Cleaning & Organizing
15 Everyday Items Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat
These surfaces have more germs than the average toilet seat, and you’ve likely already touched at least one of them today.
Your cutting board
University of Arizona researchers found that the average cutting board has 200 times more fecal bacteria than a toilet seat. A big culprit: raw meat, since many fecal bacteria originate in animals’ internal organs. So, the last chicken cutlet you diced? The tiny grooves your knife left in the cutting board are prime real estate for germs to get cozy.
Clean it: Wash plastic cutting boards with liquid dish detergent and water, then soak thoroughly in a solution of two teaspoons of bleach and a gallon of water. For wooden boards, do the same but use two tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water. Don’t soak overnight. Here are some more germy kitchen items you probably don’t think to clean.
Your pet’s food bowl
One of the home’s dirtiest surfaces could be your pet’s trusty kibble dish. If your dog licks a toilet seat, he’s picking up about 295 bacteria per square inch. But if he licks the inside rim of his unclean dish, he just gobbled up 2,110 bacteria per square inch—and what dog licks just one inch?
Clean it: To keep pets healthy, wash all food bowls after every meal with hot water and soap, or combine baking soda, warm water, and salt in equal parts and scrub the surface in circles before rinsing. If you don’t, bacteria will multiply on the leftover residue of your pet’s slobber and food bits, a little like if you used the same fork every day without washing it.
Your clean laundry
A load of underwear will transfer at least 100 million E. coli bacteria—the culprit behind diarrhea—to the washing machine, which becomes a breeding ground that can contaminate other clothing. With a front-loading machine, it’s worse; water settles at the bottom and creates the moist environment bacteria loves. Your toilet seat, on the other hand, is too dry to support a very large bacterial population.
Clean it: Disinfect your machine by washing a load of whites with bleach first, or cleaning your washer with bleach at least once a month (pour two cups of bleach into the detergent compartment, and run empty on the hottest cycle before wiping dry; leave the door open after). To avoid spreading bacteria, wash underwear separately with hot water and a color-safe bleach replacement. Here are some tricks professional housecleaners use to keep their own homes germ-free.
Your smartphone or tablet
A 2018 study from Initial Washroom Hygiene found that phones are more than six times dirtier than toilet seats, according to the Daily Mail. The company swabbed 50 phones for germs and found that the average phone had 1,479 bacteria “hot spots,” compared to 220 on toilet seats. A leather phone cases that doubled as a wallet was the biggest offender, carrying 17 times more germs than the toilet. Another uncomfortable detail: In a 2016 survey of 1,000 U.K. employees, about one third admitted to using their phones while using the toilet. “A smartphone which is brought into a washroom will invariably end up with invisible traces of feces and urine on it,” hygiene expert Lisa Ackerley said in a report. “These will then transfer to the owner’s hands.”
Clean it: Reduce your exposure to germs by cleaning your electronic screens with screen wipes or a damp, soft cloth—and leaving them out of the bathroom in the first place.
Fun fact: Bacteria love munching on dead skin cells. Considering that the average person sheds about 1.5 million every hour, that turns your rugs into a fine dining experience when you add food particles, pet dander, pollen, and other bits. About 200,000 bacteria live in each square inch of carpet (nearly 700 times more than on your toilet seat), including E. coli, staphylococcus, and salmonella.
Clean it: Since your vacuum cleaner can’t reach to the bottom of the carpet, hire a company to deep clean at least once a year. Learn what the dirtiest items in hotel rooms are.
Your faucet handles
Your bathroom faucet handle can have 21 times the bacteria of your toilet seat. Even worse—your kitchen faucet handles can harbor 44 times the bacteria of your toilet seat. Drains are moist and protected from your usual cleaning products, and a study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that drug-resistant bacteria like E. coli can spread from the pipes to your sink and hands.
Clean it: Disinfect and clean regularly along with the rest of your sink to make sure washing your hands isn’t making you dirtier. Learn how to fix these ways you’re cleaning your bathroom wrong.
Your computer keyboard
Clicking away at your computer in between bites of lunch may have led to the last “office bug” you picked up. When British researchers swabbed 33 keyboards in a London office, they found that they harbored up to five times the germs of a toilet seat.
