Which are the germiest spots in your house?

NSF International visited 22 Michigan homes a few years ago and took swabs of the 26 locations thought to be the most touched by people living there. These are the places where we pick up germs or leave germs behind for other family or friends to contact.

Many bacteria are harmless or maybe even helpful, of course, but some might be the sources of illness, including foodborne illness. NSF is a product testing, inspection and certification organization.

The researchers then measured the concentration of bacteria they collected from each spot.

The germiest placeSpong_towels

The highest concentration by far they found was on dish sponges. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“Sponges come into contact with food residues that can build up in them and that provide nutrients for bacteria and other microorganisms to grow,” explains microbiologist Manan Sharma of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

What’s more, sponges are often wet and are left in damp areas in or near the sink, which are ideal conditions for germs to multiply.

“They also have many nooks and crannies, which can be great places for germs to multiply,” notes NSF microbiologist Rob Donofrio, who adds that “sponges are typically not properly— or regularly—sanitized before their next use.”

Next most germy in the NSF study:

Toothbrush holders. Then came the pet’s bowl and the kitchen sink.

“Sink drains are really dirty places,” says the University of Georgia’s Joseph Frank. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal, creating a perfect environment for bacterial growth.

“You’ll find Listeria in a good many drains, and probably Salmonella too, especially if people use the sink for rinsing off raw meat or poultry,” says Frank.

And the fifth highest concentration of bacteria?

The coffee reservoir, where you pour the cold water into a drip coffee maker. It’s a good bet that most people don’t think of their coffee maker as one of the germiest sites in their house.

Coffee makers “are certainly a moist environment where mold and bacteria are known to grow in high numbers,” Kelly Reynolds, who studies household germs at the University of Arizona, told the Huffington Post. “Our bodies can deal with them, but at some point they’ll grow to levels high enough to cause sickness.”

How to clean your coffee reservoir?

Here’s the advice of the Good Housekeeping Institute:

  • Fill the reservoir with equal parts vinegar and water,
  • place a paper filter into the machine’s empty basket,
  • position the pot in place and “brew” the solution halfway,
  • turn off the machine and let it sit for 30 minutes,
  • turn the coffeemaker back on and finish the brewing,
  • dump out the full pot of vinegar and water,
  • rinse everything out by putting in a new paper filter and brewing a full pot of clean water,
  • repeat once.

What were the next germiest spots in the houses that NSF sampled? The kitchen countertop, stove knobs and pet’s toy. Then came toilet seats and bathroom faucet handles. In fact, overall kitchens had more bacteria than bathrooms. Yikes!

Among the objects with the least bacteria: purses, wallets, remote controls, and cell phones.

Source: J. Environ. Health. 75: 12, 2012.

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3 Replies to “Which are the germiest spots in your house?”

  1. I would like to have more details on keeping those surfaces clean. How often should the coffee pot cleaning be done (daily, weekly, monthly)? Is changing the sponge daily good enough or does it need to be microwaved (wet) for 1 minute if a few hours have passed? Is it effective to rinse the sponge in hot water and squeeze dry if it has been a few hours since the last clean up? Are dish cloths better or worse?

  2. I use a Melita funnel and cone filter to make fresh coffee. I bring water to a rolling boil in a kettle and pour a little in the funnel to sterilize it and then insert the cone filter and add ground beans. With the kettle still boiling, I add hot water to start the brewing process.

    I also use boiling water as final rinse when cleaning dishes, flatware, etc.

    I’m also quite diligent concerning washing my hands before touching any food and frequently dry my hands with a clean paper towel.

    1. Wow Lawrence I thought I was the only “crazy” person to use boiling water for rinsing my dishes. One of my friends commented on the number of tea kettles I have; I did not tell her it was because I use them to fill my dishpan when I wash my dishes. I also wear two pairs of rubber gloves and rinse the sponge I use to wash the dishes and also the one I wipe the counter with. Also I use paper towels to dry my dishes before putting them away and also am careful about washing my hands-not obsessive but careful. Yesterday after my husband put a roasting chicken in the oven even though he wiped things down I got out my steamer and hit my counter and sink with steam.

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