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MDs Share 8 Surprising Germ Hot Spots In Your Home (The Toilet Isn’t One of Them!)

The good news: These easy tricks kill up to 99.9% of sick-making bugs

When it comes time to clean, we tend to gravitate toward places like the bathroom to start – after all, the toilet must be the dirtiest spot, right? Wrong! Your bathroom actually isn’t the dirtiest place in the house. As it turns out, dirt, germs and grime can – and do – lurk in unexpected places, from office chairs to spice jars and more. We talked to infectious disease specialists, microbiologists and other experts to find out the dirtiest places in the house. Keep reading for the surprise top spots — and helpful tips to clean them effectively.

The most common germs in your home

The average person is exposed to 60,000 types of germs daily. While most of them have no impact on our health, some germs lingering around the dirtiest places in your house may make you sick. “E. coli and other intestinal bugs may be present,” explains Ashley Drews, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Certainly respiratory viruses like influenza and rhinovirus that cause the common cold can also be present in our environment.” Plus, infection-causing bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and salmonella may be hiding in germ hot spots.

The upside? “If you keep up with routine cleaning and washing your hands, you don’t need to be excessively concerned about infections,” assures infectious disease expert Daniel Levy, MD, a primary care doctor at Mercy Medical Center.

But what overlooked spots in the house could use a little extra cleaning? Continue reading to learn about the surprising dirtiest places in the house.

Related: Top 8 Germ Hot Spots MDs Want You To Know About + Easiest Ways To Clean Them

The 8 dirtiest places in your house

1. This part of your vacuum

vacuum cleaner on a brightly colored carpet: dirtiest places in the house
Carol Yepes/Getty Images

Carpets and rugs trap more dirt and grime than wood, tile and other flooring types. So it’s no wonder vacuum cleaner attachments frequently accumulate bacteria, mold and other sickness-inducing germs. Plus, cleaning with the same germ-covered vacuum cleaner attachment in different areas in your home can spread bacteria to other surfaces and into the air, notes Dr. Drews.

Reduce your risk: There’s a trick University of North Carolina researchers recommend to kill these germs before they spread: Lightly spritz the beater brush and underside of your vacuum’s power head with a disinfectant spray (think Lysol or Clorox) after each use or after vacuuming the dirtiest places in the house, like the entryway. Also smart: Swapping out the cleaner bag every 30 to 60 days or when it’s about 2/3 full to prevent bacteria and allergens inside the bag from spreading.

Related: How to Clean a Shag Rug — Cleaning Pro Reveals The Trick That Works Wonders

2. Kitchen sponges and rags

kitchen rags and sponges:dirtiest places in the house
Gulcin Ragiboglu/Getty Images

According to a study conducted by the National Sanitation Foundation, more than 75% of kitchen sponges and dishrags harbor sick-making bacteria like coliforms. In addition to being high-touch surfaces, Dr. Drews says “they’re reused, they’re damp and they hold in moisture,” all of which make them an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Reduce your risk: To keep sponges and rags clean, toss them in the microwave for one minute or pop them in the dishwasher (make sure to run the drying cycle!) Agricultural Research Services scientists found these two methods killed 99.9% of bacteria, yeasts and molds on sponges, making them more than twice as effective as other strategies for cleaning sponges.

3. Fido’s food bowl

dog with face in food dish: dirtiest places in the house

In general, having pets in your home will expose you to more germs and allergens, says Dr. Drews. Pets will stick their snouts into pretty much anything, so it’s no surprise their food and water dishes consistently rank as some of the most contaminated objects in any home. Research in the journal PLOS ONE shows they carry millions of illness-causing germs, including Clostridium difficile and drug-resistant staph.

Reduce your risk: To keep bacteria at bay, toss your dog’s dishes into the dishwasher daily or scrub with hot, soapy water. Adds Dr. Drews, “After you’ve handled their bowls, make sure to wash your hands before touching your face or handling your own food.”

In the PLOS ONE study, people who took the following steps reduced germ counts by up to 50%:

  • Washed their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handing pet food
  • Used a scoop or other utensil (not the pet’s bowl) to scoop food from the bag
  • Scraped food dishes before washing
  • Washed pet bowl and scoop with soap and water (of at least 160 degrees F) for at least 30 seconds after each use
  • Dried dishes thoroughly with a towel or ran through a dishwasher with a wash and dry cycle.
  • Discarded uneaten food
  • Stored dry pet food in its original bag

4. Desk chairs

Home office desk chair: dirtiest places in the house
Artur Debat/Getty Images

You might think a computer mouse would be one of the grimiest things at your workstation – and you’re not wrong! In one study, every sample tested harbored bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli). But your desktop and office chair arms can also get surprisingly germ-infested and shouldn’t be overlooked when you’re cleaning the dirtiest places in your house. Enjoying lunch at your desk or sipping on a coffee can also increase your exposure to bacteria, since microscopic germs are attracted to the hard-to-see crumbs, notes Dr. Drews.

