A common belief is that it is more hygienic to take your shoes off before entering a home, however, a recent study by Modern Rugs has found that this does not significantly affect the number of bacteria living in the average home.
On the contrary, this research found sloppy cleaning to be the main reason for the spread of household bacteria. Participants in the study who used ineffective cleaning materials, and used them in the wrong order spread the most bacteria in their homes, regardless of whether shoes were left on or not.
Dawn Mellors, Technical Director at Melbec Microbiology, a UKAS microbiology test facility, explains how cleaning can do more harm than good when not done thoroughly:
“The key to reducing bacteria in the home is by effective cleaning. Ineffective cleaning can actually increase numbers as it spreads bacteria around the house.
Effective cleaning usually means using the correct products in the correct order. For instance, not using the same cloth for multiple areas, ensuring mop heads are clean and allowed to dry between uses, using clean water for mopping different areas, etc.”
The research also found that those living in houses with high bacteria counts are also more likely to struggle with asthma or contract skin and bacterial infections.
Although most strains of Staphylococcus are harmless, the most dangerous – Staphylococcus aureus – can grow freely in the average UK home.
Staphylococcus aureus can cause infections such as boils, cellulitis, impetigo, scalded skin syndrome and other skin infections if left untreated. It is also the bacterium that is linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
For the test, we collaborated with UKAS accredited test facility, Melbec Microbiology. With their help, we tested eight rugs in eight different homes to see how much bacteria each household harboured.
As well as testing the effect of “shoes on” versus “shoes off”, we also took into consideration the effect of pets, children, flooring and how thoroughly participants cleaned their homes.
Rugs were placed in “high-traffic” areas, such as the hallway, to catch the highest amount of household bacteria. After three weeks, the lab tested for evidence of fungi and bacteria on 5cm2 of each rug. From the results, we were then able to isolate Staphylococci, a common household bacterium.
As the study found, many people do not know that their bad cleaning habits are actually make their homes dirtier, nor do they know what they need to do in order to clean more effectively.
It may seem obvious, but using the same cloth for multiple areas is one of the most common ways people unknowingly spread bacteria. This is particularly important for use on “high- traffic” areas, such as floors, door handles and kitchen surfaces.
Dawn Mellors of Melbec Microbiology, explains how you should be using your cleaning materials:
“Effective cleaning usually means using the correct products in the correct order. For instance, not using the same cloth for multiple areas, ensuring mop heads are clean and allowed to dry between uses, using clean water for mopping different areas, etc.”
Damp surroundings can lead to fungus and bacterial build-up; high fungal counts, both of which can cause respiratory problems, particularly in those with allergies and asthma. They are especially good at reducing mould growth in damp rooms, namely in bathrooms and kitchens.
Steam cleaning is an effective way to kill bacteria which could be growing on food sources. Mops are also as effective, but should be dried completely before use. Steam cleaning or mopping floors removes gross soil and hence reduces the food sources for bacteria.
A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter is something many homeowners do not have, but is essential for those looking to remove bacteria from their home. Dawn Mellors recommends buying a HEPA filter for your vacuum if you are concerned about the spread of microbes:
“Vacuuming with a high-quality vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters removes allergens and some organisms. Vacuums without filters can spread organisms – especially fungi – around as they are blown into the air and dispersed”.
Hardwood floors with rugs are much easier to keep clean than carpets, mainly because they can handle strong cleaning materials which kill stubborn bacteria lurking in the home. Dawn Mellors explains why carpets can be much riskier to your health, in particular to young children and babies:
“As the rug is only a relatively small area, it probably would not pose a threat to your health like a damp, dirty carpet may do. If the carpet is very dirty or damp, the main threat would be for babies who may be crawling on it.
The other threat from carpets is that they harbour dust mites which can increase allergic reactions and asthma.”