Friday, February 5, 2010

And the germiest places are...

Surprising germ havens in your home.

Used Bath Towels
Do you share a bath towel with your hubby or kids? It may sound like a good idea, but health experts say it’s a big no-no. “I remind my patients that even though it seems like sharing bath towels among family members is no big deal, and good for the environment, it’s actually an unhealthy practice,” says Susan C. Taylor, MD, community editor for

“MRSA, a dangerous staph infection that is resistant to many antibiotics, can be spread by sharing towels with your husband, even your kids,” she says. “Research also indicates that bacteria that can cause acne can also be spread among family members from towel sharing. It’s also a good idea to replace hand towels in the bathroom frequently.”

Washing Machine

Your washing machine is where clothes get clean, right? Not always. According to Charles P. Gerba, PhD, of the University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, your laundry machine could be contaminating your clothing and linens.

Here’s why: “The reason we have more viruses not being removed by laundry today is because 95 percent of Americans use cold-water washes with an average wash cycle of about 12 minutes,” says Dr. Gerba. “Contrast this to European Miele washing machines, with 140-minute wash cycles and the ability to set the wash temperature to 180 degrees.”

Want to zap the germs in your dirty clothes? Dr. Gerba recommends washing most loads in hot water. “Undergarments are the worst, and you should try to use bleach in these loads, otherwise they will contaminate the next load,” he says.

Computer Keyboard

You always wash your hands after using the bathroom, but do you do the same after touching your keyboard? Maybe you should, Dr. Gerba says: “There are about 200 times more bacteria on a keyboard than a toilet seat.” The reason, he continues, “is that nobody ever cleans and disinfects a keyboard.” And, he adds, the more users of the computer (think of the traffic your home computer gets between you, your husband and the kids), the more germs.

Keyboards can be breeding grounds for cold germs, flu viruses and bacteria that can cause diarrhea. Best bet: Keep your hands clean! Wash them before and after using the computer. Also, clean your keyboard every week by spraying disinfecting spray onto a cloth and lightly wiping it down.

Carpets and Rugs

It’s not exactly encouraging news: Experts say that most people’s carpets and rugs contain a whopping 200,000 bacteria particles per square inch. In fact, Dr. Gerba’s research has revealed that carpets in most homes are 4,000 times dirtier than toilet seats—toilet seats!

The solution? A vacuum with UV-light technology, like the Oreck Halo, could be a good option. These vacuums are believed to kill many bacteria, viruses and allergens on contact. But they’re pricey. You can also use the vacuum you already have and consider going shoeless in your home. According to Elizabeth Scott, a germ expert and codirector of the Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community Settings in Boston, one of the best ways to keep your carpets and floors germ-free is to kick off your shoes at the door. “You can bring pathogenic bacteria and mold spores into the home on the soles of shoes,” she says.


Think of all the things that happen in a bed: sleeping, having sex, eating (hey, nothing wrong with a snack!), nursing babies, cuddling sick children, changing diapers, staying home sick. That’s why germ experts like Philip Tierno, MD, PhD, director of clinical microbiology at New York University Medical Center and author of The Secret Life of Germs, says your bed could be a veritable breeding ground for germs.

The solution? Invest in an impervious, water-repellent outer cover for mattresses and pillows, he says. This will prevent bacteria (and dust mites) from leaching in. Also, wash your sheets in hot water at least once a week.

Salt and Pepper Shakers

According to a study by researchers at the University of Virginia, your salt and pepper shakers may be a breeding ground for germs. To see where cold and flu viruses like to congregate in homes, they tested various places that sick people touched in the home in an 18-hour period. Blame it on bland chicken soup, but salt and pepper shakers turned out to be one of the places with the highest concentrations for lingering viruses.

What to do: Clean frequently touched surfaces, including salt and pepper shakers, with disinfecting wipes.


You take baths to destress, right? Then don’t think about this the next time you’re lounging in the tub: A recent study found the harmful bacteria staphylococcus in 26 percent of tested bathtubs. Worse: Whirlpool-style tubs, which some experts say may be bacterial breeding grounds due to the construction of the pipes, seem to be the biggest culprits. A study by scientists at Texas A&M University that examined water samples from 43 whirlpool tubs found that all had dangerous bacterial growth—from fecal matter to fungi.

Keep germs at bay by regularly cleaning your bathtub with a bleach-based cleaner. Whirlpool owners should consider having a professional maintenance person assist in cleaning dirty pipes.

Child’s Potty Chair

You’d never touch your toilet without washing your hands, but health experts say it’s easy to assume that your child’s potty seat is somehow cleaner. News flash: It’s not!

