7 Icky, Bad Habits That Put Your Health at Risk

What are the ultimate consequences of sleeping with the TV on, driving in flip flops, or drinking old water?

By Sunny Sea Gold
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine March 2014

How dicey is it to let my dog lick my ice cream?

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Sadly, it’s not true that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than your own: A 2012 Japanese study found that both dogs and humans have in their mouths several different kinds of harmful bacteria that can cause or worsen gum disease. Dogs have also been known to carry salmonella bacteria, says Gerba, which can cause severe food poisoning symptoms in humans. Sharing food or letting your dog lick your mouth could be unhealthy for both of you, depending on which types of germs you each harbor. Plus, if your pooch is the kind that likes to sniff and lick gross stuff on his walks (you know—deer feces, half-rotten garbage), who knows what health-compromising bugs and chemicals could be on his tongue? “Personally, I’m suspicious of any animal that uses its tongue as toilet paper,” says Gerba.

Can I wash my hair with body wash in a pinch?

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If you just ran out of shampoo, a one-time washing isn’t going 
to harm anything more than your pride. But body washes and bar soaps can create a chemical reaction with minerals in your water that could leave a scummy film on your hair, says LeAine Dehmer, a Los Angeles–based skin-care product researcher and developer. In fact, the ones with lots of moisturizers and oils can leave even more residue, giving you flat, heavy locks. “Hair is very porous and really soaks up waxes and oils,” says Dehmer. So if you’re trying to, say, pack light for a trip, look for an all-in-one hair and body wash. 
It can do a good job of rinsing clean with less residue, says Dehmer.

Is it OK to drive in flip-flops?

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Flip-flops have been blamed for some truly tragic traffic accidents—including one in New York in which a woman lost control and crashed into a church foyer, killing three people. Flip-flops can slip off and either get stuck under the brake and gas pedals or depress both pedals at the same time, says former police officer and certified traffic safety and crash expert John E. Langan. “Driving is the most dangerous activity the average person will do in his lifetime. Why would anyone want to make it even more dangerous by wearing the wrong shoes?” he says. So the next time you must get behind the wheel wearing flip-flops, just slip them off and set them on the seat next to you. “Driving barefoot is better than wearing flip-flops,” says William Van Tassel, manager of driver-training programs at AAA’s national office.