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Breathe easy when working from home - 11 top tips for crossing germ prevention off your to-do list

Your home office might seem like a place of solitude, but you’re likely sharing it with a few million unwanted co-workers. Here’s how to keep uninvited germs at bay…


Female hands wiping a cell phone with a cloth

There are so many benefits to working from home. However, you might be missing the office cleaner (among other things). As a result, you could well have swapped your human teammates for a few million invisible life-forms. While these co-workers aren’t as likely to bore you to tears with photos of their offspring or latest trip to Florida, they are more likely to make you sick.

The good news? With fewer human co-workers, there are fewer virus particles floating around you.

The bad news? There are still plenty of other ways germs can infiltrate your home office. And without a professional cleaning team, you’re going to need to roll up your sleeves and tackle the blighters yourself.

1. Keep your office equipment clean

Have you heard of ‘qwerty tummy’? Nope, neither had we until recently. A study by the University of Arizona found that desks are home to around 400 times more bacteria than loo seats. One common bacteria lurking in office keyboards is Staphylococcus aureu, which causes pretty nasty stomach bugs - in other words ‘qwerty tummy’.

So, you’re going to want to sanitize your home office equipment regularly (ideally once a week). Obviously, you can’t spray cleaner onto electrical equipment. Instead:

  • Unplug everything.

  • Turn your keyboard upside down over the wastebasket and give it a gentle shake to dislodge any crumbs. Blow into it to help shift any dirt. Alternatively, blast the dust out with compressed air or use a keyboard vacuum cleaner.

  • Wipe the keyboard with a cotton bud dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Keep the cotton bud well away from the ports and make sure it’s damp, not soaking wet. You don’t want to fry your keyboard.

  • Clean your mouse and screen with an antibacterial wipe designed for office electricals.

  • Go over everything with a microfiber cloth to make sure all your equipment is completely dry.

  • Disinfect your desk and chair. In most cases, you can just use a regular antibacterial cleaner for this.

To keep your keyboard clean for longer, you might want to buy a latex cover. It stops dirt from getting stuck between the keys and can be easily wiped down.

The Poll

Have you ever considered an air purifier to help keep your home free from viruses?

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2. Banish the clutter

Keep office clutter (AKA dust traps) to a minimum. If you work in a room shared by other members of your household, you might also want to put notebooks, pens and so on inside a drawer or cupboard each night.

3. Take out the trash

Home office wastebaskets don’t tend to get used as much as kitchen trash cans, so we often forget to empty them. But they can end up harbouring all sorts of bacteria and other germs. Make sure you line yours with a plastic bag and take out the trash regularly.

It can help to switch to a smaller wastebasket, which then forces you to empty it more frequently. Lidded cans are more hygienic, but choose one with a foot pedal so you don’t need to keep touching the lid.

4. Green up your office

Plants can act as natural air purifiers—absorbing pollutants, mold spores, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxins. While they don’t help to tackle germs, they have been found to improve both mental and physical health, so we figure they’re worth a mention here. Generally speaking, the bigger the leaf, the better it is at absorbing toxins. According to NASA, the top plants for purifying the air include:

  • Aloe vera

  • Spider plant

  • English ivy

  • Areca palm

  • Peace lily

Different plants are better at tackling different pollutants, so try to include a few varieties in your home office.

5. Invest in an air purifier

While plants help to clean the air, they don’t come anywhere close to a good air purifier, which can kill up to 99.97% of germs.

Modern air purifiers are quiet and don’t cost much to run. They can also help with allergies, such as hay fever, and will keep the air in your home fresh and clean. Just make sure the unit is powerful enough for the size of the room by checking its Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) and frequency of air exchange.

It’s also a good idea to look out for air purifiers that are part of the American Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) Verifide program, which measures clean air delivery rates at a nicely fresh five exchanges per hour.

If you don’t have an air purifier yet, make sure your home office is well-ventilated. Open your windows whenever possible and allow air to circulate through your home.

6. Draw up a cleaning rota

Of course, your home office isn’t hermetically sealed from the rest of your house, so you’re going to want to stay on top of the rest of the housework too. The key is to do a bit every day. It can help to create a rota (look online for templates) so you can tick off each task as it’s completed. Write down which chores you’re going to tackle when, and (if you share your home) who’s going to do them. Split chores into daily, weekly and monthly tasks.

Prioritize areas where germs are most likely to spread (usually the bathroom and kitchen). Make sure your cleaning rota includes all these germ hotspots. Dry everything that you wash, as damp conditions can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Then machine wash your cleaning cloths on a high temperature after every use.

7. Make handwashing a breeze

Most of us got used to washing our hands more often (and for longer) at the start of the pandemic. It’s easy to let standards slip though. If your rigorous handwashing has turned into a quick ‘splash and rinse’, try to get back into good habits.

Set a timer for the first few handwashes, to get an idea of how long you need to wash for.

Fed up of dry, sore hands? Try switching to a gentler, SLS-free liquid or bar soap.

Sanitizing hand gel can also be useful. You could keep a bottle by your door to use after accepting deliveries, and another by your laptop to use each time you sit down to work.

8. Keep those pets clean

Pets might not be able to fetch you coffee or take their turn in the carpool, but they’re great at keeping you company while you work.

We have yet to meet a pet owner who can train a dog or cat to wipe its feet. So, if you do share your home with furry (often muddy) companions, you might need to up your game when it comes to cleaning.

You might also want to groom your pet more often and treat it to its own bed in your office. (Although cats, in particular, tend to have a poor view of being asked to keep off the sofa.)

9. Steam your way to a cleaner home

Steam cleaners can help to kill germs on hard floors, as well as in carpets, curtains and other soft furnishings. Make sure you’re using the right tool for the job. (Steam mops are usually only suitable for hard floors.) Open windows or put the heating on to help speed up drying time. Wet carpets can encourage fungal growth. Read our top tips for steam cleaning.

10. Swot up on food hygiene

It’s not quite as easy to nip out for lunch when you’re working from home. If you’re bored to tears of sandwiches, we’re guessing you’re making the most of batch-cooking and leftovers. While this is great for reducing plastic waste (and keeping your bank balance healthy), do make sure you’re reheating your food properly. No one wants a side serving of E. coli with their chili. The CDC recommends using a food thermometer to make sure your microwaved food reaches a germ busting 165˚F.

11. Take your shoes off

Shoes can track all manner of germs through your house, so leave them at the door. Why not treat yourself to some office slippers? Go ahead, you’ll look great…