We tend to fret about the germs that are lying in wait on our toilet seats, but truth be told families are at a greater risk to a lot of other household items that are generally considered sanitary. The reason being is that most people scrub down their toilets any chance they get because we have become so obsessed with keeping that part of our house especially germ-free. On the other hand, items that we use every day such as keyboards, video game controllers, and cell phones rarely get the cleaning attention they deserve. Let’s take a look at some seemingly “clean” household items that are actually home to more germs than your toilet seat:
It would only make sense that the thing we use to clean the germs off of other household items would be a major carrier of bacteria. Many experts consider sponges to be the No. 1 source of germs in the entire house. The average sponge can carry upward of 10 million bacteria per square inch, around a quarter of a million times more than your average toilet seat. This major kitchen hygiene problem is exacerbated by the fact that most people will wait weeks before switching out their sponge. When’s the last time you switched up your sponge? If you do find yourself having to use a sponge that you fear may be carrying a host of germs, throw it in the microwave to zap away some of its bacteria, but it won’t work on all.
2. Kitchen Sinks
While most of us consider our bathrooms to be the area of our house hiding the most germs, it’s actually our kitchens we should be worrying about. Similar to sponges, kitchen sinks are home to more germs than any other area of a bathroom, including the toilet seat. Results of the 2011 NSF International Household Germ Study revealed that 45 percent of kitchen sinks are home to Coliform bacteria, including Salmonella and E.coli. This family of bacteria was also found on 32 percent of kitchen counter tops and 18 percent of cutting boards.
3. Video Game/TV Controlers
Combine teenagers who forget to wash their hands every once in a while with the fact that the majority of their time will be spent either playing video games or watching TV, and you have a recipe for disaster. Researchers from UNICEF and Unilever combined efforts to compare the cleanliness of an average household’s TV remote and video game controler against a toilet seat. While TV remotes carried an average of 1,600 bacteria per 100 square centimeters and video game controlers 7,863 per 100 square centimeters, toilet seats are home to an average of 1,600 bacteria per 100 square centimeters.
4. Bottom of a Woman’s Purse
Women have no problem putting their handbags on the floors of public transportation, bathrooms, or other germ laden surfaces, but would you want to touch those areas with your bare hands? Although they may not realize it, women transport a great deal of germs and bacteria onto kitchen tables and countertops via their purses. Researchers from one of the UK’s leading hygiene and washroom services companies, Initial Washroom Hygiene, conducted a swab analysis revealing that one out of every five handbags was carrying dangerously high levels of bacteria-related contamination. Due to cross-contamination risks, many of the items found in a handbag such as face or hand cream, lipstick, and mascara were also home to germs and bacteria.
“Handbags come into regular contact with our hands and a variety of surfaces, so the risk of transferring different germs onto them is very high, especially as bags are rarely cleaned,” Peter Barratt, Technical Manager at Initial Hygiene, said in a statement. “Once these germs are on the bags, they can easily be transferred via hands onto other surfaces. Regular hand sanitization is essential to prevent the presence of bacteria in the first place and thorough cleaning of bags is recommended to prevent the buildup of contamination.”
We use them all day every day, but how often do we put in the time to clean our smartphones and tablets? While we always remember to wash our hands before or after going to the bathroom, we usually neglect washing our hands before touching our smartphone or tablet. Microbiologists working with Which? took swabs from 30 tablets and 30 phones and tested them for disease-carrying bacteria such as E.coli. One tablet was carrying 600 units per swab of Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph. While a single smartphone was found to carry 140 units per swab of staph, the average toilet only contained 20 units per swab or less. To put those numbers into perspective, the Health Protection Agency considers anywhere between 20 and 10,000 units of staph to be a potential risk for disease.
“A count of 600 on a plastic device of any sort is incredibly high,” James Francis, the microbiologist who carried out our testing, said in a statement. “In the food industry, if we found those levels of bacteria from a hand swab of a food handler, they’d have to be taken out of the workplace and retrained in basic hygiene.”
Even on your family’s personal computer, keyboards can become a breeding ground for all types of bacteria. Due to all of its cracks and spaces, thoroughly cleaning a keyboard can prove difficult even with a can of compressed air. When Francis and his colleagues performed the same swab test on keyboards, they found an average 480 units per swab of staph hiding in the most commonly used area of our desks. Remember to clean your personal keyboard at least once a month by powering down your computer, lifting the keyboard upside down to shake out any particles, and using a can of compressed air on every crack and space between keys. It may seem like an arduous task, but it’s worth it to avoid a bacterial infection.
It’s tasked with cleaning our bodies, so how unsanitary can a showerhead actually be? Thanks to that warm moisture left behind after a shower, the inside of a showerhead can be harboring more germs than you think. A study conducted at the University of Colorado-Boulder analyzed around 50 showerheads from nine major cities, 30 percent of which contained high levels of Mycobacterium avium, a pathogen that can easily infect people with weakened immune systems and has been linked to pulmonary disease. To easily disinfect your showerhead, unscrew the device and place it a saucepan filled with boiling vinegar. Mineral deposit build-up should be easy to spot through discoloration.
"There have been some precedents for concern regarding pathogens and showerheads, but until this study we did not know just how much concern," CU-Boulder Professor Norman Pace said in a statement. "If you are getting a face full of water when you first turn your shower on, that means you are probably getting a particularly high load of Mycobacterium avium, which may not be too healthy.”