Even the cleanest, most fastidious among us need to replace common household items often – for better health.
According to the Reader’s Digest, a study of 1,000 dishcloths and kitchen sponges found that 10% contained salmonella, noting: “Each square inch of their surfaces contains about 134,630 bacteria, 456 times the number on a toilet seat.”
Darla DeMorrow, a certified professional organizer, says, “There are three big risks to not replacing items in your home when they are past their useful life”: First, you can make your household sick; second, you can lower your home’s value by not keeping it in its best shape; and third, forgoing important replacements can cause more damage.
In the Kitchen
What do you think is the germiest place in the average kitchen? While cutting boards and trash cans might be the first thing that pop in your head, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) found that the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer was the biggest germ culprit. Veggie compartments can be common homes for salmonella, listeria, yeast, and mold – all of which can make you sick.
Make sure to thoroughly clean out your fridge this week and check the safety of these other common kitchen tools.
1. Cutting Boards
Plastic cutting boards need to be replaced often if they have cut marks or become scratched. Bacteria can gather in the knife marks of your board, increasing your chance of foodborne illness. A University of Michigan study found that more bacteria was recovered from plastic cutting boards than wooden boards, and once the board became too cut up, it was impossible to thoroughly disinfect.
Sticking with bamboo or wood boards is a better investment for your kitchen and the environment. Bamboo cutting boards come from a sustainable source, but can be harder on knives. Wood boards are not as renewable as bamboo, but they are better for knife upkeep. Preserve your boards with food-grade mineral oil and disinfect with three percent hydrogen peroxide, letting the mixture fizz to kill the germs.
2. Food Storage Containers
Plastic food storage containers vary, in terms of safety. If your container has a #3 or #7 recycling indicator on the bottom, beware of BPA and PVC. It’s also a good idea to avoid reheating food in plastic containers and slowly switch to glass containers instead. If a plastic container is cloudy, warped, stained, or scratched, throw it out. You can also use your plastic containers for non-food storage, such as organizing craft supplies.
While glass food containers are better for you and can be reheated safely, most lids contain a rubber seal that can attract Salmonella, yeast, and mold. Depending on how often you use your containers, try soaking the lids a sink of hot water with one capful of bleach a few times a year. Inspecting seals after use can also prevent mold build up.
3. Refrigerator & Refrigerator Filters
Generally, most refrigerators have a lifespan of 15 years. You should also start looking for a new fridge if you notice your food spoiling faster than normal, the motor running louder and harder than before, or the appliance is hot to the touch. These are all signs that your fridge is on the verge of giving you food poisoning or setting your kitchen on fire if not repaired or replaced.
Replace fridge water line filters every six months to protect yourself from exposure to chemicals and heavy metals in your water and ice. Without proper filtration your drinking water and ice could be subject to chlorine or lead.
While changing the filter is pricey – about $60 each time, using knockoff versions can cause potential health concerns since they aren’t certified for NSF’s safety standards.
Dishwashers can last between eight and 10 years, but when it stops doing its job, it is time to shop for a newer model. The biggest sign it’s time for a new unit is if your dishes aren’t coming out hot right after the cycle finishes. This means your machine is not getting hot enough to sanitize the dishes, leaving you with lingering bacteria.
Dishwasher models are under strict energy- and water-saving guidelines. The top appliances use less than five gallons of water per cycle and cost about $25 a year to run. Recycling your old dishwasher through a RAD program partner is the best way to ensure it is recycled in the most eco-friendly way possible.
Depending on how you use them, sponges need to be replaced every two to four weeks. Putting your sponge in the dishwasher or microwave can help kill some of the bacteria that make you sick, but it won’t disinfect your sponge completely. Avoid using the same sponge for your dishes as you do the counters and table, and definitely keep your sponge away from raw meat.
While sponges are cheap, they are essentially plastic, explains Natalie Wise, author of The Modern Organic Home. “If you use natural sea sponges, they are naturally more resistant to mold and bacteria growth,” Wise says.
