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» If you dropped a piece of fruit in your kitchen sink while rinsing it, would you think twice about popping it in your mouth?
What if you dropped it in the toilet? »
Surprisingly Dirty Places in Your Home
By Mary Anne Dunkin
Germs like cold viruses and bacteria can live in some unexpected spots. Here are six surprisingly dirty places in your home – like your kitchen sink – and what you can do to protect yourself.
The Kitchen Sink
Although the mere thought of retrieving anything from your toilet bowl may be enough to make you sick, your toilet may be cleaner than your kitchen sink, says Eileen Abruzzo, director of infection control at Long Island College Hospital of Brooklyn, New York. Food particles from plates left to soak or rinsed from dishes on their way to the dishwasher can serve as a breeding ground for illness-causing bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. They can get on your hands or spread to foods.
Although most people take steps to disinfect their toilet bowls, few give their kitchen sink the same consideration, Abruzzo tells WebMD. “They rinse their sinks with water and assume they are clean – but they’re not.”
- Quick fix to banish bacteria: To sanitize your sink and prevent the spread of bacteria, Abruzzo recommends washing it with a solution of bleach and water once a day and then letting the solution run down the drain. Remember to remove the drain plug and clean it, too, she says. Then wash your hands.
You put it in your mouth twice a day, but do you ever think of all the germs lurking on it? “You rinse it off after using it and put it away damp,” says Abruzzo. “Bacteria like the moist area and grow on it.”
If the germs from your own mouth weren’t enough to contaminate your toothbrush, the germs from your toilet certainly are. Research in the 1970s by Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, found that flushing the toilet sends a spray of bacteria – and virus-contaminated water droplets – into air. These germs, he found, can float around in the bathroom for at least two hours after each flush before landing on surfaces – including your toothbrush.
- Quick fix to banish bacteria: Abruzzo recommends placing your toothbrush where it can air out and dry between uses – but not too close to the toilet. Also, replace your toothbrush often, particularly after you’ve been sick, and close your toilet lid before flushing.
Your Salt and Pepper Shaker
Could one of the dirtiest places in your home be right on the table where you eat?
Unfortunately, yes, according to a 2008 study by researchers at the University of Virginia. In the study, researchers asked 30 adults who were beginning to show signs of a cold, to name 10 places they’d touched in their homes over the previous 18 hours. The researchers then tested those areas for cold viruses. The tests found viruses on 41% of the surfaces tested, and every one of the salt and pepper shakers tested were positive for cold viruses.
- Quick fix to banish bacteria: When you wipe the kitchen table after eating, wipe off the salt and pepper shaker too. But your best protection against spreading or picking up germs when you reach for seasonings is to wash your hands – before and after.
TV Remote Control
It’s dropped on the floor, stuffed between the sofa cushions, coughed on and sneezed at. Everyone in the house handles it. “Anything people touch a lot has germs on it,” Abruzzo tells WebMD. A University of Virginia study of cold viruses on household surfaces showed the remote control’s surface is among the germiest. Researchers found half of the remote controls tested were positive for cold viruses.
- Quick fix to banish bacteria: Abruzzo wipes her remote with a bleach or alcohol wipe – “that is, if I can ever find it or get it out my husband’s hands,” she says. Aside from that, regular hand washing is the best way to protect yourself against these germs.
Your Computer Keyboard
If you eat at your computer, sneeze on your keyboard, or sit down to surf the Internet without first washing your hands, your computer keyboard could be a health hazard. In a recent study by a British consumer group, researchers swabbed keyboards for germs and found a host of potentially harmful bacteria, including E. coli and staph. Four of 33 sampled keyboards had enough germs to be considered health hazards. One had levels of germs five times higher than that found on a toilet seat.
- Quick fix to banish bacteria: Wash your hands before and after using your computer. If you must eat at your desk, don’t drop crumbs onto your keyboard. To clean your keyboard, gently shake out the crumbs or vacuum it. Abruzzo recommends wiping the keys with alcohol or bleach wipes, but “nothing too wet,” she says. “And don’t forget to wipe the mouse.”
The place where you clean yourself is not so clean itself. A recent study found staphylococcus bacteria in 26% of the tubs tested. A separate study had even worse findings for whirlpool tubs. When Texas A&M University microbiologist Rita Moyes, Ph.D. tested 43 water samples from whirlpools, she found that all 43 had mild to dangerous bacterial growth. Almost all showed bacteria from fecal matter; 81% had fungi, and 34% contained staph bacteria. According to Moyes, the main reason whirlpool tubs are so dirty has to do with the lining of the pipes. Water tends to get trapped in the pipes, providing a breeding ground for bacteria. When you turn on the jets, the germy water spouts out into the tub where you’re soaking.
- Quick fix to banish bacteria: Experts recommend cleaning and disinfecting your tub with bleach or bathroom cleaner after bathing, then dry with a clean towel. For whirlpool tubs, the best way to prevent bacteria from accumulating is to clean out the pipes.
Protecting Yourself from Germs:
Lots of germs are harmless; many are even good for your health. But you can help protect yourself from those that aren’t by keeping your hands clean. Your hands transfer bacteria and viruses to your eyes, nose and mouth. They can also transfer germs to others.
The CDC recommends regular hand washing with soap and water, washing your hands for 20 seconds – the time it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. “It doesn’t matter how warm the water is, what’s important is that you use friction,” says Abruzzo. Hand sanitizer gels can be used to kill germs, but they should not replace hand washing. Hand sanitizers can build up on the hands, so you should wash your hands the regular way after every fourth use, Abruzzo advises.