Your house is meant to shield you against the outside environment and keep you comfortable and safe. Unfortunately, the abundance of infection-causing bacteria and fungal spores may make this a challenge.
Here are some of the items in your house that may cause nasty fungal skin infections and other health problems.
1. Pet beds and toys
Ringworm is not actually a worm, but a zoonotic fungus that can spread between animals and humans. The spores of this fungus are found in the soil and can be picked up by a pet and transferred to all the surfaces they come into contact with.
What you can do: Don't worry; there is no way we will make you let the pets sleep outside. If you suspect that your pet has ringworm, consult a vet for the proper treatment, which might include an oral antibiotic. But ringworm is hard to get rid of – you will also need to treat the environment, as ringworm can survive for up to 18 months. If your pet has ringworm, it’s better to limit them to one room or area to prevent the infection from spreading to the rest of the house. Vacuum the rugs and floors properly and hygienically dispose of the bag, or empty the plastic canister into the outside garbage bin. Wash all pet bedding and toys in a bleach solution and disinfect floors and surfaces with a mild, diluted bleach solution.
2. Your bathroom cabinet – personal grooming items
From hair brushes to toenail clippers and makeup brushes and sponges – these objects regularly come into contact with the skin, and we don’t clean them as often as we should.
According to a previous Health24 article, specifically addressing the risks of makeup and applicators, research on a variety of personal toiletries and beauty equipment has shown that Bacillus, Staphylococcus spp., Pseudomonas spp., Enterobacter, Aspergillus, Penicillium and Candida are the predominant organisms found in cosmetics.
What you can do: Everyone in the family should use their own personal grooming tools and these should regularly be sanitised in a solution of hot water and anti-bacterial liquid. Clean any tools, especially after you’ve had an infection, or better yet, discard them.
Your pillow is meant to be a safe place where you can rest your head after a long day. But don’t get complacent – your comfort spot may harbour some nasty bacteria if you don’t regularly change your linen. Pillowcases can harbour bacteria and organisms, including the fungal spores that cause ringworm, especially if you are guilty of letting your pets onto the bed. And since you sweat during the night, your pillows can grow mould spores if you don’t air them out properly – this is not only a risk for fungal skin infections, but respiratory problems as well.
What you can do: Change your pillowcases often, wash them on the warmest setting possible and let them air out properly. It’s also important to let your pillows air out. Practice good hygiene before going to bed – greasy hair and a face partially full of makeup will only transfer dead skin and debris onto your pillowcases, causing bacteria to flourish.
4. The washing machine
This might sound counterproductive – how can a machine you use to wash your clothes harbour bacteria? But washing machines simply launder clothes and do nothing to sterilise them. According to an extensive study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, bacteria and organisms that can potentially cause fungal skin infections enter the washing machine through clothes, bed linen and towels.
Especially bed linen and towels, which harbour the most bacteria, don’t always get washed on a very high setting, because of energy conservation. This means that the laundry is cleaned to remove visible dirt and odours, but not necessarily sanitised. The surviving bacteria may build up inside the washing machine and remain on your "clean" laundry, and may be transferred onto your skin.
What you can do: Separate washing loads to wash bed linen and towels on the hottest setting. Air out the drum of your washing machine by keeping the door open after a load. Clean the drum of your washing machine regularly with a solution of vinegar and baking powder, which is a natural disinfectant. Also make sure you regularly wipe out the soap scum from the detergent drawer. If you are concerned that your washing machine's hot cycle might not do the trick, you can also go "old-school" and soak the biggest bacteria-yielding culprits such as bed linen, pet bedding and towels in hot water and a diluted bleach solution, remembering to rinse well afterwards.
5. Shower gel
Heavily-fragranced shower gel can upset the delicate pH balance of the vagina, making you more susceptible to yeast infections. While some feminine hygiene washes are better formulated than they used to be, and specifically marketed to keep pH balance in mind, normal shower gels can potentially cause a yeast infection.
A study published in the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development came to the conclusion that anything that upsets the balance of the vaginal environment can cause overgrowth of microbes, such as Candida albicans, causing yeast and other infections.
What you can do: Rather wash down there with plain water and soap and avoid those heavily perfumed shower gels.
6. Your razor
Thinking that simply rinsing your razor after shaving is good enough? Leaving it wet doesn’t only cause the blade to rust and wear out more quickly, but also creates a wonderful environment for the organisms that cause fungal and yeast infections. It may also lead to ringworm, either on your face or groin area (known as jock itch).
What you can do: If you do have a fungal infection on any of the sites that you usually shave, switch to gentle, disposable razors as you don’t want to transmit the infection. Keep your razor clean by properly drying and airing the blade. While it’s convenient, it shouldn’t be kept in the shower. And whatever you do, never share razor blades.
7. Your sock drawer
Guilty of stashing unwashed socks back into the drawer for a second wear? You are setting yourself up for athlete's foot, caused by the tinea fungus that thrives in hot, sweaty conditions. And what is sweatier than a pair of gym socks after a workout? Not only is it unhygienic, but you also run the risk of transferring fungal spores onto your clean socks (and whatever else you stash in your sock drawer).
What you can do: It's simple; wear socks once and toss them in the laundry basket. Want further protection against foot fungus this summer? Switch to 100% cotton socks, as this material is less likely to cause sweaty feet. And if you do suspect you have a foot condition, take care of it immediately by using an anti-fungal cream. You don't want a foot fungus to get out of control.
Image credits: iStock