Reduce your risk: Instead of giving up your snacks, start each day by using a disinfecting wipe or soap and water to quickly clean these spots. Give your mouse, keyboard and any other high-touch surfaces a swipe, too. Research shows that this simple morning routine can significantly reduce the number of germs.

5. Spice and seasoning jars

spice jars on a kitchen counter: dirtiest places in the house
Image Source/Getty Images

Spices and seasoning jars kept near the stove are exposed to splatters and cross-contamination as we chop, measure and cook. But researchers at New Jersey’s Rutgers University recently found that many of the jars used while cooking — even those tucked in a cupboard — were contaminated with sick-making bacteria. Previous research finds that salt shakers also carry the cold-causing rhinovirus. “Shakers are passed around the table several times a day but rarely receive the washing that dishes and utensils do,” explains NYU microbiologist Philip M. Tierno, MD. And food residue on shaker surfaces can keep those microbes alive for several days.
Reduce your risk: To prevent infection, “make sure that you are touching clean items with clean hands,” advises Dr. Drews. “It’s best practice to wash your hands before you touch any spice containers.” You can double up on protection by giving your most-used jars a weekly wipe-down with the same disinfectant you use to scrub your kitchen countertops. And when you’re a dinner guest, take care not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth after using salt shakers, says Tierno.

Related: Curing Your Brain Fog Could Be As Easy As Replacing a Few Spices

6. Shower curtain and liners

striped shower curtain in bathroom: dirtiest places in the house
nikitabuida/Getty Images

Moisture-loving microbes breed like wildfire on damp shower curtains and liners. In fact, a study conducted by SafeHome found that shower curtains contain 60 times more bacteria than the toilet seat.

Reduce your risk: Researchers in Applied and Environmental Microbiology say regularly washing off the soap scum those germs feast on helps halt their growth. So whenever you clean the bathroom, don’t forget the curtain. “You can toss fabric curtain liners in the washing machine on a hot cycle,” says Dr. Drews. For vinyl liners, a quick wipe with bleach or disinfectant like Lysol can clear off germs and soap scum. Keeping your shower curtain closed between uses also creates fewer damp nooks and crannies in which germs can thrive. (Click through for our tips on how to make your bathroom smell good.)

7. Reusable grocery bags

canvas grocery bag on kitchen counter: dirtiest places in the house
Ekaterina Goncharova/Getty Images

Eco-friendly totes are also germ-friendly: many of them carry illness-causing bacteria and viruses, say scientists at California’s Loma Linda University. University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD, explains, “These bags are often stored in hot car trunks, used week after week and often double as totes for gym clothes, shoes and other items, so germs can grow fast,” he says. Dr. Levy adds that leaking meat packaging may expose you to pathogens like E. coli, but it’s a rare occurrence. What’s more, germs from grocery carts and checkout conveyors may accumulate on the bags.

Reduce your risk: Wash the bags weekly in hot water, put meat and poultry in plastic bags before tossing into totes and keep the bags used for groceries separate from those used for other items. Finally, opting for cotton or canvas bags and washing them in hot water may eliminate pathogens.

8. Toothbrush holders

toothbrushes in toothbrush holder on sink
imagenavi/Getty Images

Toothbrush holders may hold more bacteria than anywhere else in the bathroom. According to the National Sanitation Foundation, the holders are the third dirtiest place in the house. “Our mouths really have a lot of bacteria,” says Dr. Drews, who explains that the combination of those germs and a moist toothbrush create an ideal breeding group for bacteria.

Reduce your risk: To keep this area clean, handwash the holder with hot, soapy water once to twice a week, or, if it’s dishwasher-safe, pop it in the dishwasher. Also smart: Store it in the medicine cabinet, where it’s away from the spray of a flushing toilet.

Related: How Often Should You Replace Your Toothbrush? More Often Than You Think

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.


For more clean-home tips and tricks:

News: Your Disinfectant Wipes Could Be Making You Fat, Foggy and Tired

How to Disinfect the Most-Touched Areas of Your Home

How To Deep Clean a Couch: Expert Tips for Getting It To Look Like New

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