6. Nonstick Pans
It is time to get rid of nonstick pans and cookware and replace them with healthier, eco-friendly dishes that last. Not only are nonstick pans coated in toxins, but over 200 scientists from 40 countries have deemed the PFAS chemicals in nonstick cookware as harmful.
Invest in ceramic, steel. or cast-iron pans and cookware, which will last years with proper care. You can prevent some nonstick pots and pans from entering the landfill by upcycling them into planters and unique succulent displays.
7. Cabinet Shelf Liners
Change your shelf liners every two to three years to keep your cabinets looking clean. Food crumbs, insects, and moisture build up can leave your shelves not as clean or bacteria-free as you thought. You can preserve the life of your shelf liner by opting for sheets that lay on the shelf instead of adhere to them with adhesives. This allows you to wash your liners in mild detergent, air dry them, and reuse them.
In the Bathroom
If you clean your toilet weekly, the bacteria count on your toilet is safe. What you should be worried about are the bathroom items that don’t get cleaned or replaced often. For example, your toothbrush can contain at least 200,000 bacteria per square inch – more than your toilet seat.
Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of AsktheDentist.com, warns that waiting until your toothbrush is splayed out to change it is too late. “Once this happens, you’re scratching microscopic abrasions into your teeth during brushing,” says Burhenne, who is also the author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox. “These tiny abrasions are the perfect breeding ground for unwanted bacteria. That means more cavities, bad breath, and chances for gingivitis/gum disease.”
He recommends replacing your toothbrush or toothbrush head every one to three months with high quality heads. This will protect your teeth and gums from harmful bacteria.
Replace your hairbrush if you notice wear to the bristles, since damaged bristles can lead to damaged hair. It is important to clean your hairbrush weekly to prevent product buildup. At a minimum, a dirty hairbrush can lead to product build up and greasier hair. A dirty brush can carry yeast and bacteria on its bristles, causing scalp irritations and making dandruff issues worse.
Wooden brushes with sandalwood bristles or natural rubber bristles are easy to find on Amazon and online. Some brands even boast of hypoallergenic qualities and can help promote healthy, shiny hair naturally.
If you can’t recycle a worn-out brush, try removing the bad bristles and using it as a pet brush.
10. Bath Poufs/Scrubbers
The notorious bath pouf is a breeding ground for bacteria, especially when it’s kept in your warm, moist shower. Dead skin can get trapped in the netting, so replace your bath poufs every one to two months to prevent bacteria growth. Switching to washcloths might be the better cleaning option, since you can wash and disinfect them more often than a loofah or pouf. Cleaning with your hand is also a great no-waste option.
Towels should be replaced every two years, if they lose their absorbency or show wear. Donate worn out towels to animal shelters or use them as a pet mat in your car. You can also turn them into cleaning rags or keep them around for messy jobs you don’t want your nice towels around – like drying the car.
Keeping towels clean is another important factor, since bath towels are commonly covered in bacteria. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, told Time that he found that nearly 90% of bathroom towels were contaminated with coliform bacteria and about 14% carried E. coli. The health risks come when this bacteria comes in contact with flesh wounds, such as a small cut.
12. Toilet Brush
Toilet brushes keep your toilet clean, but can host a lot of bacteria and residue. Plastic toilet brushes should be replaced every six months, but you can extend the life of your cleaning brush if you opt for a sustainable wood version. Green cleaning expert, Natalie Wise advises to look for a compostable toilet brush that has a wood or bamboo handle and natural fiber bristles.
“After you’ve scrubbed, flush the toilet one last time and rinse the brush under the clean incoming water,” says Wise, who shares the importance of caring for the brush for product longevity and cleanliness. “One handy trick is to let the wet brush dry by closing the toilet seat on top of the handle and letting it drip into the bowl until it’s dry.”