Cleaning & Organizing
22 Germiest Things You’ll Find in Your Home
While germs are everywhere, most are harmless. In fact, studies suggest that we need to be routinely exposed to germs, especially early in life, to develop immunities. Still, some germs can cause serious illnesses, and it’s smart to keep bacteria at bay by routinely disinfecting the dirtiest places in your home.
When you leave dirty dishes in the sink, you’re creating a perfect petri dish for bacteria, which breed in damp, warm places. Even when you’re careful about rinsing dishes and loading them immediately into the dishwasher, food particles are left behind in the sink, aiding and abetting the formation of illness-causing bacteria which could include E. coli, campylobacter, and salmonella. Clean and sanitize your sink every other day by scrubbing off deposits, then filling it up with water and adding a little bleach for a five-minute soak. Got scratches in your stainless steel sink? Here’s how to remove them.
Door handles get touched by everyone coming and going in the home, making them the Grand Central Station of bacteria. Even though door handles seem dry and innocuous, they can still support live bacteria for up to 24 hours. You can disinfect door handles with antibacterial wipes, but an easier way to reduce contagion is to use handles made from copper or its alloys, bronze, and brass. They’re naturally antimicrobial and can kill pathogens quickly, often within two hours. Don’t miss these other everyday items that are actually dirtier than a toilet seat.
You know that slimy surface on your dog’s water and food bowls? That’s called biofilm, which is a quasi-scientific term for “germy coating.” In addition to colonies of innocuous germs, biofilm can harbor dangerous organisms such as E. coli, listeria, salmonella and legionella. Experts recommend not using plastic bowls, which have tiny nooks and crannies where bacteria can thrive. Instead, use stainless steel or ceramic. Biofilm is tough to remove, especially if it’s been accumulating. First, break up the coating by scrubbing the bowl with salt on a dampened paper towel. (Use a utility or bathroom sink, if possible—not your kitchen sink.) To disinfect, clean the bowl with a solution of one tablespoon bleach in one gallon of water. Or just run the bowl through the sanitizing cycle of your dishwasher. Then be sure to clean the bowls every day. Find out more about how your pet’s bowl could be making you sick.
This should surprise no one. Your toilet bowl teems with germs—about 3.2 million bacteria per square inch. And when you flush, the turbulence spews tiny particles of water-borne feces into the air in a noxious blast called an aerosol plume, which can rise as high as 15 feet. Modern low-flow toilets have reduced this effect somewhat, but to keep your bathroom cleaner, just close the lid on your toilet before you flush. Soft-close toilet seats can be closed with only a nudge, which means less handling. Here’s how to replace a toilet seat.
It gets handled daily, but does your remote control ever get cleaned? Probably not, if you’re like most people. Like other objects frequently touched by human hands, TV remotes are crawling with germs and viruses. To clean your remote, remove the batteries, then wipe it down with a moist (but not drippy) antibacterial wipe. Use an alcohol-dipped cotton swab to clean the edges of the buttons. Did you know you can usually fix a remote control when it stops working? Here’s how.
Most people never think about their coffee maker until they need caffeine. But this continual neglect makes a coffee maker one of the dirtiest places in a home. The dark, damp recesses of its reservoir are a perfect breeding ground for germs. So every month, run your coffeepot and filter basket through the dishwasher for a sanitary cleaning. Then put four cups of vinegar in the reservoir and run a brew cycle without a filter. When finished, flush the coffee maker with four cycles of clean water. Or you can do without a coffee machine entirely by making this pour-over coffee maker yourself.
Who is Danny/Shutterstock
When was the last time you disinfected your handbag? Never? That’s what makes a purse one of the dirtiest places in your home. A handbag gets set down everywhere, including on public restroom floors, and is rarely cleaned. Shockingly, the levels of bacteria found on a purse rival that in a toilet. In fact, one in five handbags harbors enough bacteria to be considered a health risk, with handles being the dirtiest part. So, empty your purse periodically and clean the inside and handle with an antibacterial wipe. Also clean lipstick, sunglasses, keys and everything else that’s typically kept inside. Learn how to make a purse rack and other ways to store seasonal clothes.
You’re not wiping kitchen counters with an old sponge, are you? A kitchen sponge is one of the dirtiest places in your home. Just one square inch can contain 54 billion bacteria cells—about the same density of germs found in feces. Yuck! Running it through a dishwasher doesn’t help much. The best way to decontaminate a sponge is to microwave it at full power for two minutes, which will kill 99 percent of germs and spores. Eventually, everybody’s microwave gets a little crusty. Here’s the best way to clean a microwave and 10 other places in your kitchen.
Did you know bacteria and viruses—including the norovirus, which causes stomach flu—can survive on carpeting for a month or more? That’s nasty enough, but carpeting also collects dead skin, dust mites, mold spores and other allergens. To keep contaminants at bay, vacuum at least weekly, and get your carpets professionally cleaned every six months or annually. Here are some more things in your house that could be making you sick.
While your dog is frolicking at the dog park or in your yard, he’s tracking through some nasty stuff you really don’t want in your house. And yet, you can bet you’ve been living with it. Dog beds can be infested not only by bacteria from trace amounts of feces on your dog’s pads, but also from parasites, such as ringworm, hookworm, roundworm, and fleas. Make sure you wash the bedding frequently and that your dog receives flea and tick preventatives. And though they may not love it, bathing your dog regularly helps reduce contaminants in your home. For dogs with persistent skin infections and allergies, daily baths are even more effective than antibiotics. Don’t miss these 14 incredible cleaning tips every dog and cat owner should know.
