The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our awareness of the importance of a hygienic home. But what should our cleaning priorities be at this time, and how best can we keep our homes clean? Helpling, an online platform for sourcing cleaners across the Netherlands, is here to help.
Helpling, whose user-friendly platform has been helping clients in the Netherlands find local, customer-reviewed cleaners since 2014, is familiar with the quirks of Dutch houses and well-placed to advise on home hygiene here. Drawing on their blogposts and the expertise of cleaners working via the Helpling platform, here are Helpling’s tips for cleaning ten areas of the home that need special attention.
The WC might be the tiniest room in the house over here, but the Dutch tendency to keep the loo separate from the bathroom scores high for hygiene. Nevertheless, put the lid down when you are flushing to avoid splashing microscopic droplets around the room. Change the hand towel regularly and hoover and mop the floors once a week.
While toilet blocks might help disguise odours, they are no substitute for a clean bowl and can create another surface for germs to settle. Get your rubber gloves on (labelled toilet-only) and slosh a water and detergent mix in and around the toilet, waiting fifteen minutes before giving it a good scrub. Since bacteria are attracted to warm, sticky surfaces, be sure to rinse and dry the area afterwards with a microfibre cloth. Use a fresh cloth and fresh bucket of water when polishing tiles and disinfecting door handles, light pulls and soap dispensers.
If you’re in a Dutch house, the hand basin in the WC probably runs with cold water only. Giving your hands the requisite 20-second – freezing-cold – wash with soap will stave off the worst bacteria – but only if the taps are clean. In fact, studies have shown that taps can harbour over 40 times as many germs as the toilet seat.
And it’s not just wash basins which are a problem, the kitchen sink is one of the biggest breeding grounds in the house. And those damp, smelly cloths and sponges lurking in and around it often contaminate more than they clean, so replace them regularly.
Cold water is a great weapon against smear marks left by warm, soapy mopping, so do a second cold-water mop to get a shiny finish. Use disinfectant and a disposable cloth on floors soiled with bodily fluids. In most other cases, an allesreiniger (multi-purpose cleaner) diluted in warm water is fine, even for wooden floors, although the mop should be damp rather than sopping wet. But beware: the mop can be both friend and foe. With a billion bacteria per 10cm², a warm, moist mop tops the list of germ-spreaders in many households. Wash the mop in 60°C water after use and dry it out before storing.
Helpling cleaner Wendy from Amsterdam is undaunted by those tiny, steep stairs that feature in so many properties in the Netherlands. ‘I do painted stairs with a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment, starting from top to bottom,’ she says. ‘Then I use a viscose cloth and warm water to remove any marks.’
An unpainted staircase must be vacuumed gently, she advises, or swept with a dustpan and brush. ‘I use only warm water and a soft cloth – no soap-based cleaning products because the soap attracts new dirt. Once a month I apply a special maintenance product for wood.’ Stone steps outside, she recommends, should be swept and then scrubbed with a brush and soapy water. And kick those shoes off before entering!
Dutch houses have surely the cleanest windows in Europe – a sign that the occupant has nothing to hide. ‘Two in the window’ – be it matching porcelain, plants or candlesticks – is a common sight, and kept dust-free by proud house owners with the help of a microfibre cloth.
Wendy uses her grandmother’s recipe to keep the windows gleaming: ‘a bucket of warm water, vinegar, a splash of rinse aid and a drop of washing-up liquid’. ‘Use a sponge, scrape with a squeegee and then dry with a clean tea towel, and the windows will be clean and shiny,’ she says.
The badkamer (bathroom) can be a bit of a misnomer over here as many households do not bother installing a bath. A shower might save time and water, but it takes at least as long to clean and should be rinsed between users. Use a squeegee to remove excess water from the shower walls and floor after showering.
A damp shower curtain can also attract mould and limescale, so machine-wash it at 30°C at least once a year or replace it. Elsewhere in the bathroom, bacteria is busiest on toothbrushes, make-up brushes, flannels and sponges. Bath towels should be washed after 3-4 uses at 60°C (or 40°C if using bleach-based products). Throw your (washable) bath mat in at the same time.
Each night, we shed around 15 million skin cells. Add drool, mucus and sweat into the mix and you can see why washing your bed linen each week (and nightwear twice a week) is an important part of maintaining a hygienic home. Dust from fabric and dander will accumulate in other fabrics and furnishings too, so shake and dust curtains, and vacuum any carpets, rugs or upholstery.
Peek inside a typical Dutch fridge and you’ll see an array of tubs and jars labelled smeer or spread used to whip up a quick snack, alongside dairy products galore to make that broodje kaas (cheese sandwich) or drink of karnemelk (buttermilk). Residues left by all these goodies give the average fridge a bacteria count of around 8,000 per cubic cm, not great for a place where food is stored.
‘Empty the refrigerator and fill a bucket with warm water, a splash of vinegar and a squirt of washing-up liquid,’ recommends Wendy, who scrubs any drawers and shelves under a hot tap with a little washing-up liquid and then dries them and the fridge walls thoroughly. ‘I also clean the rubber seals on the doors because I see that the dirt gathers there,’ she says.
The home office is a hotbed for germs, but is often overlooked by amateur cleaners. Your computer keyboard harbours sweat, skin cells and – if you’re eating at your desk – food crumbs. Shake any loose particles out once a week and clean the keyboard and mouse with anti-bacterial wipes or anti-bacterial gel on a soft cloth.
Watch out for all those pens that have been passed from hand to hand – or worse, found their way into people’s mouths. Give them a wipe too, along with your mobile phone and any other frequently handled work tools. And when it’s time to go back to the office, apply this approach to your work station there, and let Helpling take care of your home.
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