It's that time of year again -- cold & flu season... In case you've missed the news, the CDC has predicted that the flu season is going to spike in February this year, which is actually later than usual. So now is the time to really start being diligent about preventing these nasty viruses from making their way into your homes (if you aren't already).
My kids might call me a little OCD, but we've done the whole passing a virus around multiple times before finally kicking it one too many times in the past. I'm all about prevention these days, but I'm not all about using harsh chemicals to do so. We use a number of common sense tactics and a few easy natural tricks to stay ahead of the cold & flu season, and they've been remarkably effective, even with our larger than average household.
Natural Cold & Flu Prevention Strategies
Want to save money and take control of your health this cold and flu season? Getting back to basics with these tips will give you a strong starting point.
1. Exercise regularly. Studies show that staying active can cut the risk of contracting a cold by 50%. And if you do come down with the sniffles? Typically the severity of your symptoms is far less.
It's well know that exercise is very effective at improving your immune system, so treating exercise like a prescription is great motivation to squeeze in a daily workout. Need a little more help getting motivated? Check out these tips and get moving!
2. Get enough sleep. Daily fatigue takes its toll on our bodies in a number of ways, not the least of which is an impaired ability to fight off an attacking virus. So many of us are fanatical about ensuring that our kids get enough rest every night, but we're not so zealous about our own bedtimes.
Believe me -- it's a daily struggle for me, as well. I'm naturally a night owl, but I've slowly been trying to reset my internal clock towards an earlier bedtime. Diffusing lavender essential oil at bedtime has been an effective way to indicate to my body that it's time to wind down for the night, and I really feel like I sleep more deeply when using it.
3. Take a vitamin D supplement. Are you surprised that I said vitamin D and not vitamin C? It turns out that vitamin C provides little to no extra protection against contracting cold and flu. But vitamin D, on the other hand, has been shown to contain an effective antimicrobial agent capable of killing bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Vitamin D is not naturally present in many foods. Our biggest source is through natural exposure to sunlight, but during the gray gloomy days of winter, we're probably not producing an optimal supply, so adding a supplement to your daily vitamin regimen could help ward off cold and flu viruses.
4. Encourage frequent hand washing. A no brainer, yes, but washing your hands well and often is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of cold and flu. And skip the antibacterial hand soap! It's completely ineffective against these viruses. A good scrub down with a gentle non-toxic hand soap is sufficient.
By the way, it's estimated that up to 95% of American don't wash their hands properly. It takes 15 seconds of scrubbing with soap to wipe out germs.
5. Disinfect your home naturally. For years I disinfected my home with this simple homemade Clorox Anywhere recipe. (I can hardly believe I wrote that post almost 8 years ago!) But as I've learned about the power of essential oils and turned to using more homemade cleaning products over the past few years, I've discovered a disinfecting solution that I love even more...
It starts with, wait for it... VODKA! In fact, I use vodka over vinegar in many of my homemade cleaners, because it's virtually odorless, while still having effective disinfectant properties, and it's actually very inexpensive. You don't need top-shelf vodka -- I picked up the BIG 1.75-liter bottle of Orloff vodka pictured above at Walmart for just $6.99!
Homemade Disinfectant Spray Ingredients
- 1 part vodka
- 1 part distilled water
- essential oils
- glass spray bottle
Note that I do recommend using a dark glass spray bottle if at all possible. I know that clear spray bottles are so much more aesthetically pleasing, but some essential oils are sensitive to light, so I always err on the side of caution.
Disinfecting Essential Oil Combinations
Vodka and water are pretty good at disinfecting on their own, but a pleasantly-scented disinfectant is more apt to be used in my household, so I add some various essential oils to the mixture for both aroma and added disinfecting properties.
- peppermint + tea tree
- lemongrass + lavender
- lavender + rosemary
- geranium + lime
- grapefruit + lemon + lavender
- tea tree + orange
While all of these essential oils have natural disinfecting properties, tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca alternifolia) is especially high in antifungal and antiseptic properties. Because of this, I chose to use it in my homemade cold and flu season disinfectant. However, it does have a strong medicinal scent, so I actually paired it with two other oils -- peppermint and orange.
How To Make Homemade Disinfectant Spray
Making your own homemade disinfectant is really super simple. I don't even measure -- I just eyeball everything. Fill your glass spray bottle halfway with the distilled water, and then fill it the rest of the way with the vodka. Then add your favorite essential oils until you're pleased with the scent. As I mentioned, I used tea tree, orange and peppermint, about 15 drops of each, but you may need to use more or less depending on the size of your spray bottle and the oils that you choose.
Now screw the spray nozzle onto the bottle, give it a shake and you're ready to disinfect! Spray the mixture liberally on any surface that needs disinfecting -- sink handles, door handles, and countertops are all good places to start. The spray should evaporate fairly quickly on its own, so there's really no need to wipe the surface dry after applying.
So you've diligently used the strategies above and still came down with a nasty cold or the flu? Well, to be honest, it happens -- no preventative strategy is a hundred percent. Make yourself a big batch of homemade chicken soup, add some fresh ginger to your favorite juice, and drink plenty of hot tea with honey, while taking comfort in knowing your symptoms are probably less severe because you've been exercising regularly, ahem.