So I was listlessly rinsing the dishes the other day when I saw something seriously terrifying. It looked like the dead eyes of The Grudge, a bone chilling thing that was encircling the emblem on the faucet. Ok, I’ll cut the crap – it was just a ring of dark brown growth that looked suspiciously like house mould. Or at least I’m hoping its ordinary house mould.
I tore my eyes away and put the dishes in the dishwashing machine and then noticed a similar smattering of brown mould around the dishwasher. That’s when I thought “Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my,”
I actually need to clean.
Well I’m pretty sure no one else in my house is going to do it only because I think it’s only me that notices the disgusting little growths that creep up on you without any notice. A similar mould dots the faucet of my shower and its getting increasingly difficult for me to ignore it every time I step inside.
Let’s ignore the fact that I’ve ignored this for as long as I have and move on to the logical progression that now I need to get my hands dirty. And also, the absolute importance of regularly cleaning your kitchen and bathroom surfaces. I know this seems obvious but if I’ve ignored it for as long as I have, maybe you have too and I think we both need to face some facts that’ll hopefully get us paranoid and forever cleaning.
Common Surfaces and How They Can Spread Illness
As we should all know bacteria is everywhere. They are on our hands, probably in our food, our home, our pets and most of the time they’re pretty harmless. The problem lies in the bad bacteria, the bacteria that make us sick – give us food poisoning, diarrhoea or even the ‘flu’, what is known as “medically important” bacteria. Sometimes we bring them in from the outside by touching everyday things or coming into contact with a sick person, sometimes they’re already in our house and we’ve left them to grow into evil little villains. We unknowingly eat them and we get sick. Apparently, to make this fact, more studies are needed to look at the role common touch surfaces have in spreading common infections in the community.
In a recent review however, there is enough evidence for me to at least keep up with surface sanitation. Common surfaces in the household that hold the highest numbers of bacteria are in the kitchen and bathroom. They’re most likely to cluster on the faucet and wet surfaces can aid the spread of bacteria from surface to you. Cleaning utensils can also be a temporary home for bacteria, things like sponges and old dishcloths that we’ve had for much too long.
The thing is, bacteria and viruses can survive for varying lengths of times depending on the presence of moisture, ranging from hours to months. Influenza can survive on a surface for up to two days. Viruses that can give you explosive diarrhoea and vomiting can be easily transmitted between the hand and surfaces that you commonly touch. From computer keys, to the telephone receiver to brass knobs. And explosive diarrhoea is a thing. A thing you really don’t want to ever experience according to a professor of mine which I’ll take as truth.
All in all, regular hand hygiene and surface sanitation is important in breaking that spread and reducing bacterial/viral numbers from our surfaces. We minimise the chance of bacteria and viruses getting into us and hence we minimise the chances of us getting sick. So let’s break out the strongest stuff we’ve got right? The stuff with all the antimicrobials and microbicides?
Antibacterial Cleaning Products and the possibility of Super Bugs
The thing with antibiotics that not many people care to realise is that with frequent use or misuse (not finishing the cycle, saving it for later etc) is that it leaves the super bacteria that haven’t been killed off yet to grow and get you sick all over again. This is called “antibiotic resistance”. In frequent use, the theory is that bacteria that are somehow resistant to the treatment, can grow while the susceptible bacteria around them die. More food for the “super bacteria”. So the speculation in the air is that by using cleaning products with antimicrobials and biocides like triclosan, triclocarban, pine oils and quartenary ammonium compounds – we’ll eventually have super bacteria remaining on our kitchen and bathroom surfaces and no longer any available cleaning product to actually get rid of them.
As recent as 2011 can be, there’s actually no evidence of encouraging the growth of super bacteria. BUT, there has been a study that shows that there’s actually no difference in the reduction of bacteria by products that contain antimicrobials and those that don’t either. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you use the one with so and so percentage of antibiotics because a week later, all the same bacteria are gonna build their homes there all over again.
If it doesn’t make any difference if we use antimicrobials or not, then I’d rather not. There is still the possibility of antibiotic resistance which is what I’ve been warning about in that super bacteria may be primed to grow – we just don’t seem to know yet. There might not be any sufficient studies on whether using biocides lead to resistance but seriously – potential super bugs that can’t be killed by what we’ve been trying to kill them with – or just the normal annoying bugs? Mmmm…I’d rather go with the normal bugs no matter how sick they make me because at least I know there’s still medicine to kill it. Scientists still don’t completely understand microbicide action either but stuff with them is continuing to be commercialised.
On the weekend, I’ll be using alcohols, peroxides and bleach which act broadly and more rapidly than antibiotics so there’s no chance for special super bacteria or viruses to grow and be strong. Am I going to use all three of those in succession? Maybe. That, or electrolysed water.
Also, there’s actually a paper that found out if you didn’t use the product correctly, in an optimally efficient protocol, then it wouldn’t be very effective on reducing bacteria in our homes. I guess it wasn’t common sense.
P.S It looks like we need some studies stat about antimicrobial resistance and household cleaning products that actually says something unambiguous. A review by Maillard et al agrees with me and offers up some good suggestions on how to get started on that. This and all papers used are below.
Does microbicide use in consumer products promote antimicrobial resistance? A critical review and recommendations for a cohesive approach to risk assessment. 2013 Maillard JY et al.
Impact of prescribed cleaning and disinfectant use on microbial contamination in the home. 2011 Medrano-Felix A et al.
Community-based infections and the potential role of common touch surfaces as vectors for the transmission of infectious agents in home and community settings. 2013 Scott E.
A critical evaluation of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and other bacteria of medical interest on commonly touched household surfaces in relation to household demographics. 2009 Scott E, Duty S, McCue K
Comparison of cleaning efficacy between in-use disinfectant and electrolysed water in an English residential care home. 2012 Meakin NS et al.
The frequency of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in homes differing in their use of surface antibacterial agents. 2012 Marshall BM et al.