Renting News & Advice

6 Ways to Tackle the Hidden Germs in Your Apartment

Whether you’re a neat freak or just someone who wants to live in a tidy, germ-free home, dividing cleaning responsibilities between housemates can get even messier than your not-so-neat apartment — which is why you should be on the same page with any new housemates. (Let’s face it: No one wins in the garbage stalemate.) But research may give you an incentive to create a regimen that you’ll all want to stick to. Researchers at the University of Arizona recently found that seven out of 10 coffee tables in guys’ apartments were loaded with bacteria found in animal feces.

And don’t get too smug, ladies —  about 30 percent of doorknobs in women’s apartments were found to have the very same bacteria. City apartments are also notorious for dust, dirt and allergens. So, while you might be tempted to look the other way, it’s in everyone’s best interest to clean up your act this flu season — especially with the holidays around the corner. (Let’s try not to get anyone sick over Friendsgiving dinner this year, OK?)

1. Get an Area Rug for Your Wooden Floors

To you and your roommates, hardwood flooring is probably a well-valued amenity in a rental. Not only does it look nicer and more well-kempt, but it’s also probably easier to clean, right? Eh…not really.

“It’s a common misconception that bare floors are cleaner than carpets,” says Jotham Hatch, Director of Training at Chem-Dry, the leading upholstery and carpet cleaner as ranked by Entrepreneur Magazine.

“The fact is that dust and dirt settle on hard surfaces only to get stirred back into the air more easily with hard floors than with carpets, and then get carried even deeper into the home when there is activity in the room.”

Help keep these pesky dirt particles at bay by buying an inexpensive area rug from Ikea or Amazon. Splitting the cost with your roommate — or roommates, if you have more than one — will minimize the price tag for each of you and trap serious dust and dirt (at least until it’s time to vacuum).

2. Invest in a Vacuum

So, once you have the area rug, you have to make sure you’re keeping it clean. Sure, this is an added expense, but vacuum cleaners are also really versatile to help clean what’s hiding in the upholstery and fabrics around the apartment. And as you might’ve guessed by now, there are a lot of them.

“There can be over 100,000 dust mites in just 10 square feet of carpet, and an area rug can store one-third of its weight in hidden dirt and allergens,” says Hatch.

“While carpets act like giant filters that trap this filth looming in your apartment, they must be vacuumed to remain effective.”

And while it might be tempting to stop by your local convenience store for the cheapest, most readily available brand, it’s worth spending a little more for the right model.

“A vacuum with a HEPA filter traps airborne allergens that normal filters can’t catch,” says Hatch.

For your best chance of eliminating surface build-up, vacuum carpets and upholstery (like couch covers and curtains) at least once a week.

3. Pick Up After Pets

No, we’re not just talking about the toys they’ve buried around the apartment or the accidents that happen every “once in a blue moon.” Your pet might be your live-in bestie, but Fido’s dander can cause serious allergies for you and your roommates — especially if either of you is prone to asthma.

One obvious tip is to keep pets off carpets, furniture and beds — but we all know that’s easier said than done. (Because who else are you going to cuddle with after coming home from a third bad date in a row?) So instead of kicking off your furry friend to sleep on the floor, get out the bubbles.

“Bathing your cat or dog regularly goes a long way in reducing the amount of dead skin cells and hair on your surfaces,” says Hatch.

In fact, one study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that bathing dogs reduced their allergen levels by as much as 85 percent, but those levels returned to normal in about three days. Your fur-baby may not like getting a scrubbing that often, but your roommates (and your respiratory system) will thank you.

4. Get at the Grout

Bathrooms are icky enough, but having ceramic and stone tile is definitely a plus in the loo. Even so, keeping these surfaces clean requires some elbow grease.

“Dirt, bacteria and germs build up quickly in these areas and, if not taken care of over time, mold can grow and present an extreme health hazard,” says Hatch.

It’s best to use a household cleaner that’s low in volatile organic compounds (VOC), as one recent study found that they may worsen allergies and asthma.

“When using cleaning solutions on your own, scrub these areas with a sponge, cloth or non-metallic brush to avoid scratching or damaging the surface,” recommends Hatch. “For a deeper and healthier cleaning, contact a professional tile and grout cleaning service that will use a thorough cleaning process including a protectant sealer.”

5. Sanitize Germy Hotspots

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 80 percent of all infections are transmitted by hands.  And depending on how many people you live with, or the amount of traffic going in and out of your apartment, you’re going to have more even touch points spread across your home where germs can be picked up.

Some of the most targeted areas in an apartment include doorknobs (remember the study from above?!), toilet handles and light switches. So when you’re hosting guests for the holidays or a weekend stay, store a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby to help keep hands germ-free.

6. Keep a Cleaning Calendar

This isn’t just for daily routines, but also for scheduling professional cleaning services and maintenance — even if it’s only a few times a year. You can print a cleaning chart online that’ll make it easy for everyone to stick to (something you might want to include in that roommate contract.) It’s best to divide and conquer, so each roommate takes one area of the apartment each week to tidy up. And remember that even though your room is your private space, it’s collecting dust and dirt particles that will carry themselves to other areas of your apartment, so make it a habit to keep it clean.

It’s not just about being organized — it’s also about staying healthy.