Keep a Germ-Free Home for the Holidays

The holidays are all about opening your doors and welcoming friends and family. But along with hostess gifts, your guests may also bring sniffle-causing viruses and colds. To keep your family healthy throughout the season, follow this smart germ-free game plan:

Germ-free move No. 1: Wipe down surfaces.

“Cold and flu viruses can live outside of the body for up to two days,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. To avoid transferring those germs to your own eyes, nose or mouth, disinfect and sanitize common areas daily: Besides countertops, make sure to clean doorknobs, light switches and remote controls.

Germ-free move No. 2: Wash linens and towels.

After your houseguest leaves, make sure to launder those towels and bedding. Also assign each person his or her own hand towel, so you won’t pick up germs while drying off. (If you’re throwing a get-together, consider setting out a number of hand towels or using paper towels.)

Germ-free move No. 3: Disinfect fabrics.

For fabrics that you can’t toss in the washing machine, such as cushions and curtains, use a disinfecting fabric spray to neutralize microbes. Bonus: You’ll freshen up the room in the process.

Germ-free move No. 4: Use trashcan liners.

Used tissues are teeming with viruses. To avoid accidentally touching one as you’re empting the trash, line all of those containers with trash bags and sanitize them regularly.

Germ-free move No. 5: Sanitize hands.

Washing your hands is the best way to fend off colds and flu, but alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also do the trick. To encourage your guests to keep clean, place bottles of sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in common areas and place a small travel bottle in their room.

Germ-free move No. 6: Make your health a priority.

When you’re entertaining, it’s easy to get swept up in a miles-long to-do list. But don’t skimp on sleep to play hostess. Falling short on shut-eye weakens your immune system, which may leave you vulnerable to viruses.

And carve out a little time to exercise: A study from Appalachian State University found that people who exercised five times a week had 43 percent sick days than their couch potato counterparts. Remember that spending a little extra time on your health now can prevent you from becoming wiped out with a nasty cold down the road.

Cleaning Tips: Mastering the Last-Minute Clean

Cleaning the house in 15 minutes may seem a little crazy, but it’s definitely possible -- particularly if you stay on top of the clutter. To save time, just focus on high-traffic areas like the entryway, kitchen, living room and guest bath, rather than bedrooms, the garage or laundry room (no one will venture in there!). Here are five fast cleaning tips from Barbara Reich, author of Secrets of an Organized Mom.

Front hall

First impressions are important, so make the entryway a priority. Line up shoes neatly or pile them in a good-looking basket, store backpacks in a closet and shake out the doormat. Use window cleaner to remove smudges from the hall mirror and glass on the door.

Counters and tabletops

Clear surfaces will trick you (and your guests!) into thinking the house is clutter-free. Remove magazines, catalogs and newspapers from the coffee table; file bills, permission slips and other random papers; and stash kitchen canisters and small appliances in the pantry or a cabinet (you won’t need the toaster at a cocktail party).


Nothing kills a party vibe like rank garbage odors in the kitchen or an overflowing pail of used tissues in the bath. Take out the kitchen trash and then hand a large plastic bag to one of your kids and have him empty the other small cans around the house. Done!


Pristine is the word that should leap to mind when a guest visits your bathroom. “Eliminate all evidence that anyone actually uses the bathroom,” advises Reich. Hide makeup and toothbrushes in a drawer, swish the toilet with cleanser and wipe down the mirror, sink and counter tops. Put out fresh hand towels and remove wet ones for the bath.

Quick vacuum

Grab that mini vac, rather than dragging out the big behemoth. Suck up pet hair, dust bunnies in the corner, bits of dirt and leaves in the front hall and old Cheerios in the kitchen. Spray a bit of air freshener, light a fragrant candle in the bath, and then sit back and revel in your accomplishment!

Speed-Clean: Your Fridge

A well-organized fridge is a must, especially as the holidays approach, but cleaning it is hardly a favorite task. Party guests and relatives mean extra food and drinks crowding the shelves -- so don’t wait until the fridge is jammed to tackle the mess. Instead, speed-clean your fridge. Follow these easy steps and you’ll find yourself peeking inside just to admire your work.

Make a Schedule

“If you establish a routine for cleaning the fridge, you’ll be more likely to notice -- and dispose of -- rotten veggies and funky milk,” says Barbara Reich, author of Secrets of an Organized Mom. Designate your ‘toss out day’ before you grocery shop so you’ll know what you have and what needs replacing.

Take a Minute to Read

The labels, that is. Check the expiration dates on various jars and containers and then line them up with the oldest in the front. When you’re ready to hit the market, check which items are about to go bad and then add those to the list.

