Some germs are beneficial, but not when they put you and your loved ones at risk for viruses and diseases. Your home, with all of its nooks and crannies, is a breeding ground for mold, staph germs, yeast and coliform bacteria.
Some places in your home are germier than others, so cleaning takes a little extra effort in these areas. We spoke with Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona who is better known as “Dr. Germ,” and consulted a study by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), a public health and safety organization. With their help, we discovered the nine germiest places in your home – and how to clean and disinfect them.
Even items used for cleaning can play host to germs. Image: Michael Norpell
1. Dish sponges
“Number one is the household sponge – almost all have E. coli growing in them, and in our studies, 15% had Salmonella,” Dr. Gerba tells Freshome. “That sponge stays wet and moist with plenty of food for bacteria to eat.” In the NSF study, 86% of sponges had mold and yeast, 77% contained coliform bacteria and 18% were filled with staph bacteria.
There are many types of coliform bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli, which can lead to stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. In more serious cases, E. coli can also cause pneumonia and respiratory problems.
You can reduce germs by microwaving that wet sponge. “Bacteria grow to large numbers in the sponge and [the sponge] needs to be washed – microwave for 30 seconds every five to six days. But be careful, because they get hot,” Gerba says. “You can toss your dish rags in the dishwasher.” He also warns against using the same sponge or cloth for cleaning the kitchen and the bathroom.
Food residue and dirt – it’s not surprising that the kitchen sink is one of the germiest places in your home. Image: Top Drawer Luxury Home Builder
2. Kitchen sink
Gerba says the kitchen contains more germs than the bathroom, and the kitchen sink places second in the germiest places in your home. That’s not hard to believe when you consider that this is the place where you wash dirt and germs off of raw food. It’s also the spot where you rinse your plates and utensils before placing them in the dishwasher. In the NSF study, 45% of the sinks contained coliform bacteria and 27% contained mold.
At least once a week, preferably twice, disinfect the sink (including the sides). Drains and disposals should be disinfected at least once a month. If you use a bleach solution, be sure to rinse afterward.
The areas around a bathroom sink are no less germy than those in the kitchen. Image: Signature Hardware
3. Toothbrush holder
No, the toilet is not the germiest place in your bathroom – that distinction goes to your toothbrush holder. In fact, Gerba believes the toilet seat might be the least germy place in your bathroom, because it gets cleaned more regularly than other places. However, if your toothbrush holder is located close to the toilet, it may be subject to particles that are sprayed through the air when you flush. An alarming 64% of toothbrush holders contained mold and yeast, 27% contained coliform and 14% contained staph.
Close the toilet when you flush and try to keep your toothbrush holder as far away from the toilet as possible. On a weekly basis, put the holder in the dishwasher’s sanitizing cycle (assuming it’s dishwasher safe), and consider replacing toothbrushes on a quarterly basis.
Furry friends, perhaps unsurprisingly, contribute to a germy household. Image: Sander & Sons Kitchen and Bath
4. Pet bowl and pet toys
Many of your pet’s favorite objects are also bastions of germs. In fact, 45% of bowls contained mold and yeast and 18% contained coliform bacteria. Among pet toys, 55% contained yeast and mold and 23% contained staph bacteria.
Clean your pet’s bowls daily. The NSF recommends either washing them on the dishwasher’s disinfecting cycle or washing by hand using soapy water. If you choose to wash them by hand, soak the bowls in a bleach solution for 10 minutes once a week. Clean hard toys with soapy water, then rinse, disinfect and air-dry. Soft toys can be cleaned on your washing machine’s sanitizing cycle. The NSF also recommends that everyone in the home wash their hands after making contact with pets.
Clean your coffee maker regularly to ensure you’re not drinking bacteria with your daily caffeine. Image: Mauricio Nava Design LLC
5. Coffee reservoir
That coffee maker could be giving you more than just a jolt of caffeine. The coffee reservoir is not only damp, but also dark, making it an ideal place for germs to thrive. In the NSF study, half of the reservoirs contained yeast and mold and 9% contained coliform bacteria.
To clean the coffee reservoir, pour four cups of vinegar into the reservoir, wait 30 minutes, then brew the vinegar as you would brew coffee. Afterward, brew at least two cycles of water to rinse the vinegar out.
Bathroom faucet handles require daily maintenance to stay bacteria-free. Image: Artsaics Studios
6. Bathroom faucet handles
Unless you have a touchless faucet in your bathroom, faucet handles are some of the germiest places in your home. It makes sense: Turning on the faucet is the step between using the bathroom and washing your hands. The NSF study found that 27% of faucet handles contained staph and 9% contained coliform bacteria.
On a daily basis, clean your faucet handles with a disinfectant spray or disinfecting wipes.
A kitchen countertop often becomes home to bacteria carried in from outdoors. Image: Pickell Architecture
If the kitchen is the home’s hub, the countertop is the kitchen’s hub. Packages and bags of groceries (which were previously on the floor of your car) are placed on it, in addition to handbags and backpacks. And yet, this is also where you prepare food – some of it raw. It comes as no surprise that 32% of countertops contained coliform bacteria and 18% contained mold.
Keep non-food items off of the countertop, and disinfect it before and after preparing food. (Note: Since countertops are made of a variety of materials, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that you don’t damage it.)
Stove knobs fall victim to food spatter and germy hands. Image: JACKBILT
9. Stove knobs
How often do you clean your stove knobs? Probably not often enough: In the NSF study, 27% knobs contained mold and yeast, while 14% contained coliform bacteria.
On a weekly basis, take the stove knobs off and wash them in soapy water.
Bathrooms, kitchens and handheld devices are all prime locations for germs. Image: Enviable Designs
Additional germ hotspots
The Nasty 9 are far from being the only germ-ridden places in your home. “The cutting board usually has 200 times more bacteria than a toilet seat,” says Gerba. He recommends using two cutting boards: one for meats and one for veggies. “Also, your refrigerator door is quite germy because of handling raw foods without washing your hands.”
Other germy places in your home include:
- Toilet handle
- Toilet seat
- Bathroom door knob
- Bathroom light switch
- Remote control
- Hand towels
However, Gerba warns against panicking. “You don’t need to clean more; just take care of your cleaning tools and use disinfecting wipes or a kitchen cleaner with a disinfectant in the kitchen,” he says. “You do not have to keep your home germ-free – just keep the numbers down.”
Do you have any additional tips for keeping your home clean and manageable? Tell us in the comments.