7 Smart Ways Germ Experts Boost Their Immune System

They’re less paranoid than you might expect, but what they worry about (airplanes, laundry!) will surprise you.

71% Don’t Clean Hands After Touching Public Surfaces


I’m [just] careful to wash my hands before eating. I didn’t get a respiratory infection because I touched a door handle after a sick person touched it; I got it because I then touched my hand to my eye or nose. —Michael Pentella, PhD, clinical associate professor, University of Iowa College of Public Health

I press buttons with my knuckle—especially the ground-floor elevator button, because everyone touches that—or I use my middle finger because I’m less likely to then touch my face with it. —Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of microbiology, University of Arizona

29% Carry Hand Sanitizer

istock/Ashok Rodrigues

I prefer soap and water. If that’s not available, I’ll use sanitizer—but I’m not religious about carrying it. —Rima Khabbaz, MD, director for infectious diseases at the CDC

86% Don’t Disinfect Shopping Carts


You’ll find germs on shopping cart handles, but you’ll also find them on meat and other food as well. After I leave the grocery store, I use an alcoholic wipe or gel on my hands. Then I wash them after I unload the groceries at home. Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of micro-biology and pathology, Langone Medical Center, NYU

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50% Have Special Laundry Hygiene Habits


I do an underwear load last because an average pair contains about a hundred thousand fecal bacteria, and I don’t want that transferring to other loads. About once a week, I put a half cup or a cup of bleach into the empty machine and run it with only water to kill any germs. (These are telltale signs you're using too much detergent.)  —Charles Gerba, PhD

I did a study on the ability to kill germs on fabric. I washed in hot water, washed in cold, and used standard detergents, and while the bacteria were decreased by washing, to get rid of them all, a hot dryer worked best. Dry your clothes well, and you’ll kill germs. Michael Pentella, PhD

86% Protect Themselves on Planes

istock/Troels Graugaard

I cover the tray with a napkin so I don’t set food directly on it. I avoid putting things in the seat pocket, because it may contain items from prior passengers. (Here are 18 things you should never do on an airplane.) —Michael Pentella, PhD

I never use water from the plane restroom’s sink because those water tanks form biofilms, which are replete with germs. So I use an alcoholic gel or towelette (I do this before eating too). I don’t use headrest covers or blankets that aren’t sealed. —Philip Tierno, PhD

67% Steer Clear of Sick People

istock/Heidi van der Westhui

I stay at least three feet away. Most germs are spread by droplets; talking and sneezing produce droplets that fall within a six-foot range. —Michael Pentella, PhD

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86% Sneeze into Their Elbow

istock/Sharon Barnes

Don’t sneeze into your hands and then touch somebody; that transfers those viral particles. Even worse is when I see people just sneeze right out into the air—the spray can hit dozens of people. By the way, you won't believe how far sneezes travel.

—Philip Tierno, PhD
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