Hygienic home finishes are surging in popularity thanks to COVID-19. From light switches to doorknobs to flooring, these products can help make your home safer and cleaner.

By Kristina McGuirk
October 28, 2020
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Perhaps more than ever, cleaning and the spread of germs are top of mind for homeowners as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Appropriately, hands-free and voice-activated products have boomed. In fact, a recent survey by Kohler found that 85% of Americans, mainly influenced by concerns about COVID-19, are more interested than ever before in automated and touchless bathroom products. These once futuristic items are bringing both convenience and peace of mind to homeowners.

Simultaneously, awareness is growing around naturally antibacterial materials, engineered antimicrobial products, and the hygienic benefits of low-maintenance surfaces. A recent survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) shows growing popularity of low-maintenance materials as well as smart home technologies. Here's how to incorporate these fuss-free materials and products into your home to make every room cleaner and easier to care for.

Credit: John Granen

Prevent the Spread of Germs in Mudrooms and Entryways

Washing your hands as soon as you get home has become routine. But before you get to the sink, you’re likely opening doors and turning on lights. Switch out interior and exterior door handles and locks with products that incorporate Microban to inhibit the growth of bacteria. These surfaces are less likely to retain germs.

Similar products are also available for lights. Leviton offers antimicrobial light switches and wall plates to help fight germs as soon as you come in the door. Or totally avoid touching grimy surfaces in your mudroom or entryway with a simple wave of the hand over a motion-activated fixture that fits standard electrical boxes.

Ideas for Touchless Kitchen Fixtures and Finishes

As the hub of the home, the kitchen requires regular cleaning to stay hygienic. Luckily, a wide variety of products and materials have been developed to assist with the cleanliness of the kitchen’s multitude of touch-points.

Kitchen Countertop Materials

Countertops are probably the hardest working kitchen surface, and there are a number of hygiene-conscious options. Look for antimicrobial additives in some countertop materials, like Wilsonart laminates. Jamie Gold, a wellness design consultant, recommends materials that are inherently antimicrobial, meaning their natural properties fight bacteria. “This means there aren’t chemicals added to them that might fade over time or create unforeseen issues,” she says.

In her book Wellness by Design, Gold sings the praises of stainless steel. “You don’t have to worry about food-borne contaminants seeping into its surface, and it is extremely low-maintenance and heat-resistant,” she writes. Bacteria resistant, stainless steel can be cleaned and disinfected with just soap and water. Gold also recommends unsealed copper, which is naturally antibacterial. Although uncommon for an entire kitchen, she recommends it for an island countertop or prep area. You can also take advantage of the natural characteristics of copper and stainless steel with a sink, backsplash, or cabinet hardware.

Many engineered surfaces, like quartz, are non-porous and therefore less susceptible to fostering bacteria unlike popular natural materials like stone. These materials typically can be fabricated for all major kitchen surfaces, including countertops, backsplashes, walls and flooring for total room protection.

Kitchen Flooring Materials

While they might not be a work surface, floors can foster germs and bacteria from spills and crumbs. Linoleum is a common kitchen flooring that is inherently antimicrobial and hypoallergenic. “I like linoleum tiles for kitchens because they’re soft underfoot, low maintenance and durable,” Gold says. You can protect existing flooring with easy-to-clean non-slip floor mats that resist stain-causing bacteria, mold and mildew.

Touchless Kitchen Fixtures

There is also a wide selection of hands-free fixtures and accessories. Touchless light switches can also help prevent contamination in the kitchen. Garbage cans have progressed from foot-pedal openers to motion- and voice-activated receptacles convenient for general cleanup as well as stopping the spread of germs.

Residential faucets have gone the same route. You might be familiar with motion-activated faucets, but now you can find voice-activated models, too. Integrated with smart home systems like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, Kohler Konnect faucets with voice-activated technology can even provide guided hand-washing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.

Credit: Dane Tashima

Hygienic Bathroom Products to Try

When it comes to surfaces like floors and walls, many of the same hard, non-porous, engineered materials used in kitchens are also great for bathrooms. Dekton Slim is a new, thin, easy-clean surfacing material that can be installed over backsplashes and used for cladding shower walls and cabinetry doors for durable bacteria resistance without a complete renovation.

Touchless bathroom products are also smart upgrades. Look for quick additions like light switches, touchless bathroom faucets and motion-activated soap dispensers. You can even convert a traditional toilet to a motion-activated flush. More substantial fixture upgrades include self-cleaning toilets, auto-open and auto-flush toilets and bidets, and voice-activated, touch-screen, and app-controlled shower systems. In addition, antimicrobial additives in products like shower curtains, door handles, and porcelain wall and floor tiles add extra protection to some of your bathroom's most-touched surfaces.

Credit: David A Land

Hygienic Finishes and Furnishing for Living Rooms and Bedrooms

In shared spaces, especially ones with active little hands and pet paws, you might be thinking about how to clean walls. Choosing the right paint finish will make cleaning easier, but it won’t necessarily protect against germs. Sherwin-Williams' microbicidal paint is an interior latex paint intended for frequently touched walls, trim and doors. It actively fights germs and bacteria for up to four years with proper care and stands up well to cleaning. Although not antimicrobial, York’s high-performance line of residential vinyl wallpapers are scrubbable and can even withstand cleaning with bleach.

Smart tech extends to living spaces, too. Consider WiFi-enabled wall plugins if you don’t already have a smart home system in place. These quick additions let you program lights to come on when it’s dark outside to prevent touching walls and switches. Plus, it means you don’t have to leave bed to make sure all the lights are off in the rest of the house.

For bedrooms, consider bedding with antimicrobial additives from brands like Truly Calm and Miracle Brand. Even in non-pandemic times, these work to combat odor- and acne-causing bacteria.

Add Germ-Free Surfaces to Home Offices

Accommodating work and school, home workspaces are busier than ever before. Whether a purpose-built room or a repurposed space, home offices benefit from the same bacteria-fighting wall treatments and touchless lighting solutions as the rest of the home.

Cork might conjure images of classroom pinboards, but it can make a more comfortable and hygienic workspace, too. Gold says she likes cork flooring because the naturally antimicrobial material is soft underfoot, making it ideal for a standing desk. Look for stylish germ-fighting accessories made from cork, including desk mats, supply holders and tray organizers. Because desktops are shockingly dirty, engineered antimicrobial products like keyboards and desktop protectors can also be used to help keep germs in check.

Tips for Purchasing Antimicrobial Products

The surge of wellness-focused products can be overwhelming. When considering if something fits your home decor and lifestyle, also look at the health claims. “I think people really need to research the science for these claims before bringing something home," says Gold. "There’s a trend toward 'well-washing' that presents products as wellness-enhancing when the claims may be unproven at best, unhealthy or dangerous at worst."  It’s also important to remember that most antimicrobial products do not protect against COVID-19 directly—they fight germs and bacteria, generally, to help maintain clean surfaces needed to disinfect against the coronavirus.

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