Hygiene — the Golden Rules for 21st century homes
Every day, germs that can be harmful to health come into every home, just as they always have done.
You can't stop them coming in, and you can't create a germ-free home - that's impossible. But you can stop them spreading and causing infection.
UKCPI supports and recommends the 'targeted hygiene' approach developed by IFH (the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene). It's derived from approaches that food factories and businesses use to keep food uncontaminated and customers safe.
The key to targeted hygiene is understanding how germs:
- enter the home
- spread around the home
- find their way into someone's body to cause infection
Then it's quite simple to target the times, places and situations when there's a real risk, cleaning away the germs when and where it matters most to avoid that risk.
How germs enter the home and spread to make you ill
Germs enter homes on and in people and pets, and also on raw food.
To make you ill, germs must find their way into your body - they don't just float through the air or seep through the skin. The ways in depend on the kind of germ and the illness it causes, but these are the main ones:
- Through your mouth via food, drink and hands for stomach bugs
- Through your mouth, nose or eyes, from your hands or by breathing in sneezes, for respiratory infections like colds and flu
- Through cuts and damaged skin via your hands and fabrics for skin infections
Anyone can get infected by any of these routes, but some people are more vulnerable than others - babies and young children, the elderly, someone whose immunity is low through illness or medical treatment, and pregnant women.
How to stop germs spreading and making people ill
Successfully stopping germs from causing infection is about targeting the times and places when they are closest to a way into the body, or when they appear in large numbers. So the most important targets are:
Germs on your hands or food are just one step away from making someone ill - hence the importance of hand-washing. We don't need continuous obsessive handwashing - we just need to wash them at the times when the risk is high, which means:
- BEFORE doing something which gives them an easy way into the body, like preparing food or feeding a baby
- AFTER they're likely to have become highly contaminated, such as after using the loo, cleaning up what the dog's done, emptying the waste bin or handling raw meat.
As hands and food provide the easiest ways into the body, the next most important places to target are:
- surfaces that you prepare food on - kitchen worktops and chopping boards for example. And really, the time you need a clean chopping board is before you prepare your children's sandwiches on it, not after you've done it, so make sure it's hygienically clean before you start
- surfaces that different people frequently touch with their hands - knobs, switches, loo flush handles and so on
Make sure your cloth is clean too
Of equal importance to these surfaces are the cloths you clean them with. Wiping surfaces with a cloth moves the germs from the surfaces onto the cloth. If you don't clean the cloth afterwards or use a cleaner that kills germs, they go back onto whichever surface you clean next.
Following the same logic of how easily germs can move into the body, and the places they appear in the largest numbers, the next most important places after hands, surfaces and cloths are toilets, baths, sinks, showers, towels, clothing and household linen. Floors, walls and furniture are the last priority.
Targeted hygiene is efficient
The targeted hygiene approach outlined here aims to get the biggest benefit, and the most secure protection, from the resources used in terms of cleaning products and materials and your own time and effort. So it's a highly sustainable approach that goes hand in glove with efforts to improve the sustainability of cleaning generally.
Everyone's needs are different of course, and so are our lifestyles and priorities. Our homes have different combinations of challenges and people to look after. But you can apply the same principles of targeting the times, places and situations of greatest risk to find the best, most sustainable solution for your home.