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8 Common Kitchen Items That Are Crawling with Germs

The sponge and the sink are obvious culprits, but other everyday kitchen objects can harbor germs that cause foodborne illnesses. Here's how to keep them clean.

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how to clean germ kitchen items spongeMercedes Rancaño Otero/iStock

Even the cleanest kitchen has germs

Germs lurk in all sorts of places. Your kitchen, where you prepare, cook, and eat food, is probably one of the places you'd least like to have germs—and yet it likely collects a lot of it. "The kitchen is an environment that fosters a variety of bacteria strains—[on] food, drinks, appliances, and even external items we often place on the counter when we get home," says Colleen Costello, CEO and co-founder of Vital Vio, a company that produces chemical-free LED lighting to kill bacteria. "Half of Americans (52 percent) only clean a surface if it has [visible] dust or food residue," according to the 2019 "Dirty Truth" report. Even kitchens—and kitchen surfaces—that appear clean can in fact be hotbeds for bacteria. Here are some germy spots in your kitchen that you probably don't clean as much as you should—and how to properly clean it.

how to clean germ kitchen items knife blocklaurenbergstrom/iStock

Knife block

Be honest: when was the last time you cleaned this, if ever?

De-gunk it: Remove the knives, then turn the block upside down to shake out crumbs. Wash the block in hot soapy water and get in the slots with a small brush, like the kind designed to clean baby bottle nipples, then rinse. Finally, soak the block in a mixture of one-gallon water and two teaspoons of 6.0 percent household bleach, or just fill the knife slots with the mixture. Let it sit for two minutes, then rinse thoroughly with clean tap water and place upside down to dry thoroughly before replacing knives. Avoid germ buildup by washing knives and letting it dry completely before you put it back in the block. By the way, here are some common mistakes you make while cleaning your kitchen.

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Countertops

"We likely clean the counter after food gets on it, but it’s important to be aware of how to keep it clean throughout the day," says Costello, warning that microscopic bacteria can linger on your countertops after you've just brushed off food crumbs.

De-gunk it: If possible, clean your kitchen counter at least once a day. It's tempting to just wipe it down with antibacterial wipes, but it's not quite enough to get the job done. Your kitchen counter is one of the places you shouldn't use antibacterial wipes. Instead, just use a (clean!) sponge with hot, soapy water.

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Refrigerator vegetable drawer

Salmonella, Listeria, yeast, mold are partying it up in here with your cukes and carrots, and a dirty drawer could contaminate new clean veggies you put in there.

De-gunk it: The National Science Foundation (NSF) recommends that once a month, you remove the drawer from the fridge and wash the bin with warm water and a mild detergent. "After washing and rinsing, sanitize the drawer by wiping it down with a mixture of two teaspoons household bleach per gallon of water," suggests Mary Gagliardi, aka “Dr. Laundry,” Clorox’s in-house scientist and cleaning expert. "Keep surfaces wet for two minutes, then drain and air dry. No rinsing step required for this solution!" Here are some more tips for cleaning the dirtiest items in your home.

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Microwave control panel

Sure, you clean the inside of your microwave (or at least you hopefully do!). But don't forget about the buttons that you press, as well as the door handle! How often have you reheated something and pressed the button with greasy fingers?

De-gunk it: Gagliardi recommends using a diluted bleach to disinfect your microwave's control panel. "To disinfect, wipe down with a diluted bleach solution of ½ cup household bleach per gallon of water, keeping the surface wet for five minutes, then rinse with clean water," she says. Let the surface air dry. You can use disinfecting wipes as well, she adds, just make sure the surface is clean first. Using disinfecting or antibacterial wipes on a visibly dirty surface is one of the biggest mistakes you make with the cleaning item.

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Salt and pepper shakers

You probably don't clean these much—but think about how much you use it! It needs disinfecting, too.

De-gunk it: "I recommend disinfecting the sides of the shakers with a wipe," says Gagliardi. "Make sure the shakers remain wet for four minutes in order to properly disinfect." Don't start disinfecting if it's already dirty; make sure to wipe off any salt, pepper, or residue before you thoroughly wipe it down with the wipe. By the way, this is the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.

Kitchen RefrigeratorTriggerPhoto/Getty Images

Handles

Yes, you wash your hands—more than ever now—but you'll still need to wash the things they touch! This includes the fridge (and freezer) handle, drawer and cabinet handles and faucet handles. "These are items we touch daily, and likely with food residue on our hands when we’re cooking," Costello says.

De-gunk it: No need to overthink this one; just wipe them down with antibacterial wipes every once in a while. (And keep up that hand-washing!) Also, wash your hands immediately after touching these 10 things.

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Trash can

Yes, it's a spot that's designed to collect dirt, but that doesn't mean you should completely ignore it. The can itself can get icky and germy from holding all that trash, and you should clean it once in a while!

De-gunk it: Clorox can work wonders on your trash can! "Spray Clorox® Clean-Up® Cleaner with Bleach on the inside, as well as anywhere you press to open a lid, until thoroughly wet," suggests Gagliardi. Wait for five minutes for the disinfectant to do its work, then rinse it and wipe it clean. Of course, you have to make sure to clean any visible dirt from the area before you tackle the germs. This is the reason Clorox is so good at killing germs!

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Blender gasket

If you don’t follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, you may be blending in bacteria with your food.

De-gunk it: Clean your machine after each use by disassembling completely, including removing the blade and gasket. Depending on the manufacturer’s directions, put the pieces in the dishwasher or wash by hand in hot soapy water. "After hand washing and rinsing, sanitize the blade and parts by wiping them down with a mixture of two teaspoons household bleach per gallon of water," Gagliardi advises. "Keep surfaces wet for two minutes, then drain and air dry." Let all pieces dry thoroughly before putting the blender together.  Next, watch out for these cleaning mistakes that are making your home dirtier.