We’ll give it to you straight: Open houses are basically ground zero for germs. People milling around, idly touching this and that with their unwashed hands, and carelessly coughing and sneezing all over your sacred spaces, leaving a trail of bacteria in their wake.
Did we gross you out? Good. It’s hard enough to stay healthy without having to contend with hordes of strangers waltzing through your space and bringing their diseases with them. And with cold and flu season in full swing, the threat level couldn’t be higher.
We break down the top tips to keep your home free of germs.
1. Create a shoe-less environment
Shoes can bring all kinds of nastiness into your home—from bacteria to toxins to dust and plain old dirt. A 2008 study by microbiologists at the University of Arizona found that the average pair of shoes had more than 420,000 units of bacteria on their soles (including, but not limited to, the dreaded E. coli virus).
The real kicker (pun definitely intended)? Viruses survive better on your shoes than on your toilet. And when you keep your shoes on inside the house, you’re unwittingly spreading hundreds of thousands of germs everywhere you walk—from the entryway to the kitchen to your bedroom.
Now that you’re armed with this terrifying knowledge, what’s a savvy seller to do? Start by removing your own shoes every time you enter your home (and wash your hands after you do so). A mudroom, entry bench with shoe storage, or simple boot tray are great visual reminders.
Next, encourage potential buyers to do the same by posting a gently worded directive by the front door (and instruct your agent to guide them accordingly). Stash a set of paper booties where they’re easily seen (and most likely to be used). Then use rugs or mats at all entrances to catch dirt and grit that can build up on floors and carpets.
2. Invest in disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer
“Influenza is very transmissible, and survives on hard surfaces, countertops, door knobs, and handles for 24 to 48 hours,” says Rick Bernhardt, associate professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
Good news, though: It’s easily killed by alcohol-based hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and good old soap and water. After each showing, wipe down all light switches, doorknobs, handles, and cabinet pulls—basically anything you think you would touch as a prospective buyer—with a disinfectant wipe (or five). And encourage would-be buyers to do the same.
We would recommend stashing a giant container of hand sanitizer near the entryway and in high-traffic areas. Also make sure your bathrooms are well stocked with soap and disposable hand towels.
You can’t go wrong with extra health measures, especially during flu season. Having hand sanitizer out will help ensure everyone stays healthy.
3. Stash your toothbrush
Put all of your personal hygiene tools—we’re looking at you, toothbrush—in a drawer before each showing so there’s no chance of them coming into contact with the strangers traipsing through your house. Better yet, keep them there. That’s because every time you flush, microscopic particles of fecal matter and other toilet gunk become airborne and land on your personal effects. Seriously, this is a thing, and you want to avoid it at all costs.
4. Wash linens with hot water once a week
Hopefully, prospective buyers aren’t rolling around in your sheets (shudder), but there is a chance they’re idly touching pillows, blankets, or (at a minimum) towels as they roam your home. Once a week, throw bedding and towels in the washing machine on the hottest setting, and toss pillows and blankets into the dryer to sanitize them.
5. Skip the hors d’oeuvres
These days, home sellers are using all kinds of tricks to amp up their open houses. At the very least, you might think you need to bake some cookies. Or perhaps you want to go the distance with a catered affair. But beware: The more food and drinks you pass around, the more likely you’ll pass around a virus or three.
“Don’t put out food for open houses, as this will only encourage the spread of any kind of disease from one person to the next.” says Charles W. Shrode, a gastroenterologist in Asheville, NC.
Griswold agrees—with a caveat.
“No food is certainly the most germ-free option,” Griswold says. “But if you want to wine and dine your buyers a bit, create single-serving portions in disposable containers and choose food that can be eaten with a fork or spoon rather than fingers.”
6. Sterilize kitchen and bathroom surfaces twice a week
Of all the rooms in your house, the kitchen and bathrooms are naturally the germiest. Throw in a critical mass of potential buyers and agents, and you can definitely see these rooms approaching full petri dish status.
Keep the nasties at bay by wiping down all surfaces with disinfectant wipes at least once a day, and be on the lookout for mold and mildew, which are especially problematic in bathrooms. Use liquid household bleach or cleaners with bleach to remove mildew stains from shower doors, shower curtains, and grout between tiles.
And make sure to zap your sponges in the microwave daily (just ensure they’re wet before popping ’em in). You can also put them in the dishwasher; the key is to heat them to a temperature that kills germs.
What have you done to lock down your house against germs while opening it up to people?