We’re all homebound right now, so ask yourself: Is your environment a healthy one to spend all your time in? More importantly: what are some quick and easy ways to make it healthier? Read on to discover how to break the 20 unhealthiest home habits and make your home a haven for social distancing.
You Skim Over Surfaces When You Clean
If you want your home to be healthy, why not spend your extra downtime cleaning? It’s important to pay close attention to surfaces since they’re usually where the germs and bacteria thrive.
While scientists are still studying COVID-19, research has found that it’s possible for the virus to “live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for 72 hours…and copper for four hours.”
The Rx: Toilet handles, doorknobs, kitchen counters, stair railings, and children’s toys are all surfaces where the virus can thrive for days. If you’re getting rid of nervous energy by cleaning your house, don’t forget about these. While studies haven’t proven that household cleaners kill COVID-19 specifically, they’re known to combat other viruses. Use a clean sponge or cloth and a disinfecting cleaner to get rid of germs and bacteria on these surfaces.
You Allow Clutter to Pile Up
When you only spend a few waking hours at home, piles of clutter scattered about may not be too big of a deal. But now that your home is your workspace and gym and diner and meditation studio, take pride; this clutter can have real negative effects on your mental health.
It’s been proven. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology concluded that “clutter had a negative impact on psychological home and subjective well-being.”
The Rx: Take 10 minutes every night before you go to bed to clean up the clutter. Have a place for every item and ask your family to help put everything back before bedtime.
You Leave Your Shoes On
After being out in public for groceries or take-out, you lather on the hand sanitizer. This is a helpful precaution to ensure you’re not spreading germs and bacteria into your home. But have you thought about what else may have been exposed to the virus?
Your shoes pick up nasty bacteria and germs when you’re out and about. A study conducted by the University of Arizona found tons of germs on shoes that scientists examined, “averaging 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside of the shoe and 2,887 on the inside.”
The Rx: Take your shoes off before you come into your home and encourage your family members to do the same. If you’ve been out and about, you may want to consider wiping down your shoes to get rid of potential bacteria. Your new “no shoes in the house” rule can keep the virus and other germs at bay.
You Keep Your Blinds Closed
Sure, we’re practicing social distancing but it’s not the zombie apocalypse. You don’t have to board up your windows. If you’re keeping your blinds closed at all hours of the day, it’s time to break this unhealthy habit. Sunshine is important for your physical and mental wellbeing and increases your serotonin, the feel-good hormone. It also lowers your blood pressure and helps you get better quality sleep.
The Rx: If the sun is shining, open your blinds! Let the sun’s rays shine through your windows and enjoy the natural source of light for a few hours every day. The sunshine will boost your mood and let you take a break from artificial lamps and lights for a little while.
You Leave Used Tissues and Napkins Sitting Out
Whether you’re experiencing allergies, a common cold, or the dreaded COVID-19, blowing your nose into a tissue and leaving it out is a no-no. Tissues or napkins that you’ve used to wipe your face, mouth, or nose contain germs and bacteria that may spread to the surface where you place them.
According to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, flu viruses can survive on tissues for about 15 minutes and cold viruses stick around on tissues for about seven days. Leaving used tissues and napkins out can potentially spread your germs to other surfaces and people.
The Rx: You may not feel sick, but COVID-19 comes with tons of unanswered questions and heiring on the side of caution is a good idea. It’s best not to put your family members at risk and throw away tissues or napkins as soon as you’ve used them.
You Stock Your Pantry With Junk Food
If you want your home to be healthy, start with the pantry and fridge. It’s normal to turn to comfort foods when you’re stressed, but junk food can just put you in a bad mood and make you feel sluggish. According to an article published by Harvard Health, about 90% of your serotonins are found in your gut. When you eat processed foods high in sugars and fats, your gut suffers, which also makes your mood suffer.
The Rx: A Mediterranean diet combats inflammation, keeping your gut healthy and your mood stable, says a study published in Molecular Psychiatry. Turn to fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy snacks, like nuts. Stock your pantry and fridge with only healthy foods and you won’t be tempted to stress-eat ice cream until you’re depressed.
You Don’t Wash Your Hands When You Get Home
You burst in the door after a whirlwind trip to three grocery stores hunting for TP. You put down the bags, pocket your keys, hang up your jacket, put the good away and then grab a soda. But wait! Did you wash your hands?!?
