Have you ever “washed” your hands by just rubbing them together under running water for a few seconds? Try this experiment to compare different hand-washing methods and see which is most effective at getting rid of germs! (Note: This experiment takes more than a week to complete.)
When you are done looking at the potatoes, have an adult pour a small amount of bleach into each bag, seal the bags, and then throw them away. (This is to kill all of the germs on the potato slices so that they can’t continue to grow after you throw them away.)
Do you see black, green, or white fuzzy spots on your potato slices? These are germs, called mold or bacteria, growing on the slices. While individual germs are too tiny to see without a microscope, now there are so many germs clumped together that you can see them with your naked eyes! The potato piece that you rubbed on your unwashed hands probably has the most growth on it. The “control” potato slice probably has the least amount of bacteria growing on it, because it didn't touch anything that had germs. That potato piece is important because it lets you see how many germs already existed on the potato. The other potato slices probably had just as many germs on them from the start, but once they touched other things, they picked up more germs and the germs began to grow more than the germs on the first potato. Compare the potato pieces that you touched after rinsing your hands just with water and after washing well with soap and water. Which one has more growth on it? Do you think that washing your hands well with soap and water is better at getting rid of germs than just rinsing or washing quickly?
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What Are Germs?
Germs are microscopic organisms (or living things) that can make you sick. Microscopic means they are so small that you can't see them unless you use a high-powered microscope. There are different kinds of germs, but the most common are bacteria (say back-TEER-ee-ya) and viruses (say VY-ruhs-iz).
Bacteria are tiny living creatures made of only one cell. They live just about everywhere and get their food from the environment they live in. Here’s an example: bad bacteria in your mouth like to eat the sugar that sticks to your teeth and can cause bad breath and even gum disease. Brushing your teeth helps prevent them.
Viruses are a little different. They survive by living inside the cells of a living thing such as a person, plant, or animal, called a host. Viruses can live for a short time on surfaces, such as a doorknob or faucet. They can quickly spread through the body and make the “host” sick. The flu, cold sores, and chicken pox are all caused by viruses.
Helpful Germs & Antibiotics
While it is easy to think that all germs are bad, most germs do not harm you at all and some are even good for you! For example, your stomach contains good bacteria that help you digest your food and produce vitamins to keep you healthy. Some germs are actually grown to be used as medicine to fight other germs. Penicillin is a common medicine that comes from a type of mold and kills many harmful types of bacteria. This is known as an antibiotic.
Some foods and other things we have around our homes have special antiseptic or disinfectant properties, meaning they can help prevent germs from growing and spreading! Soaps and cleaners that are disinfectant are used for cleaning surfaces of nonliving things, like your floors or countertops, while antiseptics can be used to keep cuts and scrapes on your skin clean and prevent germs from growing in wounds. Remember that antiseptics and disinfectants are not the same as antibiotics.
Being a good hand washer is the best way to protect yourself from getting sick as well as preventing spreading your germs to others! Make sure to scrub in between your fingers and underneath your nails. Can you think of some times when you should wash your hands? Here are a few:
Another good way to fight bad germs is to take proper care of your body. Eat lots of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods provide essential vitamins and minerals to help strengthen your body’s immune system (internal defense system), giving you a better chance to fight off germs that could make you sick. Getting exercise and plenty of sleep also helps support your immune system.
Germs are easily transferred to surfaces such as toys, doorknobs, faucets, and counters from normal daily activities. Wiping things down can help stop germs from being spread to others, especially when you or someone else in your family is sick!
Bacteria - small, single cell organisms that live almost everywhere. Some are harmful, but most are harmless and even helpful.
Viruses - small disease-causing agent that lives inside the cells of larger organisms, such as plants, animals, and humans.
Antibiotic -a medicine that attacks bad bacteria to prevent illnesses.
Natural Antiseptics and Disinfectants
Here is a list of fairly common items that are naturally antiseptic or disinfectant. You may even be able to find a few of them around your home!
How to Clean Mold & Mildew
Vinegar & Hydrogen Peroxide
Try it: Do you have any pink or black spots in the corners of your bathtub or bathroom? Try spraying the area first with vinegar and then with hydrogen peroxide (don’t rinse the vinegar off in between!). This should kill mold and mildew! You can wipe or rinse the area clean after letting it sit for a few minutes.
Tea Tree Oil (also called Melaleuca Oil) – tea tree oil comes from the leaves of melaleuca trees, which grow in Australia. Try it: mix 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil with 1 cup of water in a small spray bottle. Spray on a mold or mildew spot in your bathtub or shower and don’t rinse it away. It should kill the mold or mildew (but the strong smell of tea tree might remain for a few days!).