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How healthy is your home? 5 ways to avoid surprising risks

June 30, 2014 at 10:21 AM ET

Home dirty home? When you step into the front door of your house, you hope to feel a sense of security. But from E.coli in your washing machine to dangerously slippery floors, there are hidden household dangers to be aware of.  

Try these easy effective solutions from Bahar Takhtehchian, editor-at-large of Shape magazine. 

Hazard: Germs in the dishwasher

They can be loaded with mildew, yeast and fungi.

Safety solution: Once a month, create an at-home cleaning solution for your dishwasher. Remove the racks and wash the inside of the dishwasher by hand using hot water and soap. Also, mix half a cup of white vinegar with 2 cups of hot water into a spray bottle. Vinegar is acidic and can get rid of tarnish, soap scum, and mineral deposits. 

Video: Did you know you’re supposed to clean your washing machine? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Bahar Takhtehchian, editor-at-large at Shape magazine, stops by TODAY to reveal some surprising hazards in your home and how to remedy them.

It also prevents the growth of mold, mildew, and some bacteria. Once your mixture is ready, spray all surfaces and take an old toothbrush and scrub down smaller crevices. Put the racks back in and fill a small glass bowl with vinegar and place it on bottom rack and run a hot wash. 

Or you can add 1/2 cup of vinegar into the reservoir and run an empty dishwasher. Next, sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda on the dishwasher floor and run the dishwasher a second time on high heat. Finish by running the washer with a regular dishwasher cleaner.  

Hazard: E. coli in your laundry

Brace youself: dirty laundry can contain disease-causing bacteria like E.Coli, MRSA and influenza that can transfer to your skin. E. colin is found in about 30 percent of washing machines in the U.S. and the germs can survive a cold water wash. 

Safety Solution: To get germs out of the wash, make sure the water is 140 degrees (most machines' hot settings reach that). But to test the water, pause it during the wash cycle and stick a thermometer in the water. 

For whites, use bleach. It destroys 99.9 percent of pathogens vs. the 92 percent that regular detergent cleans. 

For everything else, use color-safe bleach, which is less potent than bleach, but has other antimicrobial benefits. Always try to dry things with a high heat for 45 minutes. 

A load of underwear contains about 1,000,000 fecal bacteria. It's a good idea to run an empty load with bleach after you wash underwear or other undergarments. Or do this once a week if you have a family because little kids are the worst in terms of germs in their clothing.  

Or there are  cleaners that you can throw in and run an empty load. 

Hazard: Airborne allergies in your bedroom 

Mattresses and pillows are often filled with dust mites-microscopic organisms that feed on human skin. Not only are dust mites gross, but they can be bad for some people too because it's possible to be allergic to dust mite droppings, as well as the decaying bodies of dust mites. 

Safety Solution: Protect your pillow, mattress, and box spring with protective dust-mite covers. Make sure the cover protectors you buy say "breathable" on the label. 

It's also a good idea to throw your pillows (if they fit) and duvet into the dryer on the high setting for 15 minutes every two weeks. This is enough time and heat to kill the dust mites. Also, try to vacuum the carpet or floor in your bedroom once a week using a vacuum with a HEPA-filter. This gets rid of dust, dirt, and dander. A HEPA filter is key, because otherwise you're just creating more dust and recirculating it all over the place. 

Bathroom Hazard 1: Slippery shower in your bathroom

Bathtub and shower floors cause slips, falls, and accidents when they're wet and dry because they're made or polished to be shiny and slippery. Every year more than 200,000 people over the age of 15 visit the ER because of nonfatal bathroom injuries, and 14 percent are hospitalized. Eighty-one percent of the injuries are due to falls, and 68 percent of the injuries occur in the bathtub or shower. 

Injuries peak in general after age 85, but injuries around the bathtub/shower are proportionally most common among people ages 15 to 24. Falls in the shower or bathtub are a common cause of injury and can also cause death. 

Safety Solution: Put a bath mat directly on the surface of your bathtub. Look for one that is non-slip with rubber backings. Add non-skid decals to your shower or bath-tub floor if you don't to use a mat. This will prevent slips and falls.

Bathroom Hazard 2: Expired makeup and medicine 

Contrary to its name, the medicine cabinet is not where you should keep prescription or OTC drugs. The heat and humidity can make them less potent and effective. Cosmetics, lotions and other grooming products have a life span so keep track of purchase dates. 

If they last beyond the purchase date, they can break down and may become contaminated, increasing your risk of infection. 

Safety Solution: Store meds in a cool, dry place such as a linen closet or a locked nightstand drawer where they will be safe from kids. Always scan the dates and toss old and expired medicine which can be less potent or dangerous when expired. When it comes to cosmetics and grooming products, throw out and replace liquids and lotions (such as foundation and lotion) after 3-6 months and powder-based products after two years. 

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