Know when to Toss

Scan the fridge carefully and keep only what you’re really going to use. Got nearly empty bottles of salad dressing and tiny packets of soy sauce? Trash ‘em. And at the store, resist the urge to ‘stock up’. Keeping fewer items in the fridge lets you see what’s there and provides room for air to cool and circulate.

Wipe Away Grime

Get into the habit of running a damp sponge over the bottom and around the lid of each jar or container you put into the fridge (you’ll prevent gummy rings from forming on surfaces). Also, store leftovers in sturdy plastic or glass dishes, rather than the original paper or foil ones, which tend to ooze quickly.

Keep it Clean

Store a bottle of all-purpose cleaner under the sink for fast touch-ups when you notice spills. Place a box of baking soda toward the back of the fridge to help keep it smelling fresh. And don’t forget to scrub the front of this appliance and the door handle -- both tend to get grimy as the week wears on.

Holiday Refresh: Beautify the Guest Room

Many guest rooms function as impromptu storage rooms for exercise equipment and make-shift offices. If prepping these spaces for holiday guests seems like a chore to you, try these quick guest room ideas to make last-minute setup a breeze.

Create an Inviting Space

Make visitors feel welcomed and comfortable by giving the guest room a mini design makeover. “I like my guests to feel like they are having a mini-vacation,” says Tina Ramchandani, an interior designer at Franklin Eighth who blogs at Life in Sketch. “I add ambient lighting, crisp white sheets, and if there is room, a comfortable chair or loveseat.” Keep in mind that these items don’t need to be brand new. You could even put the high thread-count spare sheets for your bed on the guest bed, or switch in a floor lamp from another room. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for those last-minute guests with an already well-furnished room.

Stock the Basics

There are certain items you should always have on hand for your visitors, like fresh towels, sheets and fluffy pillows. However, if you really want to give the hotel treatment, you can go above and beyond like Ramchandani. “I always leave a set of slippers and a robe,” she says, “so my guests feel at home and comfortable.”

Take the Time to Tailor

Think about what your guests like to surround themselves with in their own home. Do they love a particular scent of candles? Buy a trio and leave them on the bedside table for a smell like home. We all have our own levels of comfort, so your guest will appreciate catering to his or hers. “If they tend to get cold or hot, for example, make the bed accordingly,” says Ramchandani.

Add the Finishing Touches

If arrival time is in less than 24 hours, you can still make the best of the mostly overlooked room. First, clear out anything in there that doesn’t serve your guests, like that exercise bike that’s serving as a clothing rack. Launder all the bedding and spray fabric freshener on upholstered furniture and any other surfaces you can’t throw in the wash. Plug in an outlet air conditioner or spray air freshener in a relaxing scent like lavender within the last hour before they arrive. Then your guest room will be ready for any surprise guests.


5 Cleaners Every Household Needs

’Tis the season for shopping, eating and family get-togethers -- oh, and don’t forget about all the pre-guest cleaning! Sure, the holidays are a time to eat, drink and be merry, but someone has to scrub the halls before they’re decked. It can be overwhelming when prepping for the holiday season, but you don’t have to go it alone -- get equipped with these five products that are sure to clean house.

All-Purpose Erasers

They’re called magic for a reason – Mr. Clean Extra Power Magic Erasers never cease to amaze when it comes to removing stains, grime and scuffs from almost any surface.  A great place to use them: the bathroom. With minimum elbow grease, the erasers can scrub away shower grout and buildup from your tub floor. 

Double-Duty Broom

Make a clean sweep over all your floors -- even swipe up some engrained dirt from area rugs -- before vacuuming. The Bissell Arrgh Pet Hair Broom is perfect for catching strands from our furry friends. Plus, it’s not too shabby at grabbing our own fallen stray tresses and everyday messes either.

Steam Mop

Take your floor cleaning to the next level, with a handheld mop built with a steam-packed punch. The Swiffer Bissell Steamboost gives you a lightweight way to mop, leaving your floor sparkling and eliminates the grunt work.

Oven Cleaner

All that at-home holiday cooking sure is delicious, but the prep shouldn’t start with basting the turkey -- it should start with cleaning your oven!  Months of buildup can hold your oven back from cooking to the best of its ability. Give Cadie Degreasing Oven Cleaning Wipes a try: The orange-oil solvent promises to cut through thick grease in just a few swipes.

Fabric Refreshers

Setting up the guest room for the holidays, means pulling out bedding and towels that may have not been used since last year’s visit. Giving these fabrics -- as well as attic-kept holiday-themed pillows and throws -- a few quick spritzes of fabric refresher can eliminate the stale, stored-away odor. Try Febreze’s Cranberry Cider spray -- it won’t just smell fresh, but also festive!