Chances are, you’re probably not leaving your home too much these days. While some trips to the outside world can’t be avoided, leaving your personal space during a pandemic is risky for a few reasons. First, if you’re carrying an illness but don’t have symptoms yet, you could spread it to a vulnerable person. Secondly, you’re exposing yourself to other people’s germs—and if you aren’t vigilant, bringing them back into your home, where they could infect you.
Fortunately, with a little strategy (and lots of hand washing and disinfecting), you can reduce the likelihood of transferring viruses and bacteria into your home. Here are five expert-backed steps to follow every time you walk in your door.
1. Sanitize your hands before entering the house
Anytime you’re outside your home, be mindful of the germs on your hands. Avoid touching your face until you can wash them, and if possible, keep hand sanitizer with you so you don’t leave potentially harmful pathogens on your car’s steering wheel or a door knob going into your home.
Dr. Elizabeth Scott, professor of microbiology at Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons University in Boston, says she tries to keep hand sanitizer on her at all times. When she’s out and about, she uses it in two scenarios. “If I am out in my car, I sanitize my hands as soon as I get back into the car following essential trips to the store,” she says. “Or, If I am just walking back into the house, I sanitize my hands before I enter.”
2. Put your haul on the floor, and hang up your bag and keys
Grocery store hauls require a whole other level of vigilance. Since germs can live on surfaces like bags for several hours, don’t put your groceries on the counter unless you plan to disinfect thoroughly immediately after. Same goes for the just-delivered packages you might normally put on the kitchen table.
After she sanitizes her hands and gets in the house, Scott says she puts her bags on the floor until she deals with the next couple of germ-fighting steps. While you’re at it, you can hang your purse or bag on a hook with your keys—or put them wherever you normally do, as long as you’re not cross-contaminating high-contact areas like your counter or dining room table.
3. Take off dirty shoes and clothes
No matter where you ventured to, your shoes and clothes are also potential germ-carriers. Scott always takes her shoes and jacket off when she gets home and quarantines them to their own, designated area (read: not on the couch or a dining room chair). If you want to be extra careful, you can change into a fresh set of clothes, too. Just make sure you put your soiled clothes directly in the hamper or wash clothes right away.
4. Wash your hands thoroughly, then unpack your things
Now that your dirty clothes are off your body, it’s time to remove the germs from your hands so you don’t transfer them to all the surfaces you’re about to touch in your home. After you’ve washed your hands, you can put away groceries or open up the mail. If you just went outside for a walk and you’re sure your hands are clean, then Scott says you’re free to relax!
5. Disinfect if needed, or wash your hands again
For grocery-buyers, it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly again after you touch all the food you put away. If you accidentally set potentially germ-ridden items on your counter, or potentially contaminated your doorknob or cabinet handles, practice targeted hygiene and disinfect those surfaces immediately with a bleach or alcohol-based cleaner. But Scott recommends laying off the hand sanitizer once you’re inside the house, since supply is dwindling and you’ll need it when you go out again. Plus, soap and water is more effective for your hands when you have access to it.