10 Places You’re Not Disinfecting Regularly but Should
You already know to disinfect the remote and the toilet, but what other germy spots in your house should you sanitize regularly?
At this point, when you catch a cold or cough, you barely have to think about your game plan: Stock up on chicken soup, pick up some Robitussin to help relieve your symptoms, and disinfect shared surfaces like the remote control so your kids don’t get sick. But are you disinfecting all the surfaces you should be? Where do germs really lurk anyway?
To collect information about germs, researchers from NSF International, an organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that develops public health standards and certifications, asked 22 families to each swab 30 common household items. They used cotton swabs that were saturated with a sterile liquid that helped pick up germs and tested an area on each item that was roughly 3 inches by 3 inches. The researchers tested for Coliform bacteria, a family of bacteria that includes Salmonella and E. coli (bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal problems).
What Researchers Found
When microbiologists analyzed the swabs, they found Coliform bacteria on items from 81 percent of the households tested and Staphylococcus aureus (often called Staph for short) in more than 5 percent of households. They also found yeast and mold, which can cause allergies in some people, in 31 percent of the households.
The key finding, which may surprise you, is that the kitchen was the germiest room in the house—not the bathroom. Getting more specific, these were the particular items that had the highest germ counts, overall, in order:
- Dish sponges and rags
- Kitchen sink
- Toothbrush holder
- Pet bowl
- Coffee reservoir
- Bathroom faucet handle
- Pet toy
- Stove knobs
- Cutting boards
Household items that were the least germy and ranked lowest on the list included keys, money, computer keyboards, and bathroom light switches.
Why Some Items are Germier Than Others
Germs can live on most household surfaces, but areas that are warm or moist tend to harbor more germs, which explains why sponges top the list. You may have heard that microwaving a sponge is a good way to clean it, but a recent study found that microwaved sponges aren’t any cleaner; the bacteria that survive a microwaving quickly regrow to previous levels. A safer plan, though it'll cost you more money, is to replace your sponge every week or so. And squeeze as much water as you can out of it when you're finished using it so it dries out more between uses.
Most of the other top-10 items should be regularly sanitized (no less than once a week, and more often in high-traffic areas) with a clean cloth and disinfectant spray, a bleach solution, or soap and hot water. As for pet toys and rags, throw them in the washing machine, set the water temperature to hot, and use either a chlorine bleach (if the toy is white) or a non-chlorine, hydrogen-peroxide bleach (if the toy is colorful).
These were the items that had the highest germ counts, in order, and how to clean them:
Dish sponges and rags: Once a week, soak sponges in undiluted white vinegar or a solution that is ¾ cup bleach to 1 gallon water for 5 minutes. Rinse in warm water and wring dry. Squeeze out as much water as you can after every use to allow the sponge to dry out between uses. For rags, wash in the washing machine in hot water.
Kitchen sink: Start with dish soap and hot water, and with a sponge, scrub the inside of the sink to get it clean, starting from the sides so any grime goes down the drain. Then sprinkle baking soda to cover the damp sink basin and spray hydrogen peroxide onto the sink. Let sit for 10 minutes before scrubbing or wiping away. Alternatively, fill the sink basin with water, then add a capful of bleach (about 1 tablespoon), and let sit for 5 minutes before draining. Remember to dip a rag into the solution and wipe down the faucet and handles.
Toothbrush holder: After using your toothbrush, rinse it completely before storing it upright and without a cover. This allows your toothbrush to dry out (remember, moist environments are breeding grounds for bacteria). To really clean your toothbrush, you can soak it in hydrogen peroxide of an alcohol-based mouthwash. And prevent the spread of fecal bacteria onto your toothbrush by lowering the toilet lid before flushing.
Pet bowl: Is your pet like a member of your family? You should be washing its dishes like it is, too. Your pet’s food and water bowls should be washed daily – you can wash them in the sink or dishwasher with dish detergent; just use a separate sponge to prevent spreading bacteria, and don’t forget to wipe down the sink after. If you feed your pet raw meat, then wash the bowl with hot, soapy water once mealtime is over.
Coffee reservoir: If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned your coffee maker, don’t worry. Put a filter like you normally would, then fill the water reservoir with half vinegar and half water (you can add more vinegar for a more vigorous cleaning). Hit the brew button (without coffee, of course), and once it’s about halfway through the cycle, turn off the machine. Let it soak for an hour, then finish the cycle. Dump the pot, then do another cycle, running it all the way through this time, with only water.
Bathroom faucet handle: Wipe down with vinegar or a disinfectant, or when cleaning the sink, dip a rag into your sink cleaning solution (for ideas, see above on how to clean the kitchen sink) and clean the faucet handle.
Pet toy: Throw them in the washing machine, set the water temperature to hot, and use either a chlorine bleach (if the toy is white) or a non-chlorine, hydrogen-peroxide bleach (if the toy is colorful).
Countertop: Hot, soapy water is your best bet for pretty much any countertop material. Be sure not to scrub with an abrasive material, especially if you have a countertop that’s prone to scratches (looking at you, marble and granite). Then wipe dry.
Stove knobs: Grease and grime accumulates on stove knobs. If the knobs on your stove can be removed, pull them off and soak in vinegar. While they’re soaking, spray the area around where the knobs usually are with vinegar and let sit for 30 minutes. (If the knobs don’t come off, just spray directly with vinegar.) For stubborn messes on your stove, make a paste with vinegar and baking soda, then scrub with a toothpaste.
Cutting boards: After handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs on a cutting board, place the cutting board directly into the sink so you don’t reuse it. Wash cutting boards with hot water and dish detergent after using, and replace when they become worn – scratches and grooves can harbor bacteria.