Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Laundry health hint:
I didn't know!

I read an article in AARP magazine called "9 Secrets to Better Health!" about quick and simple things you can do to feel your best. Five of these hints surprised me. The one that surprised me the most had to do with laundry.

It begins, "Just how clean are your just-laundered clothes? If you're like most Americans, not very. Only 5 percent of Americans now regularly wash their underwear and towels in water that's hot enough -- at least 160 degrees F -- to kill bacteria, according to University of Arizona environmental microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D."

The article goes on to say that this means live bacteria can spread from one garment to another. Most surprisingly to me, the article also says that when you remove your wet laundry, those live germs can get on your hands. If you touch your mouth or rub your eyes, you can get a cold, an infection, or E. Coli. Lest you think that putting the clothing into a dryer solves things, the dryer is not hot even enough to kill pesky germs!

Well, I thought I was being thrifty and environmentally conscious by washing nearly everything I could in cold water. Since I have allergies, I do occasionally wash sheets in hot water to kill dust mites, but not nearly as often as I should. I've been using mostly cold water to wash nearly everything for 26 years of marriage!

So, what does the article suggest as solutions to this problem? There's always the option of using bleach or washing everything in water that is 160 degrees or hotter. But, as I discussed in an earlier post, there are drawbacks to making use of bleach on a regular basis, even though it is a disinfectant. Among other things, it is hard on clothing and on sensitive respiratory systems. So, the hot water idea sounds more feasible. Even at this, you have to weigh the drawbacks against the benefits. Washing everything in hot water adds to your utility bills if you do a lot of laundry. And, while some fabrics do wash better in hot water, others lose their color and shape and size if washed in hot water. Even so, I foresee more hot water washes in my future -- especially when it comes to underwear!

If you don't like the two alternatives above, the article suggests that you do this: Head to the sink for a soapy hand wash immediately after putting laundry into the dryer. In order to kill the germs, you must wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and use plenty of soap and hot water.

The article does not say how long the germs live after surviving a tumble in the dryer, so I imagine that a hand washing would be good after touching dried laundry as well. I'm thinking that all of this means I need to clean the inside of my washer and dryer!

The article does not mention if drying clothing outside kills the germs or not. I suspect that it might, as sunlight is known to be a slight germicide. Last week, I would have said an emphatic yes, but, then, last week I cheerfully went about throwing clean, wet, cold laundry into a dryer!
Off topic, Professor Gerba also suggests using a commercial sanitizer to wipe the bottoms of handbags, which collect and spread dangerous germs when placed on tabletops and public restroom floors.

What were the other two health hints that surprised me?

Well, as we wives and moms already know, airing a house is good for health. But, I was surprised to see that scientists are supporting us on this issue. According to them, any house built since 1970 was built with such good insulation that it prevents fresh air flow from outside in and inside out. This can mean, according to the article, that the air inside your home can be 100 times more toxins than outdoor air, according to the U.S. EPA. Much of it is from chemical vapors evaporating from building materials -- In other words, the house itself is poisoning us. Other toxins in the air come from air fresheners, cleaners, paints, and other odor-producing household chemicals. Many of these things cause asthma.

Could this be why asthma death rates have risen in the past thirty or so years? Hmm. Still, in allergy season, an open window can mean trouble for an asthmatic, as well. Perhaps, the pollens that come in can be dusted away if you are consistent enough. As with everything, weigh the pros and cons.

Solutions listed in the article: Open windows when appropriate, put at least two tropical house plants per 12 by 12 room, air new items such as computers and furniture made out of particleboard in the garage for a few days before bringing them inside your house, and run exhaust fans in springtime and the fall, when air doesn't move as easily from indoors to out.

(I had to think about that part when I first read it. Spring and fall are when I most enjoy the breezes that come in through open windows. But, I suppose the author means that the air in these seasons comes in, but doesn't move out as easily. And, when dealing with indoor toxins, you want to flush the air outwards. Anyone else have any other ideas?) When opening windows, make sure you have a cross-breeze going, the article says, so that the air really does freshen the house.

A similar hint was getting a few minutes of sun each day sans sunscreen. Again, don't we moms think this is good? I do, even though both sides of my family are poster children for skin cancer. But, doctors are beginning to see it our way. They are starting to think that a few minutes of sunlight can help in the fight against heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and even some cancers. (My dh suffers from psoriasis, which is helped greatly by sunlight) We also need sunshine to make sufficient Vitamin D, and sunscreen blocks the production of that chemical. But, fair skinned people need to get the sunscreen on after five to 10 minutes in the sun, two or three times a week. If your skin is dark, you will need to go for a little more sun: 15-30 minutes. But, no one -- not even the darkest skinned among us -- needs to bake.

Fourth surprising hint: Move you pills. Don't keep vials of drugs and vitamins in the bathroom medicine chest or kitchen. I knew this, but had never seen it so firmly emphasized. I do keep my medicines in exactly those two places, so here's some re-thinking that I need to do.

Fifth surprising hint: Drink more coffee. It's loaded with good stuff and doctors are now saying that "It's good for what ails ya," as we say in the South. However, the jury's still out on this one as far as I'm concerned. I have health problems that are made worse by a lot of caffeine. And, I have dear relatives who are unable to function without coffee. So, I think I'll stick to having an occasional cup of decaf as a treat. Also, the article does warn that if you have osteoporosis, you should follow your doctor's advice for calcium supplementation. Coffee, though rich in antioxidants, is associated with some increased risk of bone fractures.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do all my washing at 40 C (if my calculations are right that's 104 F). I've saved an awful lot on electricity, plus most of my clothing is marked to be washed at 40C. I'll just have to do the hand washing! :)

I like the coffee info, being a coffee drinker. Yey!