dusting with a clean damp cloth or cleaning wipes.  

  • Clear kitchen counters and cupboards to deep clean. Vacuum to remove dust and debris, then wash with warm water and detergent. Follow up by drying all surfaces.  

  • Empty the fridge and freezer, and clean all surfaces with warm water and detergent or cleaning product. Vacuum round the back and under the fridge and freezer, without forgetting the cooler element on the back as this will improve performance. 

WEDNESDAY

  • Vacuum the places not regularly vacuumed, such as under furniture.  

  • Vacuum your sofa and armchairs, which can harbour large debris along with dust mites, skin flakes and other allergens such as pollen. Wash any coverings and cushions to reduce the level of dust caught within them. 

THURSDAY

  • A lot of dust can gather in curtains and blinds. Make sure you vacuum them with a soft brush tool or launder them if possible and practical. 

  • Remove dust from walls by dusting with a damp cloth, cleaning wipes or using a vacuum with advanced filtration. Dust on certain wall types can contribute towards the growth of mould. 

FRIDAY

  • Dust lights and light fittings. Dust can gather in lampshades and light fittings which can burn on hot bulbs producing VOCs and odour, or be moved around the room by the production of warm air around the bulbs. 

  • Dust behind radiators – a hidden place often missed during normal cleaning. Significant dust collects behind the radiator and this can be distributed around the room by the air flow produced by the warm air from the radiator.

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