In fact, research has found that children’s potty chairs rank among the germiest places in the home. What’s worse? Children and parents often spread bacteria from potty chairs and seats to other surfaces in the house. “This indicates the potential for spread of fecal pathogens,” explains Scott.

What to do? Wash your hands after helping your child use the potty chair, and teach him to do the same after he’s finished. And don’t forget to clean his chair frequently with disinfecting spray (no, a quick wipe-down with a baby wipe is not going to kill germs).


“The biggest misconception about refrigerators,” says Donna Duberg, MA, MS, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University, “is that bacteria doesn’t grow in cold temperatures.” Unfortunately, she says, that’s just not true. Consider the package of chicken that may have leaked on top of your yogurt lid or the unwashed vegetables that are sitting next to the kids’ juice boxes. The germs found inside a refrigerator can make you sick.

But you can fight back: Take her advice and do a weekly fridge wipe-down and a once-a-month deep clean where you take everything out, toss any spoiled food, wipe down all surfaces and scrub removable shelves in sudsy hot water.

The duhs! More germy places.

Your kitchen sink
Kitchen sinks are dirtier than most bathrooms. There are typically more than 500,000 bacteria per square inch in the drain alone. Plus your sponge, basin and faucet handles are crawling with bacteria as well.

Reduce the risk: Clean your kitchen counters and sink with an antibacterial product after preparing or cleansing food, especially raw fruits and vegetables, which carry lots of potential pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli. Wash your hands as well with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday”). Sanitize sponges by running them through the dishwasher’s drying cycle, which will kill 99.9 percent of bacteria on them. As for the sink, clean it twice a week with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach and one quart of water. Scrub the basin, the pour solution down the drain.

Airplane bathrooms

It may not be a shock that there are a huge number of germs in most public bathrooms, but experts agree the cramped and overused ones on airplanes are the worst. There are often traces of E. coli or fecal bacteria on the faucets and door handles because it’s hard to wash hands in the tiny sinks. And the volcanic flush of the commode tends to spew particles into the air, coating the floor and walls with whatever had been swirling around in it.

Reduce the risk: Toilet seats are surprisingly clean, but use the paper cover when available. After using the toilet, wash and dry your hands thoroughly, and use a paper towel to handle the toilet seat, lid, tap and doorknob. Put the lid down before you flush. If there’s no lid, turn your back to the toilet while flushing and beat a hasty retreat.

Public drinking fountains

Drinking fountains are bound to be germy, but school fountains are the worst, with anywhere from 62,000 to 2.7 million bacteria per square inch on the spigot.

Reduce the risk: Send your child to school with plenty of their own beverages and tell them to wash their hands throughout the day.

Shopping cart handles
Saliva, bacteria and fecal matter are just a few of the substances found on shopping cart handles. Cart handles rank high on the yuck scale because they’re handled by dozens of people every day and, of course, raw food carries nasty pathogens.

Reduce the risk: Many stores have dispensers with disinfectant wipes near the carts. If your store doesn’t, bring your own wipes and give the handle a quick swab. Or carry along a cart cover like the Grip-Guard or Healthy Handle.

ATM buttons

If you’re not careful, you might pick up more than quick cash from your local ATM. These buttons have more gunk on them than most public-bathroom doorknobs! ATMs aren’t frequently cleaned, and are regularly touched — a perfect combination for a lot of germs.

Reduce the risk: Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you and rub it on hands after visits. Also be sure to do it after you handle paper money, which actually carries quite a few germs, too.

Your handbag
Recent studies found that most women’s purses had tens of thousands of bacteria on the bottom and a few were overrun with millions. Another study found bugs like pseudomonas (which can cause eye infections) and skin-infection-causing staphylococcus bacteria, as well as salmonella and E. coli.

Reduce the risk: Instead of slinging your bag on the floor, hang it on a hook whenever possible — especially in public bathrooms — and keep your bag off the kitchen counter. Stick with leather or vinyl purses, which are typically cleaner than cloth.

There’s just no way to put this delicately: Children tend to ooze bodily fluids and then spread them around. When researchers sampled playgrounds, they found blood, mucus, saliva and urine. Pair those findings with the fact that children put their fingers in their mouths and noses more than the rest of us, and it’s easy to understand why Junior (and maybe his mom or dad) has the sniffles.

Reduce the risk: Carry alcohol wipes or hand-sanitizing gel in your purse, and clean everybody’s hands a couple of times during a park visit, especially before snacking. Pick warm sunny days for outdoor play: The sun’s ultraviolet light is actually a very effective disinfectant. Most bugs won’t survive long on surfaces that are hot and dry.

