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6 dirtiest places at home, where germs and bacteria lurk

Germs, mould, allergens... they're everywhere! Make sure you don't forget these places and items when cleaning, as they tend to be hotspots for germs that may make you ill.

TOOTHBRUSH

“The plaque on your teeth is made of bacteria, and it builds up on your toothbrush,” says Catrise Austin, author of 5 Steps To The Hollywood A-List Smile (US$17.95 or S$24.40, www.amazon.com). Your toothbrush can also get contaminated if you have a cold, drop it, or store it within 1.8m of the toilet bowl because, when you flush, particles and germs fly through the air and on to the brush – yuck!

How to clean your toothbrush Disinfect it daily by soaking for a minute or two in an alcohol-based mouthwash or a 50-50 mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide, says Catrise. Then rinse with water, flip it upright, and let it air-dry.

Toss it instead if… Change it every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles look worn.

SHOWER CURTAIN

Mould can trigger allergy symptoms and even asthma attacks in some people.

How to clean your shower curtain You can scrub spots with any cleanser and some elbow grease, but if you have respiratory problems, skip products that contain bleach or ammonia in favour of those with hydrogen peroxide or citrus oil, says Dr Neil Schachter, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Toss it instead if… If the mould doesn’t come off easily, ditch your curtain for a non-toxic model. Vinyl ones can emit potentially harmful gases called volatile organic compounds, which can cause respiratory irritations and even damage the nervous system if inhaled excessively.

TOWELS

Bath linens can harbour cold or flu germs (and they can pass from person to person) as well as allergy-inducing dust mites, which live off dead skin cells.

How to clean your towels Wash them once a week on the hottest setting to kill germs and dust mites, says Dr Schachter. Refrain from sharing towels with other family members.

Toss it instead if… Notice a musty smell even after washing? It’s a sign of hard-to-kill mould – time to get new towels.

SHAVERS

Bacteria and viruses can collect on them and spread the next time you shave. “Dull razors also traumatise the skin and create little nicks that can get infected,” says Dr Lynn McKinley-Grant, a dermatologist at Medstar Washington Hospital Center in Maryland, USA.

How to clean your shavers It’s best to grab a brand-new blade or disposable razor each time you shave, says Dr McKinley-Grant. But if that’s too expensive (or seems wasteful), rinse the shaver with hot water, alcohol, or bleach after each use and store it somewhere it can dry thoroughly. And never share!

Toss it instead if… Grab a new blade or disposable razor after two or three uses, or if you see any signs of rust.

SPONGES

Surprisingly, this cleaning tool is one of the dirtiest in a kitchen, according to the Reckitt Benckiser/Bosch Kitchen Hygiene Study. As part of the study, 72 per cent of sponges tested from Singaporean kitchens were found to contain traces of salmonella, the notorious bacteria responsible for food poisoning. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea (sometimes bloody) and fever.

How to clean your sponges Sterilise your sponge regularly by boiling in hot water, then placing in bleach for five to 10 minutes. Microwave it for two minutes on high and allow it to dry completely before using again.

Toss it instead if… Don’t wait till it crumbles before replacing it. Experts recommend retiring kitchen sponges after two weeks of use.

CHOPPING BOARD

The crevices in these boards are fertile breeding grounds for bacteria. In fact, nearly 20 per cent of those tested in the same Reckitt Benckiser/Bosch Kitchen Hygiene Study had traces of E. coli as well as salmonella.

How to clean your chopping boards Use different boards – one for raw meat, another for vegetables – and go for smooth, hard ones made of maple wood or plastic. The US Department of Health and Human Services also recommends scrubbing them with hot water and soap, and sanitising them with a solution consisting of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach and 950 ml of water.

Toss it instead if… Chopping boards typically have a long shelf life (check the packaging for an indication), but chuck them out if you spot any discoloured grooves.

This article was first published on Shape.com.

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