If not, you’re putting yourself and your family at risk for spreading the virus or other bacteria and germs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related illnesses and about 20% of respiratory infections.”
The Rx: Hand washing is obviously an important factor in combating the spread of COVID-19. When you thoroughly wash your hands as soon as you get home and before you touch anything, you’ll kill bacteria and germs before they can spread. Make it a habit to head to the sink and scrub for at least 20 seconds with soap before you touch the remote or other surfaces.
You Didn’t Bring the Outside In
Since you can’t really go outside, why not bring the outside in? If your home isn’t full of plants yet, it may be time to show off your green thumb. Houseplants are good for the air, your lungs, and they just look pretty sitting in your living room.
The Rx: There’s no need to turn your living room into a jungle for the sake of air quality. The NASA Clean Air Study recommends an 8 to 10 inch potted plant for every 100 square feet in your home. Houseplants that did the most for air purification included peace lilies, Gerbera daisies, Janet Craig, and bamboo palm. Services like thesill.com deliver.
You’re Not Washing or Changing Your Sheets
When you think of a healthy home, you probably think of pristine countertops and shiny floors. But the cleanliness of your sheets and bedding is also a huge component of keeping your house healthy.
In your sheets, “you have spores of fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, finishing agents of whatever the sheets are made from, coloring material, all sorts of excrements from the body including sweat, sputum, vaginal, and anal excretions, urine milieu, skin cells,” Philip Tierno, a clinical professor at the New York University School of Medicine, warns. These germs can cause skin or allergy irritation.
The Rx: Tierno suggests that you wash your bedsheets once a week. If you’re dealing with a large comforter or duvet that’s a pain to stuff into your washing machine, you only need to wash this item once every few weeks. Your sheets are what usually collect most bacteria and germs.
You’re Not Dusting Enough
While a thin film of dust on trinkets and tables is annoying, it’s hardly noticeable if your floors and countertops are clean. Dusting is a chore that many homeowners ignore because they assume these particles are harmless. But dust is a culprit for spreading bacteria and germs just as much as grimy bathrooms or dirty kitchens.
The Rx: Keep surfaces free of dust by using a duster that traps particles. If possible, wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth to ensure particles are removed. Keep your rooms well ventilated to ensure dust particles have a way to escape your home.
You Use Toxic Cleaning Products
Stuck in the house without a lot to do, you may turn to cleaning to occupy your time. Be careful about the cleaners you use. Mixing regular household cleaners together can be toxic and irritating to you and your family members.
According to Sonya Lunder from the Environmental Working Group, ammonia and other chemicals commonly found in household cleaning products can be harmful. “These chemicals have a very powerful effect on kids with asthma. You’re polluting the indoor air when you don’t need to.”
The Rx: There are many natural alternatives to household cleaning products you can find at your local grocery store. Look for “natural” or “organic” on the label. You can also whip up your own natural cleaner at home by mixing together vinegar and baking soda to scrub down your tub or bathroom sink.
You Don’t Replace Your Kitchen Sponges
You’re probably already aware of the germs, food-borne pathogens, and bacteria that lurk in your kitchen. Obsessively wiping down countertops and appliances may seem like the best plan of action. And it is…as long as your sponge isn’t dirty and spreading contaminants to other surfaces.
A study published in Scientific Reports found that dirty kitchen sponges contained over 362 different species of bacteria. About 45 billion microbes were found per square centimeter on these sponges. Using dirty sponges can spread these microbes to other surfaces and if they’re bad enough, they can cause illness when ingested.
The Rx: The USDA recommends microwaving your kitchen sponge for one minute to kill about 99% of its bacteria. It’s also important to replace your sponge if it’s damaged, discolored, or smells bad.
You’re Burning Toxic Candles
All these crazy changes to society and your daily routine can send you into a panic. A quick meditation session in a room filled with burning candles may seem like the perfect escape. While meditating is a great way to center yourself, don’t light those candles!
Scented candles made from paraffin wax are known to release toxins into the air. “Burning of candles in indoor environments can release a large number of toxic chemicals, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” according to a study published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research. “Poor indoor air quality may lead to a scratchy throat or irritated nasal passages.”
The Rx: If you live for candles, buy unscented candles made from beeswax or soy instead since they’re known for burning clean. Consider buying LED flameless candles that flicker. You’ll still get the visual effects of a lighted candle without the airborne toxins.
