The 10 Dirtiest, Germiest, Grossest Things You Live With Everyday
Germs are all around us. In fact, the human body is made up of 100 trillion of them. That's right, you are literally one big walking germ.
For the most part, none of this is need for concern. A healthy adult immune system is equipped with the tools it needs to coexist with the majority of the germs we encounter in daily life. But, yes, there are some germs that have the power to make us sick, and those are the ones worth spending a little time and effort to rid from our lives.
Read on for our round-up of some of the germiest things we keep and fool-proof ways to disinfect them.
1. Bed Pillows
The place you rest your head at night could very well be teeming with germs. Mold, bacteria, and dust mites that feed on human skin flakes (but don't bite humans) are known to lurk inside our bed pillows. The older the pillow, the more likely you are to be sleeping on a microscopic zoo.
Experts suggest we replace our pillows every 18 months to two years — and not just recycle them to the guest room. That can be expensive, but it's a sure-fire way to rid yourself of the creepy-crawly germs that invade our pillows over time. Another solution is covering your pillows with quality, anti-allergen dust covers. These covers can be a bit crunchy to sleep on, but they do their share to ward off microorganisms that can make us sick and sneezy.
2. The Kitchen Sponge
The sponges we use to clean our plates are 200,000 times dirtier than the toilet seat. In fact, experts say there are 10 million bacteria — including E. coli and other triggers of foodborne illness — festering in every square inch of that kitchen sponge you used to scrub down your coffee mug this morning. Not only can these germs make us sick, they can actually cause paralysis. That's right: A leading researcher on the subject has identified a rare bacteria known to live on sponges that can cause loss of movement.
Luckily, most of us already own the world's greatest sponge disinfectant: the microwave. Microwaving kitchen sponges at full power for one to two minutes has been proven to kill more than 99% of bacteria. Experts also recommend replacing your sponges weekly. And never, ever use a sponge to wipe down a clean plate.
3. Reusable Shopping Bags
Have you ever washed that canvas tote? Studies show only 3% of grocery shoppers have. That's a dreadfully low percentage that perpetuates the 76 million foodborne illness cases that plague Americans every year. Half of all reusable bags are contaminated with coliform bacteria, likely from under-cooked meats, and about 12% have traces of E.coli, according to research.
Experts say to treat these bags like soiled laundry: Wash 'em with piping hot water and detergent once a week. And remember to use separate, designated bags for produce and meats to cut down on cross-contamination.
4. The Litterbox
Your cat can make you crazy. No, really. There's a parasite cats excrete in their feces that, when transferred to humans, can cause flu-like symptoms at best and dementia at worst. Humans are at risk not only by coming into contact with litter boxes, but also by eating unwashed vegetables or undercooked meat.
Experts say you can prevent yourself from contracting this parasite, called Toxoplasmosis, by changing your cat's litter box daily (the parasite becomes infectious one to five days after excretion). You can also reduce your risk of infection by thoroughly washing or peeling fruits and vegetables before eating them and only consuming meats that have been cooked at safe temperatures.
Your smartphone can give you real-time news alerts, access to far-away friends, stock market updates — and the flu, pinkeye, and diarrhea. In a study by the Wall Street Journal, eight phones in a Chicago office building were randomly selected and tested for bacteria. All of them were found to be crawling with between 2,700 and 4,200 units of coliform, the bacteria found in feces. Now for a little perspective. In drinking water, the limit is less than 1 unit of coliform per 100 milliliters of water. Remember that the next time you put your phone up to your mouth.
Experts recommend wiping down your mobile device with a moist microfiber cloth daily. But that alone won't cut it. Neither will glass cleaner. The best agent to clean your phone with is isopropyl alcohol, which wipes out nearly 100% of all bacteria as well as greasy finger marks. It's important to first dilute the alcohol with water to prevent damage to sensitive electronics.
The keyboard is a hotbed for germs. So is the mouse and the entire desktop surface where you conduct your computer work. Research shows that 32% of computer equipment is crawling with bacteria that causes disease. Women are even more likely than men to have a keyboard that can make them sick.
Experts recommend hand-washing before and after computer use, especially when using a shared computer. On occasion it's recommended that you clean the keyboard itself by following these steps: Shutdown the computer, turn the keyboard upside down and gently shake out any debris stuck between the keys, moisten a Q-tip with isopropyl alcohol and swipe it between the keys; moisten a cloth with isopropyl alcohol and wipe down the rest of the keyboard.
7. Your Toothbrush
There are millions of germs in your mouth. Most are harmless, but some have the potential to make us sick, particularly if they've been left to fester on the bristles of our toothbrush.
Experts say you should replace your toothbrush every three to four months. But there are also things you can do to prevent bacteria buildup on your current toothbrush. Before brushing, some experts recommend gargling with antibacterial mouthwash. After you brush, the American Dental Association recommends thoroughly rinsing your toothbrush to remove leftover paste and food bits. You should then store it in the upright position so the bristles can air dry until the next usage.
8. The Toilet Flusher
Your toilet flusher is crawling with bacteria. Think about it: It's the one thing you touch after you do your business and before you wash your hands. Not only that, but experts say the way you're flushing is probably infecting everything from the bathroom counter to the sink. If you flush with the lid up, you're allowing polluted water particles to rise out of the toilet bowl and settle where they may. Some of them will land on your toothbrush.
To prevent your bathroom from becoming a cesspool, experts recommend flushing with the lid down. Store your toothbrush and water cup in the medicine cabinet, just in case somebody doesn't get the memo.
9. Door Knobs
The flu virus can live on your door knob for up to two days. Once transferred to your skin, the virus can live a couple more hours. And experts say that's enough to cause infection. Most of us will touch our eyes, nose, or mouth 16 times over the course of the next hour.
You can cut down on the risk of door handle-borne illness by washing your hands regularly and avoiding the almost compulsory urge to touch your face.
10. The Steering Wheel
Most people clean the house regularly, but how about the inside of the car? Studies show that the steering wheel is coated in thousands of bacteria, making it nearly nine times more germy than a public toilet seat. Yet only a third of car owners ever bother to disinfect it.
Experts recommend wiping down your car's interior with a disinfectant every few months. And don't forget the trunk. Research shows that the trunk is the germiest part of the car, so you would be wise to give it a good vacuum every so often.
Any germy, gross things we've missed? Please share (ick!) in comments!