Healthy Beginnings

Keeping your kids clean: Washing, sanitizing in your home helps stop spreading germs

Helping your children wash their hands regularly is a great way to keep them healthy all school season long. Photo: Getty Images

Kids get sick, it’s no surprise, but as another school year looms, are we doing everything in our power to be sure that the environment they inhabit is as germ-free as possible?

Cleanliness can be overlooked with hectic schedules, which is a shame because it can keep from losing precious time recovering from sickness when germs aren’t eradicated before they get the chance to ruin your plans.

“What we do is a three-step cleaning process for all of our surfaces where kids eat or do activities on. It’s not enough to just wash, we wash, rinse and sanitize,” explained Hayley Hamel, center director at The Child Garden in Reno. “That’s a policy we follow because of social services, and one we recommend parents use.”

Washing removes dirt, but not necessarily all of the germs, Hamel said. So when you wipe down with a sponge and soapy water, your table may look clean because the dirt is gone, but it hasn’t been sanitized, which means germs are still there.

Meanwhile, when other people go solely with sanitizing using bleach and water solution, it removes germs — but it can leave surfaces still looking dirty.

As such, it’s important to know whether you’re purchasing a soap solution or a sanitizing agent in your household cleaners. For example, bleach and ammonia are sanitizers, so you’ll want to also be sure to use soap; further, spray products are generally soap-based solutions.

“Be sure to meet the bottle guidelines and mix the product at a lower solution,” Hamel said of creating cleansers safe to use on surfaces your children come into contact with. “We’re not sanitizing something that needs to be highly concentrated like laundry, so if you mix with a spray bottle, you will use a lower concentration of the solution.”               

Clean those toys

It’s important to also be cognizant of the items we hand to children to keep them occupied, namely cellphones and keys. Parents are quick to hand these things to children, but if you think of all of the places our phones end up, you may just take a moment to reconsider.

Children play at The Child Garden in Reno, where staff adheres to cleanliness guidelines as set by Washoe County Human Services. Photo: Courtesy of The Child Garden

“When you use the restroom you’re setting your phone on the sink, which is not necessarily the cleanest area,” Hamel said. “Then you hand it to you 2-year-old who puts it in their mouth and immediately ingests those germs.”

Toys should also be cleaned regularly, and Hamel recommends upping consistency for households with more children.

For those with one to two children, toys should be thoroughly cleaned every other day to once a week. For households where a lot of friends come over, and especially if there is an infant who mouths all of the toys and animals around, Hamel suggests thoroughly cleaning toys daily.

“Also, if your infant is able to crawl all over the house where people are walking, I would say you should take your shoes off — otherwise, make a designated infant area that you’re not going to be walking on,” she suggested.

Don’t forget to wash your hands

Germs are easily transferred from toys to hands to mouths and noses, so hand washing is the most important practice in keeping kids healthy and germ-free. Whenever kids are entering a space, leaving a space, before and after eating, they should be washing hands.

Parents should also wash their children’s hands in addition to their own after diaper changes in case the child has grabbed anywhere on the changing table. It’s also a great way to teach them young to wash hands after using the restroom.

“For younger infants, a baby wipe is sufficient, but I would recommend parents of older kids have them wash hands after a diaper change just as you do,” Hamel said. “You can get illnesses from your own body when you’re that little, if a child were to touch fecal matter and then their face they can get illnesses from just their own body.”

Meanwhile, parents fall on either side of the pro-con spectrum regarding hand sanitizer for keeping kids clean while on the move.

Hamel explained that some parents believe using sanitizer lowers the child’s ability to fight off infections, that if we don’t expose kids to germs they won’t be able to fight anything off.

Others don’t like the ingredients in hand sanitizer and opt for organically based cleaners instead — it all comes down to the parent’s personal preference.

“I keep hand sanitizer with me; there are people who love it and hate it, but my child is a thumb-sucker, so I carry hand sanitizer,” Hamel said with a laugh. “If she needs to touch the bathroom toilet and is going to put the finger in the mouth, I don’t care how warm and soapy the water is — I’m going to put sanitizer on.”

MORE: How and when to clean what

In late 2017, NBC News interviewed science and health experts to determine the best timing and areas to clean in the home. Below is a brief synopsis of cleaning recommendations:

Change the sheets: Bed linens should be changed once a week for regular health maintenance, waiting two weeks at the most, and should be cleaned in hot water to rid them of bacteria, fungi, dirt and oils.

Disinfect the sinks: Bathroom and kitchen sinks should be sanitized daily. Fecal matter splashes in the sink bowl from hand washing and kitchen sinks become contaminated when handling meat, where bacteria are rampant.

Vacuum & wash floors: Every one to two weeks you should thoroughly vacuum and wash your floors, even more often if you have pets. Kitchen floor space should also be cleaned more frequently to eliminate food bacteria that missed the countertops.

Clean the bathroom: Every week you should be cleaning the bathrooms to keep everyone in the house healthy. The bathtub and shower should be cleaned every two weeks, including sanitizing the shower curtain.

Replace towels: bath towels should be used for two days max, so you aren’t continuously drying with a bacteria infested cloth. Kitchen towels should be washed weekly, unless raw meat has contaminated them, then they need to be washed immediately.

Wipe down doorknobs: Every week you should be sure to sanitize doorknobs in the home, even more frequently if there is an ill person in the house, and for doorknob bathrooms.