/ Health, Home & Energy

How clean is your home?

Scrub clean

We took samples from common household items to find out what types of bacteria were growing and where, and we found some less-than-pleasant characters lurking around. But this shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to panic.

There’s occasionally a flare up in the media about the horrifying colony of bacteria growing on your kitchen sponge, or the idea that your chopping board is dirtier than your toilet seat.

This makes many of us recoil, but the suggestions for preventing bacteria growth – throw out your sponge every day – are often out of sync with realistic daily life.

Our swabbing test did, in fact, reveal faecal matter on the kitchen sponge, as well as the kettle handle, and – less surprisingly – the toilet seat. We also found staph (a bacterium that causes skin infections) on the sponge and toilet seat.

While all of this sounds rather unpleasant, what do you actually need to do to target the nasty bacteria in your home, without spending all of your time cleaning? Well here are a few of our top tips…

Keeping your home clean

Disinfect discerningly. Soap or detergent and water work fine for most things. If you’re washing the dishes with soap or detergent, you’re already washing bacteria down the drain – so there’s generally no need for a disinfectant.

However, on surfaces such as worktops, where you’re not rinsing bacteria away, disinfectant makes more sense – but you should wash surfaces with hot water and detergent before disinfecting them.

Don’t neglect the kitchen sponge as this will be the most contaminated item in many homes. Leaving a sponge damp overnight encourages the feasting and reproduction of the microbes living within too.

To clean your sponge, you can soak it in bleach overnight, or put it in the dishwasher on a high-temperature program. This won’t kill everything, but it will keep germs at bay to some extent.

Concentrate on ‘superhighways’ that spread pathogens around the home. That is – your hands, food prep areas, and things that move bacteria around – like that damp sponge or cloth.

If some dirty laundry needs bleaching, a hot machine wash is often not hot enough for long enough to kill bacteria and fungi on clothes. It’s best to choose a biological powder with a bleaching agent for items that carry a high risk of contamination – tea towels used in food prep, sports clothes, or any heavily soiled clothing.

Your cleaning tips

So what are your cleaning tips? How often do you clean your home?


I need to know why trying to take a copy of the advice given about cleaning I get 12 pages of information that goes beyond the advice about cleaning. It somehow just kept on printing something that I was not aware of. The printer just keeps wanting to print.

[Hello your comment has been edited to remove your personal details. Thanks, mods]

Hi Fred,
Firstly it is a very bad idea to put your phone number or address on websites and someone from Which? will remove it when they see it.

If I do a print preview on this page, I get 5 pages of print so not sure how you get 12.

If you select and copy the text you want and paste it into a document or email, you won’t waste so much paper. Hope this helps.

Hi Fred, we’ve removed your phone number and we don’t advise that you share this on Which? Conversation – or elsewhere on the internet. If you’d like a printable version of this page then I can email one over to you – we don’t have our articles set up for easy printing and its likely that your printer will try and print comments and all the widgets around the article, but there are ways around this. I’ll email a copy over to you now.

Fred and others might find this site useful when trying to print pages from websites: https://www.printfriendly.com

Just copy the URL (web address) for the page to be printed into the box in PrintFriendly and this produces pages that are designed for printing without wasting lots of paper. There are extensions to use this with browsers but I’ve not tried them.

It also allows documents to be saved as pdfs for storage.

I suggest wiping kitchen worktops with a soapy cloth and drying them and putting cloths, brushes in a plastic basin with a little bleach and hot water, preferably each day. At the same time, chopping boards can be wiped with the bleach mixture and rinsed.

When washing clothes it is best to use powders and tablets where possible because these contain bleaching agents. Liquids and gels do not, so are best reserved for dark colours that would be faded. We have moved to lower washing temperatures and many modern fabrics would suffer if washed at higher temperatures. Lower washing temperatures require longer washing times to remove dirt and bugs, so wash ‘quick wash’ cycles of 15 or 20 minutes are not going to be very effective. It is essential to carry out regular maintenance washes to prevent the insides of washing machines becoming coated with a slime of potentially harmful bacteria and moulds.

Nigel Morris says:
22 March 2018

I think this article is over the top. Talking about having faecal bacteria (E coli) around the kitchen etc. is scaremongering. E coli is a normal bacterium in many different places and from many different sources. The vast majority of E coli are perfectly normal. needed and harmless.

I accept that the article speaks some words of caution about lack of exposure to normal microflora being a bad thing, and that washing hands with soap and water is perfectly adequate, but the overall tenor of the article will send people scurrying for bleach and disinfectant, to the detriment of the environment and their health and their pocket.

Normal, simple hygiene is all that’s needed, and that means soap and water on hands etc, and normal detergent on dishes. Bleach, and disinfectant and hot dishwasher cycles are wasteful, scaremongering of an already too sanitised and precious population. Allowing dishclothes or sponges to dry after normal rinsing and squeezing will keep them perfectly useful, with a regular wash with clothes for dish clothes, is perfectly adequate.