You’ve Put Off Minor Repairs
It’s a stressful time and money may be tight for you and your family. But ignoring minor repairs your home needs could make things worse. For example, say your toilet has been running and you’ve been putting off dealing with the simple repair. According to the East Bay Municipal Utility District, a running toilet wastes two gallons of water per minute. That singular repair you’re ignoring is costing you money on your utility bill and wasting important resources.
The Rx: Since you’re spending more time at home, take advantage and tackle these minor repairs. When you address the repairs you’ve been meaning to fix, you can prevent further damage and save yourself money in the long run.
You’ve Not Replaced Your Smoke Alarm Batteries
With most restaurants closed, you may be cooking at home more than ever before. You’re probably a talented cook, but it’s still important to ensure your smoke alarm is functioning properly. According to the American Red Cross, if a home fire starts, you have less than two minutes to escape before it’s out of control. Quick and effective fire detection from your smoke alarm can be the difference between life and death.
The Rx: Check your smoke detector batteries every month and test the system’s functionality. Replace the batteries every six months.
You’re Ignoring Potential Leaks
Noticing a water stain on your ceiling or hearing a little dripping noise in the walls when you use the kitchen sink? Don’t ignore these signs that your plumbing or roof is leaking. A leak may seem like another stressful situation to pile on top of everything else, but it’s important to address it.
According to the CDC, “Mold will grow in places with a lot of moisture, such as around leaks in roofs, windows, or pipes, or where there has been flooding.” So, if you ignore a leak for long enough, you could be dealing with a way bigger problem: mold.
The Rx: Regularly assess your ceilings and walls for water stains, drips, or other signs of a leak. If you hear dripping, call a plumber to look at your pipes immediately. Keep in mind, you may also need a mold remediation specialist to confirm your home is safe.
You’re Glued to the Couch
“Self-quarantine” sounds like a great excuse to catch up on Netflix and watch the entirety of The Office over again. But hanging on the couch for hours can take a toll on your mental health. “There were higher odds of developing depressive symptoms among people who spend more than six hours per day TV watching and using the computer,” according to a study published in Preventive Medicine Reports.
The Rx: Get involved in other activities around the house, like reading or crossword puzzles. Reserve your couch time to only a few hours per day to watch TV shows or movies that you know will enhance your mood.
You’re Miserably Stuck Inside
Yes, attending a party or heading to a crowded bar is off-limits right now. But spending every waking second cooped up inside your home can make you resent the very place that’s supposed to represent comfort and family. According to Harvard Health, Americans already spend about 90% of their time indoors and this percentage has probably increased with COVID-19 social distancing regulations.
The Rx: Spending a few minutes each day outdoors can boost your mood, making you feel healthier, more productive, and happier. While you can’t meet up with friends or sit outside at your favorite cafe, you can spend a few minutes outside on your porch. In most cities, you can also take a walk, go for a run, or go on a bike ride to get some fresh air—so long as you stay six feet away from other people.
You Don’t Change Your Air Filters
If you’re spending a lot of time at home now, air quality is key to staying healthy. You might have the heat or A/C on all day, allowing air filled with bacteria, microorganisms, dust, and other contaminants to flow freely throughout your home. This can lead to “a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from headache, tiredness, nausea, and sinus congestion to eye, nose, and throat irritations,” reports one journal.
The Rx: Stock up on air conditioning or furnace filters and follow the changing recommendations for your unit. You may need to change the filter every one to three months, depending on usage and the size of the unit. Set a calendar reminder to ensure you don’t forget to switch to a clean filter regularly.
You’re Drinking Unfiltered Tap Water
If you’re now working from home, you may not have access to a water cooler with filtered water like you did at the office. While tap water is safe for ingestion and must pass many tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), filtering your tap water may be a healthier alternative.
According to the Water Quality Association, your tap water could have contaminants such as:
In small doses, these contaminants may not hurt you, but too much exposure can increase your risk for cancer or other chronic illnesses.
The Rx: Filtering your water through a point-of-use system (a filtered water pitcher) before consumption can eliminate potential toxins and chemicals. A study published in Environmental Health Insights confirmed that simply running your water through a single at-home filter improves its quality. The study concluded, “Point-of-use filters can be effective in reducing levels of chemical contaminants in drinking water.”
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 50 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.