Bathroom Light Switch
Your bathroom’s light switch is one of the dirtiest places in your home. It’s frequently touched by everyone in the family, easily collecting and transferring germs. Disinfecting light switches—in the bathroom and around the house—will help prevent contagion when a family member comes down with the flu. Be sure you’re not making these 10 cleaning mistakes that are making your home dirtier.
Maybe you switched to plastic cutting boards because you thought they would be more hygienic than wood. Think again. A smooth plastic cutting board is quickly marred with use, resulting in a rougher surface where bacteria can remain even after cleaning. And, it turns out that wood—particularly oak and pine—has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown that you’re actually more likely to contract salmonellosis by using a plastic, or even glass cutting board, compared to old-fashioned wood. So toss out those newfangled synthetic cutting boards, and make your own healthier version. Here’s how to make a wood cutting board and serving tray.
Let’s face it—we never know what we’re stepping in, which makes shoes one of the dirtiest places in the home. Recently, a microbiologist tested a brand new pair of shoes and learned that they’d collected 440,000 bacteria within just two weeks’ wear. The inside of our shoes isn’t much better. Dark and often damp, a shoe’s interior can breed bacteria and fungi, resulting not only in stinky feet but also warts and toenail fungus. Experts suggest wearing antimicrobial socks, washing gym shoes frequently (yes, you can put them in the washer) and not wearing shoes inside your home. Find out more reasons you shouldn’t wear your shoes in the house.
Could your toothbrush be one of the dirtiest places in your home? Grab a measuring tape and see how far it is from your toothbrush to your toilet. If it’s less than six feet, your toothbrush could be covered with tiny particles of feces, which were sent airborne by the force of the toilet flushing. Even if your toothbrush is stowed safely out of range, its damp bristles likely teem with millions of bacteria. You can disinfect your toothbrush by soaking it in antibacterial mouthwash and rinsing thoroughly before using it again. And don’t forget to close the toilet lid before flushing. When your toothbrush wears out, here are some brilliant ways to repurpose it.
A recent study showed that pillows can contain 350,000 live bacteria colonies and 330,000 yeast and mold colonies. And then there are the dust mites. These microscopic bugs feed off dead skin cells. A new 10-ounce pillow can weigh twice as much in three years just from the weight of dust mite remains. Experts say you should have your pillows dry-cleaned every few months. And even then, if you’ve been using the same pillow for more than two years, you’re due for a new one. Here are 15 more surprising things you can throw in the washing machine.
Chances are, your makeup isn’t high on your list for routine cleaning, but it should be. Like anything that gets handled frequently, makeup can collect bacteria. Most of the germs on makeup are harmless flora naturally found on your skin. But makeup can also harbor pathogens, including E.coli and staphylococcus. If applied over broken skin, dirty makeup can cause irritations, acne, and infections. You can disinfect makeup and applicators by misting with isopropyl alcohol (at least 91 percent strength). Swirl makeup brushes in alcohol and allow the bristles to dry thoroughly before reusing.
Bacteria love a steamy bathroom, which is why they glom onto shower curtains by the millions. That’s what makes your shower curtain, particularly the liner, one of your home’s dirtiest places. Your bath buddies include not only germs but mildew, which you’ll recognize right away as the black crud creeping into caulk and grout and starting to take over the bottom of your shower curtain. Fabric liners and shower curtains can be machine washed with a little color-safe bleach to kill mold and germs. (Just don’t put them in the dryer.) Or, since liners are fairly inexpensive, you could just toss yours if the contaminants are out of control. When you replace it, look for a liner that’s antibacterial and mildew-resistant. Here are more tips on how to prevent bathroom mold.
If bacteria could talk, you’d hear them on your cell phone. Mobile phones can be dirtier than a toilet seat. That’s because they get handled constantly, set down on any number of different surfaces, and rarely sanitized. So to make sure you’re not inhaling germs on your next call, just make a practice of cleaning your phone every couple of days with antibacterial wipes. When it’s finally time to get a new cell phone, here’s what you can do with the old one.
If you’re not washing your water bottle after every use, you’re probably chugging down a plethora of bacteria and fungi. In fact, some studies show that unwashed, refillable water bottles have so much bacteria, it’s like drinking out of your dog’s water bowl. Don’t want your water bottle to be the dirtiest place in the house? Then throw that thing in the dishwasher after you use it. Easy peasy. Don’t miss these surprising things you can clean in your dishwasher, too.
A recent study found that 89 percent of kitchen rags were contaminated with coliform bacteria, and 25 percent carried E. coli. Experts recommend washing kitchen towels after every use and using paper towels to dry your hands. Dirty paper towels don’t have to be discarded. Find out how you can get more use from them.
No shocker here. Your bathroom floors are the dirtiest ones in your house, which puts your bathmats at ground zero for germs. When neglected, they can accumulate bacteria, mildew, viruses, and fungi, which are all bad news if you happen to have a small wound on your foot. Make sure the bathmats you choose for your home are washable (no rubber backing), then run them through a sanitizing cycle every couple of weeks. Your bathroom floor will feel a lot cozier when it’s warm. If you’re thinking of retiling your bathroom floor, check out “How to Install In-Floor Heat.”
Is your gym bag getting a little funky? What you’re smelling is bacteria. Microbes thrive in dark, sweaty confines, making your gym bag quite possibly one of the dirtiest places in your home. Fortunately, the cure for a stinky gym bag is simple: Empty it and let it air out after every trip to the gym. And toss it in the washer from time to time. In between washes, a dryer sheet will help keep your gym bag smelling fresh. That’s just one of the 20 brainy ways to use dryer sheets.