There is no need to disinfect sink, benches or work tops. Normal cleaning and allowing to dry is perfectly good and has done perfectly well for the last four to five thousand years. Taking particular care when dealing with raw meats, especially chicken and fish etc. is sensible and keeps us safe, but that’s a bout food hygiene, not the subject of this excited article.

Pasteur, Lister and modern day microbiologists have done us enormous favours in teaching us about good hygiene and addressing specific bacterial caused diseases. This article helps very little.

Harrumph! Singular “bacterium”, plural “bacteria”. “find out what bacteria WERE growing where”; “staph is a BACTERIUM that causes skin infections”.

Well said. Yet more bad English from Which?

Hi Ethan Hack and Aitch. Thanks for your comment, we’ve edited the copy accordingly.

Can we have better English from Which? please? ‘Bacterium’ is singular, ‘bacteria’ plural.

“to find out what bacteria was growing where” – you mean “WERE growing where”.

“a bacteria that causes skin infections” – you mean “a bacterium”.


Grrr! Why does Which? wipe out what I’ve typed, when I switch to another window to get my password?!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Whether it be singular or plural,E.coli has no place on a kettle handle! E.coli is safe when inside your bowel but this is a case of not washing hands after using the toilet and then making a cup of tea.A friend of mine used to buy quite strong smelling soap and,when asking her kids had they washed their hands after the loo,they would think twice about telling fibs as she could smell the scented soap if they had done so!


Bleach, microwave, dishwasher, vinegar


A little bleach plus warm water will do the job. If you are a tea drinker and have tea-stained mugs then put the sponge in a mug and add the bleach and warm water, and this will clean the mug too.

Another example of the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction. Of course we need to be careful about hygiene but we now seem to be living more and more in an overly sanitised world, disinfecting everything, throwing away foodstuffs too early, etc, maybe resulting in degraded personal immunological defence? Something is definitely going on and whether it’s linked – I don’t know but during the 50’s and 60’s when I had my schooling, during all that time only one of my numerous student colleagues suffered with asthma. Fast forward to today – my wife has just retired from managing a children’s nursery where every other child suffers and needs to use a nebuliser! Alongside this we have a massive increase in allergies unheard of 50 years ago, this or that intolerance and so on. I’m not laying this 100% on the altar of cleanliness but something has gone adrift and I bet it’s fiddling about with Nature one way or another!

I suspect that there are many more factors. Nitrogen oxides in the air are a known problem and I would not be surprised if pesticide residues in food were not implicated.

I developed asthma around the age of 10, shortly after moving from a small coastal village in Scotland to the suburbs of a city in England. My father had chosen a desirable area to live but in the days before smokeless zones there was soot and sulphur dioxide in the air. The GP did not recognise the obvious symptoms and ‘treated’ me with cough linctus. My mother suspected I had asthma and took me to a practice with a competent GP. Back in these days many cases of asthma were not recognised, whereas today we probably hand out many inhalers that are not needed.

I don’t have any disinfectants other than bleach and I avoid antibacterial handwash, which damages the environment.

You raise a very interesting point ‘wavechange’, insecticides and other chemicals used in food production are/have had a massive impact! You only need to look at the dwindling population of birds and other wildlife – bugs = bird food. Not only have farming processes decimated the nature fauna but it’s allowed unnatural chemicals to enter the food chain. That can’t be doing us any good at all!

You are quite right. Many of the chemical products used for pest and disease control by gardeners have been withdrawn on safety grounds or the formulation has been changed. I expect that the same has happened with the versions used in agriculture. The hormone in ‘the pill’ and the widely used anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac and the slug killer metaldehyde contaminate water supplies for humans and farm animals. Many people now take a cocktail of prescription drugs and self-prescribed medication and supplements without any knowledge of how these might interact in our bodies. Many modern houses with draught-resistant modern windows are living in an atmosphere containing volatile organic compounds from household products and some homes are damp thanks to inadequate ventilation, which can result in highly allergenic mould spores in the air we breath. It’s difficult to know to what extent these factors may impact on our health.

I microwave the kitchen sponge to sterilise, general house cleaning is only done when possible. but bugs in kitchen do need soap and water and heat. Do not rely on sterilising agents as bacteria become resistant to these and can breed as resistant forms abundantly given the right conditions.,

For those of us that live in rural areas and rely on septic tanks and cesspits, the use of disinfectants, bleaches and the like should be kept to a minimum. Hot water, environmentally friendly soaps, thorough rinsing and drying out are the order of the day for us. This online article and it’s printed counterpart was written mainly from a ‘towney’ perspective, though I think what’s good enough for healthy septic tanks and cesspits should be good enough for town and city sewers too.

Steam cleaners are a real boon in such situations.