Clean it: Wash hands, and surfaces, often. As if all that weren’t enough, here are some more reasons you should definitely clean your computer keyboard.
It goes with everything, including germs. When British researchers studied 25 handbags, they found that the average handbag is three times dirtier than an office toilet seat. Handbags used regularly were ten times dirtier. Handles carried the most bacteria, but even items inside the bag were grimy—hand and face creams were the dirtiest, along with lipstick and gloss. Stomach flu viruses have been traced back to reusable grocery bags, too.
Clean it: Keep your bags off the ground, and regularly wash cloth bags when possible. For plastic or leather bags, use disinfectant wipes. Here’s how to clean 17 difficult-to-clean items in your home.
Your kitchen cloth or sponge
Not only are sponges dirtier than your toilet seat, but they’re dirtier than any other item in your house. When researchers investigated 14 used kitchen sponges, they found an insane 45 billion microbes per square centimeter, according to the results in Scientific Reports. Dishcloths and sponges harbor the largest amount of E. coli and other fecal bacteria in the average home, mostly because they aren’t replaced as often as they should.
Clean it: Each week, toss dishcloths in the washing machine and sponges in the dishwasher, or heat in the microwave (while damp) for 30 seconds. Replace sponges every other week or so.
Your TV remote
It may surprise you, but your channel changer is surprisingly germy. Anything that’s been on your hands before you started surfing collects on your remote. Not to mention, your remote collects dust sitting on your couch, gets sat on, and may even have crumbs on it, if you like to eat in front of the TV. Grime can get stuck in the nooks and crannies between the buttons, so cleaning it can be a challenge.
Clean it: Every now and then, wipe down your remote using a bit of dish soap or an antiseptic wipe. Make sure to get in between the buttons. Here are 10 more germ-spreading habits you should give up.
Unless you live in New Jersey, you probably touch this ultra-germy item on a weekly basis at least. A University of Arizona study sampled gas pumps and found that a whopping 71 percent of them contained some type of bacterial contaminant.
Clean it: If you don’t want to wipe down the pump before you use it, definitely keep hand sanitizer in your car so that you can bust any germs you may have picked up while filling up. Or consider wearing gloves to shield yourself from the germs.
While you’re getting a ride to your desired floor, germs might be hitching a ride on your hands. A University of Toronto study found that elevator buttons in public spaces like office buildings and hospitals could be harboring more germs than toilet seats.
Clean it: Maybe you don’t want to stand around your office building and wipe down the elevator buttons, and that’s fair. But you’ll probably want to wash, or at least sanitize, your hands once you’ve reached your floor. These common house cleaning mistakes can actually make your home dirtier.
A study from public health and safety organization NSF found that refrigerator vegetable and meat compartments were the top two spots in the kitchen with the most disease-causing microorganisms. It makes sense—any unwrapped veggies or escaped meat juices could leave behind dangerous germs.
Clean it: Empty your fridge drawers, then pull them out of your fridge. Give them a good scrub with warm, soapy water before returning them (and your food) to their slots. Make sure you know these other sneaky places germs hide in your home.
Hopefully, you’re replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, but when was the last time you cleaned out its holder? Fair warning: It’s probably filled with toothpaste gunk that dripped down after you brushed. An NSF investigation found that toothbrush holders were the dirtiest item in the bathroom. About 27 percent of toothbrush holders showed signs of coliform, compared to 5 percent of toilet seats.
Clean it: Rinse an empty toothbrush holder in hot water, then scrub with a soapy, small-bristled brush. Rinse well and let it dry before putting your toothbrushes back.
You probably clean the coffee pot, but you’ll want to give the whole machine a deep clean every once in a while—NSF data show that coffee reservoirs where you pour water are even dirtier than toilet seats and toilet handles.
Clean it: Leaving the reservoir open when you’re done making coffee will help clear out the moisture germs love. Every now and then, clean the reservoir by filling it with equal parts water and vinegar. Turn on the machine so the vinegar cleans the carafe, plus eliminates mineral buildup in the machine’s pipes. Once the pot is done, “brew” a pot of plain water to eliminate any traces of vinegar. Don’t miss the 14 most germ-ridden spots in your own bedroom.