Being a Germaphobe Can Hurt Your Wallet

eHow Money Blog

No one wants a bunch of cold and flu germs hanging around. But a quest for winning the cleanest house on the block away, or teetering on the brink of germaphobia, could leave your budget feeling a little sick.

Personal toiletry products and household cleaning items fly off store shelves during cold and flu season (they’re pretty popular the rest of the year, too). In fact, Americans’ fear of germs has led to a lot of us tossing an excess of over-priced cleaners into our grocery carts no matter their impact on our budget’s bottom line.

Here’s how cleanliness can equal a cash crunch.

You overspend on soap. Washing your hands with soap and warm water is widely believed to be one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of cold and flu germs. And while no one is denying that’s a good idea (I admit, I’m a bit obsessive if someone sneezes around me), what you use to lather doesn’t have to break the bank.

In 2012, sales of soap, bath, and shower products soared to $5 billion, up 25 percent since 2007. Then there’s the $7 billion-a-year shampoo industry.  A large portion of all those sales are attributed to anti-bacterial soaps; about 75 percent of soaps on the shelves bear that moniker. Pricey designer and luxury options also adorn store shelves.

Don’t fall victim to luxury brands, splashy ads, or more expensive soaps claiming to be ‘antibacterial.’ The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say antibacterial soaps are not necessary. That’s largely because in order to be effective, they need to remain on the skin for at least two minutes. And since few of us hang out at the bathroom sink with an egg timer, buying into antibacterial soap is a waste.

You don’t leave home without hand sanitizer. In 2012, sales of Purell soared, increasing 8 percent from 2011. But studies show hand sanitizer isn’t effective against some of the very germs we’re the most worried about. A CDC study suggests that you might be six times more likely to develop norovirus (the stomach flu) using alcohol-based sanitizers than simply lathering up with soap and water.

The CDC also says some hand sanitizers can actually raise the amount of bacteria on your hands. So the $175 million spent on hand sanitizers last year might have been better spent on suds.

You’ve got a passion to purify. Looking to rid allergens, pet dander, or smoke from your air? Don’t waste your money on an air purifier. Gaseous pollutants like smoke are too small for most air purifiers to trap. So while they may get rid of a smoky smell, they don’t offer your lungs protection from the harmful effects of breathing in second- or third-hand smoke, says Ramzy Rimawi, MD, professor, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Air purifiers aren’t helpful when fighting pet dander or pollen either. Rimawi says both are too heavy to remain airborne for very long and tend to settle on the floor, tables, and other surfaces, instead of being sucked in by a purifier.

You’re obsessed with name brand cleaners. Sales of household cleaning products tallied $4.7 billion in 2012. But a cheaper way to get your home sparkly clean is making your own cleaner with diluted household bleach and water.

Not only is this an easy way to disinfect on a dime — one gallon of generic brand bleach costs less than $2 — it’s an easy way to kill bacteria and effectively clean. The Centers for Disease Control says one cup of ordinary laundry bleach mixed with one gallon of water cleans mold in the tub, shower, etc., while 1½ tsp of bleach mixed with one gallon of water disinfects pet toys, kitchen counters, and the like.

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