Building small hygiene habits around the clock to integrate sanitising as a way of life
Before the onslaught of the current pandemic, the persona of the germophobe has been cast negatively as an aspect of quiet paranoia, one who is suspicious without cause, when the larger attitude was to be dauntless of little risks to one’s health. Why worry when we seem robust enough? Why be scared of a little cough or cold?
And then, in the past months and for the coming days, we are reminded that this persona of caution has good reason to be wary, record of a hale body notwithstanding. We are reminded that a mere virus, a cough or cold, is nothing to brush off. Healthy people get sick—sicker than they thought they would be. Or worse, they might look and feel fine, as asymptomatic carriers are, but they spread sickness to the unsuspecting, the vulnerable.
The philosophy of the cautious is to think of cleanliness as integral to one’s peace of mind, and not just to think of it as extraneous acts that are done due to special circumstances. And for that matter, the steps that need to be taken are actually small and doable. But the hurdle is to build habits around them, so that keeping clean becomes second nature.
The Three Levels of Cleaning
Maintaining neatness doesn’t necessarily entail going to extremes. A good starting point is to determine what level of cleaning is necessary or possible at the moment. Not every instant warrants swabbing with alarming levels of disinfectant.
As the most basic step, the aim of cleaning is to minimise allergens or microorganisms by removing visible dirt, gunk, and oils on surfaces. This step can be as simple as using a tissue to wipe down objects like tables with crumbs or liquids, or washing items with soap and water. This step doesn’t fully eliminate germs, but reduces its number.
This may also be considered a preliminary step to the second phase, disinfecting, especially if surfaces are covered with thick dust or oil, which creates a layer that interferes with the penetration of disinfectants. Soaps, after all, are surfactants by function, working by breaking down oily substances.
While outside or travelling, having wet tissue wipes comes in handy when the hands come in contact with something visibly dirty and access to a sink is not immediately available. The Ultra Compact Antibacterial Wet Wipes double as a cleaning and sanitising step, as the tissue fiber aids in mechanically getting rid of surface matter while its anti-bacterial solution provides a deeper clean. This method prevents the further spread of pathogens on other objects. But contact such as eating or touching any part of the face should preferably be deferred until after washing hands with soap and water, or after applying a reliable hand sanitiser.
Good habits: Once a day, sweep the floor before mopping hard surface floors. This removes grime that may have been brought in the house from the outside, and prepares the surface for further disinfection.
This phase involves the use of sanitisers, or substances that reduce bacteria up to 99.99% in 30 seconds, a level that is considered generally “safe” by public health standards.
In looking for sanitisers, pay attention to the concentration of active compounds listed in the product label. Consider the following practices for sanitising.
- For hand sanitisers, look for alcohol-based products with 60-95% concentration, which is the recommended level for anti-bacterial efficiency. As alcohol used frequently at high concentrations can be drying to the skin, products with a small percentage of humectant or moisturiser can prevent cracked skin, like the Morilins Anti-Bacterial Hand Sanitizer.
- For household use, look for a bleach (sodium hypochlorite) disinfectant that already is at 5-6% concentration. Dilute 1 tablespoon of said bleach to 1 gallon of water (or 1 teaspoon to 1 quart) and use the solution to wipe down hard, non-porous surfaces. Let the solution sit on the area for one full minute before wiping or rinsing with plain water.
- To sanitise porous surfaces like carpets, beds, pillows, and cushions, steam clean items at the minimum temperature of 75 ℃.
- Utilise the sanitise setting in the laundry machine for clothing that have been worn outdoors. Alternatively, opt to use a liquid laundry sanitiser during the washing cycle or soak the worn items in a bleach solution before laundering.
This level of cleanliness is necessary for anything that comes into contact with food. Surfaces that are frequently touched should be regularly sanitised. Examples of these items are tables, doorknobs, switches, handles, toilets, faucets, sinks, and electronics.
Good habits: Apply hand sanitiser after touching high-contact items like those mentioned above. Make sure to rub the sanitiser all over the hands until the product fully dries. Keep a small container of sanitiser in pockets when going out and another by the workplace. 
