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How often you really should clean light switch plates — and the best way to do it

When cleaning your house, keep one thing in mind: If hands touch it, it needs cleaning.

That’s especially true for light switches, particularly during cold and flu season. After all, hands are all over them repeatedly throughout the day, depositing a new layer of germs with each touch. Fortunately, cleaning coach Leslie Reichert knows the best ways to clean light switches.

How often should light switch plates be cleaned?

“Switch plates should be wiped weekly — or daily if there’s an illness in the house,” advises Reichert.

What’s the best way to clean them?

“To tackle the job most effectively, use a clean microfiber cloth,” advises Reichert. “Microfiber actually removes germs without the harmful side effects of chemicals. I like to use the larger-looped microfiber for tough cleaning. If there’s no visible “gunk” on the light switches, the microfiber cloth can be used dry, without any water, to remove bacteria. Just make sure the cloth is folded in eighths so you get the most use out of it. (Fold the cloth in half, then half again, then half again. This gives you eight surfaces on each side of the cloth. Use a fresh surface after wiping every knob or switch.)”

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If there’s an obvious coating of debris like jelly, oil or mud, wipe the light switch first with a paper towel or a Skoy cloth, followed by a dampened microfiber cloth that’s been wrung out well.

“Don’t rinse the cloth between cleanings or you’ll contaminate the entire cloth.” Reichert adds. "Just fold to a clean section."

Finish by using a cotton swap to clean dirt out of crevices, then buff the entire switch plate with a dry cloth to make it shine.

No microfiber cloth handy?

“You can use cotton baby diapers — the flat ones, not the pre-folded types,” says Reichert. “They’re wonderful for cleaning and the more you wash them, the softer they get. You could also use a cotton flour sack dish towel, a skoy cloth, or paper towels,” she adds, noting that “Disposable paper towels would be good for disinfecting with a flu or cold in the house.”

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Since these items don’t have the cleaning properties of microfiber, Reichert suggests spraying them first with a disinfecting spray cleaner. Create your own by mixing the following ingredients:

  • 8 ounces of white vinegar
  • 4 ounces of vodka or rubbing alcohol
  • 4 ounces of hydrogen peroxide
  • 6 drops of tea tree oil for disinfecting
  • 6 drops of any other essential oil for scent.

Since hydrogen peroxide will break down into water when it’s exposed to light, top off the container with more hydrogen peroxide right before using it again. (Caveat: Vinegar breaks down the coating of sealed countertops, so do not use this mixture on these surfaces.)

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