How to clean everything better

From your fingernails down to your hardwood floors, here are the healthiest, gentlest ways to give dirt and grime the one-two punch.
Health.com // Health.com

You know it's out there: dust, grunge, and grime that set up camp all over your house, on your sponge, in your handbag, and, yep, even on you. But how the heck do you give dirt and germs the boot in healthy, simple (read: no harsh chemicals) ways? We went to the experts for the lowdown and how-to for gently and effectively getting rid of the ick factor and cleaning up all over.

--By Michelle Hainer, Health magazine

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TV remote

One of the germiest items in your home, remotes should get a swipe down at least every couple of days with a disinfectant wipe, says Michael Schmidt, PhD, professor and vice chairman of the department of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. And save the channel surfing for after you’ve cooked your dinner: During food prep, you can easily transfer microbes like E. coli or salmonella to your clicker.

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Inside your handbag

Your bag is a magnet for microbes, such as staph, salmonella, even E. coli. Watch out if you stash loose cash in your bag: “Paper money is the dirtiest thing in your bag. The flu virus can live on bank notes for 17 days,” Schmidt says. (Coins that are made from copper, an antimicrobial, are surprisingly clean.)

If you pack a snack like freshly washed fruit, make sure to seal it in a plastic bag to prevent germs from attacking it. To clean the inside of your bag, vacuum using the crevice attachment, or use a long bristled suede brush to dump crumbs into the garbage can.

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The outside of your handbag

Get into the habit of hanging your bag up versus plopping it down on restaurant or bathroom floors, to avoid picking up germs. Clear the dirt and dust off a leather bag by applying a leather conditioner once a week.

If stains remain, use a leather cleaner or mix a capful of dish soap with 1/2 cup water, and wipe the bag with the mixture using a white paper towel or terry cloth. Rinse the soap off thoroughly, stuff the bag with towels to retain its shape, let air-dry, and follow up with a leather conditioner, says Daniel Pegnato, master leathersmith at Fortuna’s Shoe and Luggage Repair in Bethesda, Maryland. Take the bag to a leather professional for any stains, like ink, that have soaked into the leather.

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Lingerie

"Every pair of dirty underwear has traces of feces,” says Kelly Reynolds, PhD, environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona—and that can mean E. coli and other bacteria are in there, too.

To kill germs and keep ’em from spreading to other clothes, wash your underwear separately from the rest of your laundry on the highest temperature possible, not in cold—many germs survive in cold water, Reynolds says. Dry until the load is fully dry; wet or damp laundry provides a perfect environment for bacteria growth.

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Bras

As for your bras, it’s OK to get two or three wears before laundering, says Gwen Whiting, co-founder of The Laundress, a line of delicate detergents and soaps. But on days when you work up a sweat, even just from a few nerves over that big presentation, don’t be tempted to simply let your bra air out and wear it again.

For maximum microbe fighting, wash it as Reynolds advises above. But if you’d rather brave a few germs in exchange for your most fragile lacy, padded bra lasting longer, hand wash it with a mild detergent and let air dry.

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Yoga mat

Your mat, like your handbag, is a natural magnet for germs and crud on the floor beneath it, not to mention bacteria from your feet, hands, and sweat as you strike those poses.

Make sure you always put the same side of the mat down on the floor, Schmidt says; get one with different colors or patterns on top and bottom so it’s easy to remember which side to use. And just to be safe, give it a scrub with good old dish soap and hot water after every couple of uses, says Linda Cobb, author of Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean.

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Face

Whenever you touch your mug, you transfer all the germs you’ve encountered in your day to it, says Miami-based dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD. But that doesn’t mean you should attack your skin with maximum cleaning firepower: Excess washing and scrubbing causes irritation and redness, which, if extreme, can break down your skin’s natural barriers, making it easier for germs to get in, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says.

Cleanse once daily, unless your skin is especially oily, and skip the washcloth. Instead, apply the cleanser in a circular motion with your fingertips, then rinse with warm, not hot, water.

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Nails

You know to wash hands often, but germs like staphylococcus and streptococcus can lurk under your nails too, as well as bacteria that can end up giving you diarrhea, research from Aston University in Birmingham, England, found.

Washing your hands helps, but to keep nails really clean use a nailbrush or toothbrush and antibacterial soap daily, says celebrity nail stylist Jenna Hipp, To gently brighten nails, mix 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide (a natural germ-killer) with 3 tablespoons baking soda, and apply underneath and on top of nails as needed with a cotton swab, letting sit for three to five minutes. Rinse with warm water, and smooth on hand lotion and cuticle oil to moisturize.

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Wood floors

Whatever you’ve walked through in your shoes all day, it’ll also be on your floor once you’re at home, says Larry Weiss, MD, the co-founder and chief scientist behind CleanWell eco-friendly cleaning products. Keep the grime at bay with a no-shoes-in-the-house rule, he suggests.

Unless your floor's manufacturer recommends a specific product, you can gently kill germs with vinegar. Mix 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar with 1 quart of hot water and use the mixture in a spray bottle, lightly spritzing a terry cloth towel or mop head until it’s just damp, then wiping the floor and respraying as needed, says Mary Findley, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning.

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