The Germiest Spots in Your Bathroom (Hint: Your Toilet Isn’t #1)
Chances are, you've been missing a few key places during your weekly chores.
The floor could be harboring more germs than any other area of the bathroom, says Gina Sloan, PhD, director of innovations with Microban. We generally don’t clean them nearly as often as a toilet, yet floors come in contact with the same bacteria because every flush releases bacteria into the air. “Whatever is close to your toilet is going to get covered in those microbes by a little, tiny volcanic eruption every time you flush,” says Sloan. Luckily, it’s easy to contain the spray by simply shutting the lid before you flush, she says.
If the floor is the dirtiest, your toothbrush is the second biggest hotspot for germs in your bathroom, says Sloan. “Your toothbrush takes in bacteria not only from your mouth, but wherever you lay it down on,” she says. Your countertop could be transferring bacteria, but so could your toilet if you don’t close the lid before you flush. Find out which one thing has more germs than anything else in your house (and there’s no way to clean it).
Your toothbrush isn’t keeping its germs to itself. A study from public health organization NSF International found that 64 percent of toothbrush holders contained mold and yeast, compared to 27 percent of toilet seats. They’re also far more likely to contain coliforms or staph, according to the study. “You put in your brush, which is damp or wet, and that residual water drips down and collects in the bottom of the cup,” says microbiologist Lisa Yakas, senior project manager for NSF. “Germs tend to like warm and moist environments.” Most holders can go in the dishwasher, which will get rid of any icky residue and the germs feeding on it, so toss yours in weekly or monthly, she recommends.
Sink handles contain more than 600 times more microorganisms per square inch than a toilet handle, according to the NSF study. You probably wipe down your flusher every time you clean the toilet, but sink handles are a less-than-obvious spot for germs. To wash yours, wipe it down with disinfecting wipes or a bleach solution, recommends the NSF. Don’t miss these other 12 items with more germs than a toilet seat.
When was the last time you included doorknobs on your cleaning checklist? You’re going to want to start: Bathroom doorknobs contain more microorganisms per square inch than a toilet seat, according to the NSF study. Often, you’re touching that handle after using the toilet, so washing your hands properly afterwards is your first line of defense, says Yakas. Only 5 percent of people actually wash their hands for more than 15 seconds, according to a Michigan State University study, even though the CDC recommends scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Wipe doorknobs down if you’re afraid people in your house (not you, of course) might be spreading germs.
You use them to wipe clean hands, so how bad could a towel be? Pretty bad, actually. In yet-to-be-published research from University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, 90 percent of bathroom towels carried coliform bacteria, and 14 percent were even harboring E. coli. Typically, your hands are moist and warm (and as mentioned, not as clean as you thought), creating a “paradise” for bacteria and mold, says Sloan. “They like to stick there and hide in the fibers,” she says. You should replace them every other day if possible, and use a full hot cycle once you’re ready to wash—cold won’t get them clean, she says. Quit making these other house cleaning mistakes that leave germs behind.
There’s a reason Sloan recommends against using a loofah. The shower sponges have cracks and crevices where mold and bacteria like to hide, and those areas stay moist and warm. “It may feel dry from the outside, but internally, it may not be fully dry,” says Sloan. “Dead skin cells, hair follicles, dirt you wash off—it’s just a food source for everything that’s staying behind.” She recommends ditching the loofah entirely, but if you can’t bear that thought, take it out of the shower to dry and get a new one every three to four weeks.
With every pass of a razor, the bacteria on your skin gets transferred to the blades. Getting up close and personal with your own germs isn’t a huge deal, but resist the temptation to borrow your partner’s in a pinch or risk getting their germs. But there’s another danger lurking in your own razor too. “A lot of people leave them sitting flat in a little bit of water,” says Sloan. “They rust, and rust allows a different subset of bacteria to set in.” Use a razor holder to let the blades air-dry, or keep them in oil to resist germ growth. Don’t miss these other places germs hide in your home.
We had to keep toilets on the list, but with 171 microorganisms per square inch, according to NSF, they really aren’t as bad as you might think. “They’re cleaner because we think they’re dirty, so we spend a lot of time cleaning them,” says Sloan. Of course, that cleanliness requires you to keep up the good work, so don’t consider a relatively clean potty an excuse to ignore your chores. Next, learn the 22 germiest things you’ll find in your home.