You may be surprised.
When you think about dirty places in your house, your mind inevitably jumps to the bathroom. But, amazingly, there are many places much more germ-ridden in your home. There are places that we don’t even think about cleaning, so as a result becomes a breeding ground for germs and bacteria.
The public health and safety organization, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), managed a lengthy survey that exposed the messy truth about the actual cleanliness of your home, and some of the dirtiest spots might just astonish you.
Let’s take a look at your home and shed some light on hidden dirt and bacteria and how to get rid of them.
Dirty Places: The Kitchen Sink
If you dropped a piece of fruit in your kitchen sink while rinsing it, would you think twice about popping it into your mouth? What if you dropped it into the toilet?
Although the mere thought of salvaging something from your toilet bowl may be enough to make you ill, your toilet just might be cleaner than your kitchen sink, says Eileen Abruzzo, director of infection control at Long Island College Hospital of Brooklyn.
Charles Gerba, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona, tells us, “There’s more fecal matter in your kitchen sink than there is in a toilet after you flush it. That’s why your dog drinks out of the toilet. He’s smarter than you think.”
(Dr. Garba is known as “Dr. Germ” for his abundant testing for germs on nearly every surface humankind might have occasion touch. His work is often commissioned by cleaning supply manufacturers to verify if their product works as advertised.)
Although most of us endure the necessary steps to sanitize our toilet bowls, few give our kitchen sink the same regard, Abruzzo tells WebMD. “They rinse their sinks with water and assume they are clean, but they’re not.”
Truth is, food crumbs from plates left to soak or rinsed from dishes on their way to the dishwasher can function as a breeding ground for illness-causing bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. They can also climb aboard your hands or spread to foods.
Quick fix: To thoroughly clean your sink and check the spread of bacteria, Abruzzo advises washing it with a solution of bleach and water once a day and then allowing the solution to run down the drain. Keep in mind to remove the drain plug and clean it, too, she says. Then wash your hands.
Dirty Places: Kitchen Countertops
The kitchen is one of the busiest rooms in most homes and also the dirtiest! All the elements that encourage bacteria to grow – heat, moisture, and food – are readily available.
Think about all the things you drop on your kitchen counter: raw meat, unwashed produce, grocery bags, even your handbag – the bottom of which is loaded with germs. According to research findings, countertops included coliform bacteria in 30 percent of tested homes.
Bear in mind that while we use cutting boards to cut our meats, vegetables, and fruits, it’s still possible to transfer bacteria.
While we’re here, what about that cutting board? “Recent surveys found more fecal matter on a cutting board in the average home than a toilet seat,” said Dr. Gerba, with a chuckle. “It’s actually safer to make your sandwich on a toilet seat than a cutting board.”
Quick fix: Spray countertops with a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water and wipe with a soft cloth. If you have a specific countertop made of marble, granite, or another specialty material, apply the manufacturer’s suggested cleaning agent. Gerba recommends scrubbing cutting boards with bleach, which he says kitchen cleaning products include for that purpose.
Dirty Places: Dishwashers, Washing Machines, and Refrigerator Door Seals
Any time you combine water and soap, such as in your dishwasher or washing machine, the build-up is going to take place. Soap and water mix and get jammed in the seals and produce a gunk build-up. In the fridge, seals will get dirty when food and drinks get trapped in them.
Quick fix: Use a combination of warm water, mild soap, and a cleaning cloth to clean these seals. You might also want to try an old toothbrush or soft-bristled grout brush to get into all the nooks and crannies.
Dirty Places: Sponges
Considering that you use the kitchen sponge or rag to do any wiping of the sink, surrounding countertops, and cutting boards, it should come as a little surprise that they win the prize as the germiest items in your home, according to Dr. Gerba. “I’ve collected sponges from several hundred homes and found salmonella on 15 percent of them. So yeah, I’m paranoid about them,” he said.
Want more proof? A 2017 study found 362 different species of bacteria living in used kitchen sponges. Bad news: Microwaving them didn’t help. Nor did boiling the sponge or putting it in the dishwasher. The bacteria just grew right back.
Quick fix: Replace your household sponges frequently.
Dirty Places: Your Bathtub and Shower
The locale where you wash yourself is not very clean itself. A recent study discovered staphylococcus bacteria in 25% of the bathtubs tested. Another study found even ghastlier results in whirlpool tubs. When Texas A&M’s Rita Moyes, Ph.D., tested 43 water samples from whirlpools, she observed that all 43 had slight to hazardous bacterial growth.
According to Moyes, the chief cause that whirlpool tubs are so dirty has to do with the lining of the pipes, not the tub. Water manages to get stuck in the pipes, leading to a breeding ground for germs and mold. When you switch on the jets, the germy water gushes into the tub where you’re bathing.
