I am a bit of a germaphobe. I try to keep from getting too carried away, but I could easily become obsessed with germs. I am able to function in society – I can shake hands and touch door handles, but it does cross my mind that I am probably coming into contact with all sorts of germs.
While wintertime is typically considered the cold and flu season, germs are lurking around us all year long.
You may expect to be in contact with germs when you’re out in public, but you might be surprised to learn that your home can be harboring germs in surprising places.
The germiest places in public:
Public Rest Rooms
Toilet seats are not as germy as you might think. You are more likely to get germs in a public bathroom when you touch door handles, faucets and from flushing water. The germs actually become airborne and more contagious when the toilet is flushed.
Schools and Day Cares
When many kids are together in one place, the germs will spread. Kids also touch everything they come into contact with throughout the day, making it easy to transfer germs from one person to another.
ATMs and Gas Pumps
A study found that 41% of ATM keypads and 71% of gas pump handles were highly contaminated with germs. If you keep gloves in your car, you may want to use them when touching these machines.
The more closely people are packed together, the more likely they will spread germs. You can’t get much closer than you do on subways, trains, buses and airplanes. Even in taxis, multiple people are touching inside surfaces all day long.
Door handles in high traffic areas can also be a breeding ground for germs. They provide enough surface area for germs to stick around and are touched by many people so that they can house all sorts of pathogens.
We all know that shopping carts are covered in germs and other pathogens. You may be surprised to learn that 72% of shopping carts also have coliform bacteria, which suggests that fecal material may be present. Children sitting in the front of the cart may be one of the reasons for the high germ count.
I once asked my kids’ physician if she used different rooms for wellness visits versus sick visits. The answer was, “No.” So, when I brought in my dehydrated son – who had thrown up on the way to the doctor’s office – you could have been in the room right after us. I asked if they ever disinfect the rooms, and I didn’t really get an answer. Even the doctor’s stethoscope may be carrying germs. Research shows you may also want to avoid the magazines in the waiting room as well. They can house germs for over three days.
The germiest places at home:
Your toilet bowl may actually be cleaner than your kitchen sink. We rinse our sinks with water and assume the are clean. However, food particles from rinsed dishes or dishes that sit in the sink can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli. You can also get these germs on your hands and spread them to food. You should sanitize your sink with bleach and water once a day.
Your cell phone may contain more than ten times the amount of bacteria as the average toilet seat. You handle your phone all day long. You may also set it down in all sorts of places. Hardly anyone cleans their cell phone which makes it that much more germy.
If you rinse it off and put it away wet, bacteria is most likely growing on your toothbrush. As we mentioned earlier, flushing a toilet can spread a spray of bacteria through the air. Store your toothbrush where it can dry out between uses, but not too close to the toilet. You should also replace your toothbrush more often than what you probably do.
Salt and Pepper Shaker
Researchers studied adults who were beginning to show the signs of a cold. They tested common household items and found that every one of the salt and pepper shakers they tested in people’s homes contained cold viruses.
Pillow Case and Sheets
Your pillow case is home to dust mites, bacteria and mold. If you go to bed with wet hair or sweat at night, it makes it worse. The longer you go without washing your pillowcase and the older your pillow, the worse it can be. You should wash your pillow case and sheets at least every week.
Computer Keyboard and Mouse
Your keyboard and mouse can harbor germs, especially if multiple people come into contact with it on a regular basis. The best way to clean it is to wipe it using a cloth that is slightly damp with sterile water. You can also shake out the keyboard to get rid of debris between the keys, or use compressed air.
Bottom of Shoes
Your shoes may contact as many as 66 million organisms on the bottom of them. These organisms and bacteria can lead to infections. To minimize these pathogens, always take off your shoes at the door.
Everyone in the house is touching it. It gets sneezed on, coughed on, dropped on the floor and shoved in the couch cushions. Researchers found that half of the remotes they tested showed positive results for cold viruses.
Even though you clean yourself in the tub, your tub may not be all that clean. In a study, 26% of the bathtubs tested had staphylococcus bacteria. You should clean and disinfect your bathtub with bleach or bathroom cleaner after bathing and dry it with a towel.
I often carry a reusable plastic bottle with me and refill it throughout the day. Coliform bacteria (responsible for E. coli) can grow on the inside of these plastic bottles if they aren’t cleaned carefully. Go with a wide-mouthed bottle that is easier to clean and dry. In addition to regular washing, soak the bottle with a bleach solution for two minutes once a week.
Reusing a damp bath towel to dry off can actually be getting you dirty again. When you dry off, you take off dead skin cells and bacteria along with the water. You can minimize the germ risks if you change out the towels at least once a week and allow them to dry completely between uses.
Makeup and Brushes
Cosmetics can also house germs and bacteria. A study found that within three months of using a tube of mascara, 40% of them have pathogens growing in them. It’s a good idea to replace eye makeup every season (or three months) and throw out lotions and foundations every six months.
The best defense against germs is still washing your hands regularly. Your hands transfer bacteria and viruses to your eyes, nose and mouth. Your hands also transfer germs to other surfaces and people.
After writing this list of the germiest places, I may have to start wearing gloves and carrying hand wipes!