Mats and machines at health clubs
Antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus has been found on yoga mats and cardio and resistance machines. At high schools, antibiotic-resistant-staph infections have been transmitted through wrestling mats. The same thing could happen at health clubs.

Reduce the risk: Wipe down machines with antibacterial wipes before working out. Bring your own yoga mat or cover a loaner with your towel. Shower after a workout and soap up your skin to rinse off any bacteria you may have been exposed to, as thorough washing gets rid of antibiotic-resistant staph.

Your office phone
This is enough to make you dial 911: Office phones often have more than 25,000 germs per square inch, and your desk, computer keyboard and mouse aren’t far behind. Phones, including cell phones, can be pretty gross because they get coated with germs from your mouth and hands.

Reduce the risk: Simply cleaning your desk, phone and keyboard with a disinfecting wipe once in the middle of the day will kill 99.99 percent of the bacteria and viruses.

The hotel-room remote control
What’s the first thing you do when you settle in at a hotel? You grab the remote control and switch on the TV — you, and the hundreds of other guests who’ve stayed there. How dirty is it? A recent study tested various surfaces for the cold virus after a group of sick people had stayed overnight and found the virus on the remote, door handles, light switches, pens and faucet handles.

Reduce the risk: Clean the remote control, phone, clock radio, door handles and light switches with germicidal wipes.

The germiest places in the world
TripAdvisor announces the top germ-havens that attract visitors

Grauman's Chinese Theater, Hollywood, Calif.
The forecourt to this historical Hollywood landmark features the hand and footprints of some of the biggest stars in history. But this intimate look at Hollywood's hands can get a bit grimy given that millions of fans place their fingers in the molds of their favorites. You may think about bringing some gloves or hand sanitizer before comparing your own paws to those of the greats. One TripAdvisor traveler said, "You couldn't help comparing your feet and hands, too [with those of the stars]."

St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy
A place of immeasurable beauty, Venice's famed St. Mark's Square has a dirty side – its thousands of hungry pigeons. While vendors no longer sell food to tourists to give to the birds, they still flock in countless numbers, with many visitors choosing to touch and even hold the pigeons. Be careful – these dirty fowl have been known to leave foul unexpected gifts on tourists. One TripAdvisor traveler recalls, "I know it does seem a little bit disgusting, but it's so totally hilarious to see your friend/partner/dad being attacked by birds!"

Oscar Wilde's Tomb, Paris, France
It is a testament to the love and respect felt by book-lovers and admirers the world over – Oscar Wilde's tomb in Paris' Pere-Lachaise cemetery is famously covered in lipstick prints. But with a rainbow of hundreds of visible kiss marks adorning the grave, and countless more planted every year, one can't help but wonder ... isn't there a cleaner way to show your literary appreciation? One TripAdvisor traveler said, "The tombstone of Oscar Wilde is ... well, wild, excuse the pun."

 Wall of Gum, Seattle, Washington
A bizarre tradition at Seattle's Market Theatre in Post Alley has turned into a fascinating yet very germy attraction: a giant wall of gum. In the 1990s, visitors began sticking their gum to the wall while waiting in line, resulting in a colorful and somewhat stomach-turning sight after more than a decade of gum gathering. Some intrepid visitors have even molded shapes and faces out of their masticated gum. One TripAdvisor traveler reminds us, "Don't forget to contribute to the gum wall!"

Blarney Stone, Blarney, Ireland

Legend says that those who kiss the Blarney Stone, a block of stone built into Ireland's Blarney Castle, are rewarded with eloquent speech. But given that up to 400,000 mouths from all over the world touch the stone each year, putting your own to the grimy attraction (no easy task in itself) may be too high a price for the promised "gift of gab." One TripAdvisor traveler commented, "[You] have to bend over backwards, and kiss the stone upside down (imagine the germs on the stone from everyone doing that!)"

The 10 Germiest Jobs in America
Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, whose nickname is "Dr. Germ," spoke to ABC News recently, about the germiest professions in America:

1. Teacher/day-care worker
2. Cashier, bank employee
3. Tech support/computer repair
4. Doctor or nurse
5. Lab scientist
6. Police officer
7. Animal control officer
8. Janitor or plumber
9. Sanitation worker (AKA garbage man/woman)
10. Meat packer
I think I'd add pest control workers to the list. Just think of those poor guys (and gals) crawling around in dark basements in search of rats. Ewww.

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