A step above sanitising, disinfecting kills nearly all pathogens—bacteria, viruses, fungi, spores, and microorganisms—from surfaces and is the most effective in halting cross-contamination. Foremost, disinfection is necessary in households with members that have symptoms of transmissible illnesses. Especially in cases when households have children, elderly, or vulnerable individuals, routine disinfection is encouraged on surfaces that are frequently touched, as in the sanitising step.
A notable difference between sanitising and disinfecting is the potency of the chemical that needs to be used. For disinfection, take note of the following concentrations.
- Alcohol (either ethyl or isopropyl) must be at concentrations 70% and above, to be sprayed or wiped on objects for disinfection.
- Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) at 5-6% concentration must be diluted: 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water.
Before disinfecting, the surfaces or items need to be cleaned with soap and water. When applying the disinfectants, leave the solution on for 10 minutes before rinsing or wiping with water.
Good habits: Prepare your disinfectant of choice every morning in a small spray bottle. For regular households, focus on disinfecting high-contact surfaces in the house instead of thinking about scrubbing down everything. Twice a day, spray on doorknobs, handles, hand rails, tables, and switches. As the efficacy of bleach solutions is only over 24 hours, discard the remaining solution in the sink and prepare a new one the next morning.
On Hand Washing
Hand washing as the recommended method for personal hygiene is hard to beat. Soaping with an anti-microbial hand wash like the Ultra Compact Antibacterial Hand Wash for at least twenty seconds eliminates most pathogens, and ensures that hands are clean enough for preparing and eating food.
But in order to fully disinfect the hands, apply a hand sanitiser after rinsing and drying, as this ensures the non-transmission of pathogens by touch. Consider doing this extra step when coming into contact with individuals who are or appear to be sick, and the items they may have used or touched. In such cases, wash and disinfect hands immediately.
Good habits: Wash hands before eating, before leaving and after arriving at a place, after coughing, sneezing, or blowing the nose, and before and after routine care of other individuals (eg. children)
Sanitising the Natural Way
Nature’s cleaning agents can be harnessed for sanitising. Opting for plant-based solutions is a safer method for many because the overuse of bleach may be toxic to humans and the environment.
Research into natural medicine revealed several essential oils that contain potent compounds which hamper the growth or kill off bacteria and certain pathogens. Clove oil, for example, has been cited as one of the most effective in targeting bacteria. These essential oils can work solo, but some studies indicate greater efficacy when combining several different kinds.
Antibacterial Essential Oils
- Tea Tree
- Clary Sage
Antiviral Essential Oils  
- Lemon Balm
- Clary Sage
- Tea Tree
To use the essential oils, common solutions come in the form of surface disinfectants and hand sanitisers. But, as these oils are non-toxic, they may also be diffused to protect against airborne germs.
Being able to choose one’s own essential oil blend allows them to combine antiseptic properties from different plants, depending on their particular concern and fragrance preference.
Natural Household Sanitiser
(Adapted from ThingsWellMake)
- 100ml of alcohol (70% concentration or higher)
- 5ml or 30 drops of choice of essential oils
Combine all of the ingredients and decant into clean spray bottles. Shake well before using around the house.
Homemade Linen Spray
(Adapted from BraveLittleMom)
- 1 tsp. essential oil of choice
- 1 Tbsp. alcohol (60-95% concentration)
- Distilled water, enough to fill an 8 oz (236ml) spray bottle
Pour the oils and alcohol in the bottle first, shaking or stirring to dissolve. Add in enough water to fill up the spray bottle and shake well before spraying on freshly washed and dried items.
Caution has a good place living in a new normal. When in the past, our complacency with hygiene was deemed adequate, that a healthy body was a good enough insurance, these past months led us to re-examine and value better hygienic practices. We are reminded that we keep clean not just for ourselves but for everyone else around us too. These small steps are but something we have to learn to live with in these times of uncertainty.
Photo source 1: unsplash.com/photos/KS2x6J5Osac
Photo source 2: https://pixabay.com/photos/mobile-phone-to-disinfect-clean-4988668/