5 Cleaning Supplies a Microbiologist Always Has On Hand

updated Jul 20, 2021
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Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

There’s no shortage of cleaning products on the market, from green cleaners that won’t harm the environment to chemical-based products that claim to wipe out all germs in a single spray. It’s admittedly overwhelming to decide which products to fork over money for. But the answer isn’t objective—how you clean will vary based on your goals.

If you’re interested in most effectively disinfecting your home, then look no further than a microbiology textbook. By understanding where germs are most likely to lurk, which ones are actually likely to impose a risk, and, finally, how to prevent contamination, you’ll be well on your way to a truly spick-and-span household.

So, according to science, exactly which products are most effective in preventing the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses? We talked with Sally Bloomfield, Honorary Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and hygiene consultant with the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, about which cleaning products she always has on hand.

Here are a few items to consider for your own arsenal:

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Liquid hand soap

Since bar soap can spread infections from one person to another, always opt for a liquid soap instead. Bloomfield recommends using clean running water to thoroughly wash your hands, then drying. While hand sanitizer isn’t always ideal for germ killing, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer while you’re out and about—just make sure to wash with liquid soap when you get home.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A clean hand towel

Same principle here: When you’re drying your just-washed hands on a hand towel someone else has already used, you’re exposing yourself to microbes that could potentially make you sick—some viruses and bacteria can live on fabric for eight to 12 hours. After washing your hands, it’s always best to use a fresh towel—even if yours looks clean.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Antibacterial spray or wipes

For food contact surfaces like counters, dishes, and flatware, Bloomfield washes with an antimicrobial detergent and then rinses thoroughly with clean water. For large surfaces like counters or tables that can’t easily be rinsed, she recommends cleaning with a detergent of your choice, then disinfecting with a bleach-based antibacterial spray or disinfecting wipes, like Lysol or Clorox.

Related: This Microbiologist Says We’re All Using Clorox Wipes Wrong

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Disposable cleaning cloths

Your traditional microfiber cloth is fine for most everyday messes. But if your main goal is to prevent spreading germs when you clean the more high-risk areas in your home (or during high-risk times like flu season), Bloomfield says it’s always best to use a disposable option—ideally inexpensive, disposable, biodegradable cloths, like paper towels. “This is because when you clean a surface, the microbes go onto the cloth and then spread to the next surface you wipe,” she says.

Related: I Tried It: Goodbye Gross Disposables, Hello Silicone Sponge

Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

A good bathroom cleaner

High-moisture areas are notorious for fungi like mold and mildew, both of which can contribute to health problems like skin irritation or breathing problems. To keep mold growth at bay—not to mention protect your body—Bloomfield won’t go long without using products that keep commonly damp surfaces, like bathroom tiles or showers, clean.