Dirty Little Secrets: Shocking Germ Hotspots You Touch Every Day
As much as it may creep us out, germs surround us every day, nearly everywhere, with some multiplying millions of times in just hours. Fortunately, though, many strains of bacteria are helpful to humans (or at least pose no serious threat to most of us). But there are others that can make us very ill. Don't take chances with your family's health; learn to defend yourself by knowing these ten germ hot spots. (See also: Green Cleaners Already in Your Home)
In Your Home
Home is where the heart is, and home is also where you'll find plenty of germs.
Bacteria can become airborne when flushing a toilet with the lid up, only to settle on other surfaces in your bathroom. To cut down on airborne bacteria from the toilet, get in the habit of closing the lid when flushing.
Certain types of shower curtains can be major germ spreaders, too. Methylobacterium, a class of bacteria that cause infections, hang out and multiply in the soap scum that accumulates on vinyl shower curtains. These germs are launched into the air from the power of the shower spray. To combat these germy paratroopers, replace your vinyl shower curtain with the washable woven nylon variety. (See also: Alternative Uses for Things in Your Bathroom)
An often overlooked part of your kitchen is the little aerator at tip of your kitchen faucet. Since it stays wet and can be accidently bumped by food particles when you cook or clean, it's a perfect place for bacteria to grow and hide. Eliminate germs here by unscrewing the aerator, soaking it in a solution of bleach and water, then rinse and replace. (See also: 9 Ways to Use Bleach)
Dust mites live in our bedding and feed on the skin cells we leave behind. In turn, dust mites' fecal matter and dead bodies pollute our indoor air supply and aggravate respiratory conditions like asthma. Buy dust mite covers for your mattress, pillows, and duvets to keep them from settling in and accumulating. Also, since dust mites thrive in humidity, you can use a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity level in your home. (One novel solution is to skip making your bed — a made bed traps moisture more readily than an unmade one.)
Ironically, your washing machine is a like an endless merry-go-round for germs. Since washing at cooler temperatures will not kill germs, turn up the heat or add bleach as appropriate. And because bacteria love dark damp places, don't let wet laundry sit around; begin the drying cycle as soon as possible. If you use a laundromat, reduce bacteria by cleaning the wash tub with a disinfecting wipe before starting your laundry. (See also: Best Washing Machines)
Because your vacuum sucks up all kinds of dirt, skin cells, and food particles, it's the perfect hangout for bacteria and dust mites. Avoid changing your vacuum bag or emptying the collection bin indoors, where bacteria can become airborne in a cloud of dust. Instead, change the bag regularly outdoors and wash collection bin of your bagless vacuum with a bleach and water mix.
I'm not talking about pathogens in the food or as a result of unsafe food handling practices (although that happens far more often than we'd like).
A study conducted by the New York University Microbiology Department showed that the dirtiest item in restaurants may be the chairs you're sitting on. Seventy percent of seats tested held some form of bacteria — some carried 17 different varieties, including E. coli. To help avoid infection, customers should avoid direct skin-to-seat contact and wash hands thoroughly before eating. (See also: Restaurant Dishes You Can Make at Home)
The same article found menus to be the second most germ-ridden part of restaurants. Menus are handled often and seldom disinfected, and they can harbor and transfer bacteria for up to 24 hours. Again, reduce your risk by washing your hands after placing your order and don't let menus touch your plate, food, or utensils.
They might add a little zest to your water or iced-tea, but at restaurants, those lemon wedges are likely swarming with bacteria. According to FoodSentry.org, a food safety site, some studies indicate that nearly 70 percent of restaurant lemon wedges may be harboring pathogenic microbes. The next time you dine out, sour on this garnish and reduce your exposure to germs. (See also: Alternative Uses for Lemons)
On Your Personal Effects
Some of the stuff you use and carry every day is is positively squirming with microscopic baddies.
Your Cell Phone
You touch it constantly. It stays warm against your face, tucked in your pocket, or sheathed in a protective case. Your cell phone is an absolute spa for bacteria, and it's teeming with life. Protect yourself from a germ onslaught by investing in an antibacterial screen protector for your phone or cleaning your phone frequently with anti-bacterial wipes.
Purses and Handbags
It should come as no surprise that purses are dirtier than the average toilet. After all, how often do we set our purses on the floor? Where do we put them when it's time for a restroom break? Help keep your purse clean with antibacterial wipe-downs and stow it on your lap instead of letting it touch the floor.
This list is hardly exhaustive because germ hotspots are all around us. As a general rule, germs flourish in places that have frequent contact with lots of people (think door and refrigerator handles, light switches, railings, cash and coins, etc.). We could avoid germs if we could keep all those surfaces sanitized, but a more realistic approach is to reduce our risk by adopting simple prevention and germ-fighting strategies like the ones discussed above. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the simplest germ-fighting tactic that'll work no matter what hotspot you encounter: regular hand-washing.
What do you do to defend yourself around germ hotspots?