Consumer News

Handbag Care: Germs In Your Bag And How To Prevent Infection

Leather handbags in store rack.
A handbag may cost you more than you bargained for when it comes to your health. Tom Harpel

Your next designer handbag purchase may end up costing you more than the price marked. Lipstick, blush, mascara, and a cell phone are all contents that you carry in your purse on your way to work, school, the gym, and most of all back home, but did you know bacteria closely follows?

According to a UK study, 20 percent of handbags contained more bacteria than the average toilet seat or flush. Swabs from dozens of toilet seats and handbags were collected to compare and contrast the levels of bacterial transfer of each group.

Right after a single flush, bacteria levels are at an ultimate high and continue to remain on the surface even 90 minutes later in lidless toilets. Clostridium difficile (C. diff), known to cause diarrhea, was found 10 inches above the toilet seat after the initial flush by researchers at Leeds University. This bacterium has been linked to the outside bottom of a woman's purse causing many purse aficionadas to be in a frenzy.

Initial Washroom Hygiene, the British company that conducted the study, found leather handbags were the most susceptible to having the highest content of bacteria due to its spongy material that serves as the ideal host site for germs to converge. Highbeam Business reports an approximate 66 percent of domestic handbags shipped to the United States in the mid-2000s were made of leather, suggesting that many handbag users are exposed to high levels of bacterium.

"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," said technical manager at Initial Hygiene, Peter Barratt, in a press release.

Barratt and his research team swabbed women's purses inside and out to determine what areas and materials were the most bacteria stricken. The germs acquired from surfaces adhere to the significant risk of cross-contamination of items contained in the purse. Hand and face creams were the culprits of items with the most bacteria followed by lipstick and mascara.

What can you do to disinfect your lipstick and mascara makeup palette?

Dip your tube of lipstick in alcohol for 15 to 30 seconds and then wipe away the top layer of the lipstick says Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon, author, and television personality on Good Morning America. Kill the germs in your lipstick and mascara simultaneously by leaving both items in the freezer overnight to kill the bacteria and viruses.

What can you do to limit spread of bacterium after you wash your hands thoroughly?

Even if you sanitize after you use the restroom, the bacteria remains on the outside and inner linings of your purse. The concept of washing your hands after you touch your purse may seem absurd or downright eccentric but public health and safety regulations advise you to comply to prevent the transmission of infections. The Centers of Disease and Control (CDC) recommends regular hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds with good friction and mild water. If traditional soap and water is not available, the use of a hand sanitizer that contains 60 percent minimum alcohol would be deemed fit.

The transfer of bacteria is inevitable but what surfaces should you avoid placing your handbag on?

Office space kitchens are viewed as a potential health hazard for cross-contamination because of the high levels of coliform, bacteria that is found in fecal matter that may lead to gastrointestinal diseases. In the National Science Foundation International's (NSF) "Germiest Places in the Home 2011" study, NSF microbiologists measured the levels of yeast, mold, coliform and Staph bacteria by having 22 families swab 30 items in their households. The kitchen earned the top germ hot spot due to the bacteria accumulated in appliances if not cleaned accordingly. In a work environment, it is vital to clean the kitchen surfaces on a regular basis because it's a frequently visited area you and your coworkers prepare your lunch or cup of coffee.

Tip: Kitchen rags, dishcloths, and towels can be sanitized by tossing it in the washer on the hot water cycle with bleach, and replacing it every one to two days, according to NSF.

Bathroom floors contain high levels of bacteria, fecal matter in particular, and can be easily transmitted to the outside bottom of your purse. In the case that you encounter a lack of a hook in your bathroom stall, and you must lay it on the floor, be sure to thoroughly sanitize the bag with bacterial wipes for the bottom of the bag and handles. Dr. Charles Gerba, co-author of The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu, told ABC's 20/20 "Usually, actually the floor is the dirtiest, as you might guess." Two million bacteria per square inch were found on the floors of a bathroom.

How do you disinfect your handbag?

It is important to clean your purse once a week and wipe everything with antibacterial wipes, said Kathi Lipp, national speaker and author of several woman's books on her website. Since your purse is prone to collecting bacteria on multiple surfaces, leave your purse at the door to avoid further contamination in your home. If you want to bring an extra pair of shoes on your travels, place them in a plastic or eco-friendly bag instead. Shoes can gather germs and spread them into your purse and most importantly personal items.

Carry on wayward with your antibacterial wipes in your purse, ladies, to be healthy and in style.

Loading...