As autumn approaches, so does cold and flu season. We’ve all heard the usual tips and tricks to guard against germs, like washing hands, covering mouths and noses, staying home when sick, and so on, but sometimes the basics aren’t enough, and we still end up with a common cold or flu virus. Check out some unique hacks for added protection against the cold virus and flu illness this fall and beyond.
Use Your Pinky Finger, Knuckles, or Anti-Touch Tools
Think about how many times you touch your face during the day. Research shows that people touch their faces about 23 times an hour. Now think about how often you touch other objects throughout the day. Too many to count, right? The list is endless between laptops, steering wheels, tabletops, dish sponges, bags, remotes, money, and so on. It’s easy to imagine how germs get transferred. While hand sanitizer stations are virtually everywhere nowadays, it never hurts to implement little precautions when handling shared surfaces. The next time you find yourself worrying about the germs on the ATM or elevator buttons, opt to use your pinky finger or knuckle instead of your dominant pointer finger. Anti-touch tools have become increasingly popular over the last few years, which are designed with different hooks and stylus features for ease of use. Keep one of these on your keychain for the occasions you’re feeling particularly weary of germs this flu season.
Choose Paper Towels Over Hand Dryers
A recent study found that high-speed air dryers in public restrooms might actually cause more contamination than paper towels. It turns out germs in the restroom can be rustled up by the air dryer and settle on your clothes and other surfaces. Yikes! Bottom line is that it’s best to ensure you have a thorough hand-washing regime before reaching for a paper towel to dry off. If paper towels aren’t an option, make sure to keep a hand sanitizer made of at least 60% alcohol after touching sink handles, paper towel dispensers, and doors. Pro Tip: Save your used paper towel to open the door on the way out of the restroom to avoid the germs on the handle.
Change into “Inside” Clothes and Shoes at Home
After returning home from the office, running errands, or traveling, change into cozy “inside” clothes for comfort and to keep germs from spreading into your home. Shoes and clothes track germs from the street, public transportation, and shared spaces into your abode. In fact, a study found that a third of the buildup in your home is from outside, whether trampled in on the bottoms of shoes or blown in. Another study suggests that bacteria from feces is found on 96% of shoe bottoms. While your clothes won’t be as dirty as the bottoms of your shoes, slipping into comfy inside clothes can help lessen the number of bacteria that finds their way into your space. Of course, attempting to prevent flu illness or the cold virus is always easier than preventing it, so we suggest leaving your shoes in a dedicated area by the door (that gets cleaned regularly) and opting for cozy slippers or shoes and clothes reserved only for lounging at home.
Clean Phones Regularly
Did you know that cell phones are dirtier than toilet seats? A recent study found the devices we hold up to our face, scroll on constantly and sometimes bring to bed with us carry ten times more bacteria than most toilet seats. Have we woken your inner germaphobe yet? Try leaving your phone behind when you head into the restroom and avoid letting it sleep in bed with you to minimize the spread of germs. When it’s time to clean your device, skip antibacterial wipes since the chemicals are too abrasive on the material. Instead, grab a microfiber towel and alcohol- and ammonia-free cleaning solution to disinfect gently. Another option is to invest in a UV phone sanitizer that’s certified by the EPA and proven to eliminate 99.99% of viruses and bacteria in 8 minutes. As always, washing your hands several times a day is a fundamental practice to keep harmful germs away from your devices and protect your immune system.
Try a Tongue Scraper
A tongue scraper is a perfect addition to your oral hygiene routine because it’s a quick and easy way to remove extra particles collecting on your tongue. It’s also 30% more effective at removing volatile sulfur compounds on the tongue compared to a toothbrush. Not only can tongue scraping help combat bad breath, but it can also have a positive impact on your overall health, heighten your sense of taste, improve the appearance of your tongue, and reduce symptoms of poor oral health. When you remove the lingering bacteria, debris, and dead cells, you prevent gum disease, cavities, and more. In fact, researchers found that using a tongue scraper twice a day for a week reduced the number of bacterium types known to cause bad breath and dental decay.
Avoid Germ Hot Spots
We’re so used to going about our days that we might not realize the number of places we go and things we touch that germs accumulate. These not-so-obvious places for germs include ATM keypads, communal pens, crosswalk buttons, car keys, keyboards and mouses, kitchen cabinet handles, dog leases, steering wheels, light switches, and so much more. We recommend giving your personal space and places you come into close contact with a good antibacterial wipe-down to start fresh this fall and add these places to your regular cleaning routine. A few simple suggestions for avoiding illness caused by the cold and/or flu virus are using your own pen when you can, not using your pointer finger to push buttons, and keeping antibacterial cleaners or wipes handy to refresh your space and items at your leisure. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – washing your hands well and often can help prevent the spreading of germs between all these inconspicuous places.
Wash Towels and Bedding Regularly
How often do you wash your sheets and towels? What about your comforter or pillows? A week is standard for sheets and towels, while other bedding can go a bit longer. The Sleep Foundation put together the below chart to help you plan how often to wash all your bedding necessities.
|Bedding Item||Wash Frequency|
|Pillowcases||Once a week|
|Duvet covers||Once every 2 weeks to a month|
|Comforters||Once every 2-3 months|
|Blankets||Once every 2-3 months|
|Pillows||Once every 4-6 months (if washable)|
Since we spend around 50-60 hours in our beds each week, dirt, sweat, dead skin cells, body oil, and dust mites have the chance to build up between the sheets and can contribute to health issues from asthma and allergies to overall sleep hygiene. If washing your sheets and remaking your bed in one fell swoop feels daunting, keep an extra set or two of sheets to lighten the load. Always check the tag before washing your bedding in case you need to take a trip to the dry cleaners or have to follow particular drying instructions.
Sanitizing Water Bottles Inside and Out
Raise your hand if you clean your water bottle after every use. Anyone? If you don’t wash your reusable water that often, you aren’t alone but should absolutely start making it a habit. A recent study found that water bottles that don’t get cleaned for a week contain 300,000 bacteria cells per square centimeter. For reference, that’s about six times the number of bacteria on pet bowls. Don’t cut corners by just rinsing or cleaning the parts of the bottle that touch your mouth. Your emotional support water bottle deserves a full-service wash with warm, soapy water or distilled white vinegar to eliminate lingering bacteria or icky biofilms that could put you at high risk for seasonal cold or flu illness. Make sure to give the lids and straws a throughout wash while you’re at it!
Avoiding all germs is impossible, mainly because not all germs are bad. These unique tips and tricks are meant to give people a leg up during cold and flu season in addition to standard hygiene practices while being mindful of public health. Do you have your own out-of-the-box tips or see a standout from the above you will start using for cold and flu prevention?