One of the big selling points for many commercial cleaners is their claim to kill 99% of germs in minutes. Since we discovered germs, we’ve realised why it’s so important to keep our houses clean. Dirt harbours germs, and germs make us sick. This is why we clean our toilets, clean our plates and clean our clothes.
We don’t want to get ill with some horrible germ.
However, pouring on pricey wonder-products blindly is not really the answer. Yes, it’ll kill the germs, but these cleaning products can damage the environment and fill your home with toxins that cause all sorts of damage to a number of your body’s systems. It’s time to stop and think exactly what’s needed to destroy germs, and what you’re trying to do when you clean your home.
Germs are not long-lived. And a single germ is easily dealt with by your immune system. The problem comes when germs thrive and multiply to a level that your body can’t deal with them without trouble – trouble in the form of vomiting, the runs and a high temperature in an attempt to purge the body. So the secret of good domestic cleaning is to make it hard for germs to reproduce.
Germs won’t reproduce if their cellular structure is damaged, and they won’t reproduce and thrive if they don’t have the basics of life, which are food and water. Any attempt at cleaning for hygiene should try to attack germs either by damaging them or by depriving them.
Depriving them. This is the harder part of cleaning. Grime is food for germs, so anything that you do to remove grime will deprive them of their food. Cleaning that deprives germs of food involves vacuuming, general scrubbing and wiping to remove grime, dusting, carpet cleaning and doing the laundry. It also involves flushing the loo and scrubbing/wiping away debris. Don’t forget to deprive germs of water, too.
Drying dishes, clothes and other items to be stored minimises water and makes it harder for germs to reproduce. This may also be why salt can be used around the home as a germ-killing cleaner: it dessicates the germs by drawing the water out of them.
Damaging the germs is a bit more straightforward. The only real problem is that the substances that can denature germs will also attack your skin cells (and other cells). However, your body, being a multi-cellular organism, can sacrifice a few cells easily enough for the sake of the whole being. So the secret is to use things that will damage the germs but won’t damage too many of your cells.
One of the simplest forms of denaturing the proteins inside bacteria and viruses so they can’t reproduce is by using heat. This is why hot water and steam cleaning are so effective. Not only does this remove grime, it also kills germs. Boiling (pasteurization) is an excellent method of sterilization, so if you really need to shift germs and the item to be cleaned can stand it, boiling water works! The high temperatures in dishwashers also helps kill germs. Fire also sterilizes, but has some obvious drawbacks! The only place you can really use fire as a germ-killer around the home is for sterilizing a needle for lancing boils or digging out thistles.
You can also chemically dissolve the cell walls of germs. This is done by disturbing the pH of the germ. This can be done with acid (in the form of vinegar) or with alkali (in the form of soap). Other substances also seem to break down bacteria by unravelling or dissolving their makeup, with alcohol being one (it’s a solvent) – vodka, whisky, rubbing alcohol or methylated spirits all do the job of killing germs around the home.