We all appreciate a lovely shower to wash away the day. However, this habit results in soap scum, water stains, hairs, and dirt, plus rust and grime over time. Moreover, every time you shower, you’re redistributing that filth and bacteria on everything that comes into contact with the grimy surface.
Quick fix: Experts endorse cleaning and sanitizing your tub and shower with bleach or bathroom cleaner after bathing, then dry with a clean towel. For whirlpool tubs, the safest method to block bacteria from gathering is to clean out the pipes.
Dirty Places: Your Toothbrush
You put it in your mouth twice a day, but do you ever think of all the germs lying in wait on it? “You rinse it off after using it and put it away damp,” says Abruzzo. “Bacteria like the moist area and grow on it.”
If the germs from your mouth weren’t enough to sully your toothbrush, the germs from your toilet undoubtedly are. Research at the University of Arizona several years back observed that flushing the toilet propels a spray of bacteria and virus-contaminated water droplets into the air. These germs, the research discovered, can float about the bathroom a minimum of two hours after each flush prior to settling on surfaces such as your toothbrush!
Want more statistics. One of the grossest studies (non-commissioned) was on how far bacteria spread when you flush with the lid up. It’s at least 6 feet. Really!
Quick fix: Abruzzo advises locating your toothbrush where it can air out and replace it frequently, particularly if you’ve been ill.
Dirty Places: Your TV Remote Control
That universal remote that powers your TV, sound system, and gaming station sure is handy, but it sure is filthy, too.
Let’s face it. Human hands in all states of cleanliness handle it. It’s dropped on the floor, stuffed between sofa cushions, coughed, and sneezed on. Yet, it’s rarely wiped clean, even after a sick day spent channel-flipping.
In fact, a University of Virginia study of cold viruses on household surfaces showed the remote control’s surface is among the germiest. Researchers found that half of the remote controls tested were positive for cold viruses.
Quick fix: Use a disinfectant wipe to clean remotes often. To get in between the buttons, try a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Dirty Places: Your Computer Keyboard
If you eat at your computer, sneeze on your keyboard or sit down to surf the Internet without washing your hands beforehand, your computer keyboard may well be a health threat. In a recent study by a British consumer group, scientists swabbed keyboards for germs and uncovered a swarm of potentially dangerous bacteria, consisting of E. coli and staph. Four of 33 sampled keyboards had an adequate number of germs to be deemed health risks. One had levels of germs five times higher than that observed on a toilet seat.
Quick fix: Wash your hands both prior to and after using a computer. To clean your keyboard, lightly shake out the crumbs or vacuum it. You can also wipe the keys with alcohol or bleach wipes but nothing too wet. While you’re at it, don’t forget the mouse.
Dirty Places: Knobs, Handles, and Switches
Human hands are the offender here, touching and leaving behind dirt and germs on most anything, including doorknobs, light switches, faucet handles, refrigerator door handles, microwave handles, stove knobs, toilet flush handles, and the like. These small objects are simply ignored when cleaning, as most of us are more apt to concentrate on larger surfaces such as floors, countertops, and furniture. Nevertheless, as an example, in the NSF’s report, 14 percent of refrigerator door handles tested positive for staph.
Quick fix: The fastest and simplest way to go through your home and clean and sanitize all of these small items is to seize a box of disinfecting wipes, rubber gloves, and a plastic grocery bag. Wipe all these items down and throw the used wipes in the bag and dispose of them.
Dirty Places: Carpets
Environmental biologist Kelly Reynolds points out there could be as many as 200,000 bacteria per square inch in a family room carpet after he isolated salmonella, E. coli, and MRSA in carpet fibers.
Carpets insnare skin cells, food particles, pollen, and pet dander, producing a germ utopia. Walking and other movements executed on the rug carry it all closer to the surface.
Quick Fix: Weekly vacuuming with the beater brush turned on aids in removing dirt and germs from carpet fibers. To help sanitize carpets, use an antibacterial spray. A yearly professional deep steam cleaning is also suggested.
Dirty Places: Pets and Pet Toys
Perhaps no one tracks bacteria into our homes greater than our pets. Of course, your pets warrant pleasant clean food and water bowls. However, their food and water bowls placed high amid the germiest household items.
Not far back were pet toys. They will not only provide lodgings for coliform bacteria, but they will also give refuge to yeast, mold, and staph bacteria, none of which are beneficial for you or your pet’s health.
Quick fix: Pet bowls should be cleaned daily. Sanitize toys made of rubber or plastic with hot water and a dish soap every few weeks. Toys of fabric can be tossed into the washing machine.
Practical Things to Keep in Mind
Don’t stress too much on keeping every square inch of your home sanitized – it’s not realistic and, furthermore, the body’s immune system is devised to manage a reasonable quantity of everyday germs.
Chiefly focus on those spaces where bacteria prosper. Also, frequent hand washing (how many times have we heard that this past year?) and repeated cleaning of food preparation areas could significantly lessen the threat of illness.