Is your house making you sick? Common household culprits that could cause illness

We go from room to room to show you where dangerous bacteria hides in your home.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

"There's no place like home" is something we might say when we're feeling homesick. But what if your home is what's making you feel sick? There are potential sources of sickness throughout your home that you may want to clean, replace, or trash for wellness. Let's go through a few rooms in the house and uncover the items inside that could be making you ill.

Bedroom

How's this for sexy? Your bedding and pillows are a breeding ground for dust mites – microscopic bugs that thrive on the humidity and warmth provided by our bodies. So what better place for them to fester than our warm beds where we spend, ideally, 7-8 hours of every day? Dust mites feast on flakes of human skin and – it gets grosser – their feces contain a potent allergen. People who are allergic to dust mites may have asthma-like symptoms, eczema or chronic sinus problems. Some symptoms of a dust mite allergy range from minor annoyances like sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, or nasal congestion, to more serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest tightness or pain and trouble sleeping caused by coughing or wheezing.

It's recommended you wash your bedding weekly in hot water and make sure they're thoroughly dried. You should also replace your pillows every one-two years and replace your mattress every five-ten years.

The carpet is another area of the bedroom that could have you feeling sick. The average carpet or rug can accumulate several pounds of dirt per year and, like our bedding, can be a favourite spot for dust mites. So it's recommended if you have carpeting in your home, that you vacuum twice a week and get your carpets professionally cleaned every 12-18 months. However, the chemicals used in professional carpet cleaners can also pose health concerns so make sure to inquire with the cleaning company about what they use. Most carpet manufacturers recommend the steam cleaning method – this penetrates deep into the fibers and lifts out the dirt and the many pollutants we track in on our shoes.

Kitchen

The fridge is where we store our perishables, but it can also be home to bacteria. If your fridge is packed full, it can be a poisonous paradise – a dumping ground for diarrhea. That's because cold air needs to circulate throughout your fridge in order for it to keep your food chilled enough to keep bacteria at bay. A packed fridge means a warmer fridge which could leave you susceptible to things like salmonella and E-coli. A well-organized fridge will help reduce your risk of these illnesses. Store eggs inside the body of the fridge, not in the door as the door isn't cold enough for proper egg storage. Additionally, don't store meat on a high shelf in the fridge. If there's bleeding or dripping, it can land on other foods like fruits and vegetables. Also, the government of Canada's food safety tips recommends keeping your fridge at four degrees Celsius.

Another potential source of sickness in your kitchen is your sink and taps! Some kitchen faucet handles can harbour up to 44 times the bacteria of your toilet seat. Think about it, if you're handling raw meat, chances are you wash your hands after, but you've touched the taps with your dirty hands. One bacterial study found there's more fecal bacteria in the kitchen sink than in the toilet immediately after flushing. So wipe it down and sanitize often by using vinegar to clean your sink and your taps.

Bathroom

When you think of areas in your bathroom that could be making you sick, you probably think of the toilet first. But it turns out the toilet gets a bad rap and it's actually your shower head that could cause you to get ill.

Your shower head can be teeming with microbes, mildew and mold and it can harbour a potentially infectious bacteria called myco-bacterium avium which is found in fresh and saltwater, particularly in hot water systems like hot water pipes. It can build up in the slime and mildew in your shower head. A study in the UK found one in ten shower heads are infected with this bacteria which can cause minor lung infections in healthy people but can be really serious for anyone with an already compromised immune system. Symptoms of infection include fatigue, a chronic dry cough, and shortness of breath.

When you're cleaning your shower, remember to show your shower head some love and clean it as well. Also, a few times a year, soak it in vinegar to really give it a wash. You can tie a bag full of vinegar around the shower head or remove it and soak it in a bowl full of vinegar. Also, be sure to replace your shower head every few years - don't go 5, 10, 20 years using the same one.

Another culprit in your bathroom is your bath mat. After you've stood under that dirty shower head, what do you normally do? You step onto your bath mat, right? And that's another potential breeding ground for bacteria. Mold spores, bacteria, and fungus can accumulate on the bath mat and survive for weeks. Think about it, you get it wet and sometimes leave it there soaked in bath or shower water, pressed up against the floor and provided a dark, damp ideal environment for bacteria which can cause colds and irritate allergies. Some bathroom floors are even dirtier than toilets, so launder your bath mat in hot water once a week – same with your towels.

Re-usable grocery bags

Re-useable grocery bags may be better for the environment but they may not be great for our health. It makes sense when you think about it: you bring home food from the grocery store including raw meat and dairy, which could leak, and unwashed fruits and veggies. You probably unload your groceries when you get home and then put away the bags until it's time to use them again, right? But do you wash them? A US study found only three percent of shoppers actually wash their re-useable shopping bags. The same study found bacteria in 99 percent of tested bags. So, when you're laundering your bath mats and bedding weekly, toss your grocery bags into the washing machine, too!

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