Where Germs Hide: Our “Filthy 5” Everyday Items May Shock You!

Germs are everywhere, lurking in household and commonly used items. The examples covered here are especially notorious hiding places for germs.

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Which item being held by this woman is more germ-infested—her cellphone or the gas pump? Take your pick: Both make our list of five common items that house more germs than we'd care to know.

© Dean Bertoncelj | Dreamstime.com

Let’s face it: Germs are everywhere. But the five items covered here are especially dirty and germ-infested—in some cases even more so than even your toilet seat! What’s worse, you probably use some of these common items multiple times every day. Go ahead—read through our list and see if you suddenly feel like washing your hands.

#1. Gas Pump Handles

A study by the University of Arizona sampling gas pumps was, in a word, alarming. Researchers were astounded not only by the number of microbes present on gas pump handles, but the type of germs. A whopping 71 percent of the gas pumps sampled were “highly contaminated” with microbes associated with illness and disease. So the next time you pull into a self-service gas station to fill up, put on a pair of gloves.

How to clean gas pump handles: If you don’t have a pair of gloves, use alcohol-based wipes to clean the handles of gas pumps before use. Or, immediately use hand sanitizer after pumping gas.

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#2. Cellphones and Tablets

Research has shown that cell phones are portable health hazards with tens of thousands of microbes living on each square inch of the them. A 2013 study performed by a British watchdog group called Which? examined 30 tablets, 30 mobile phones, and an office toilet seat, swabbing each of them for analysis. One iPad had up to 600 units per swab of Staphylococcus (a bacteria that causes food poisoning and stomach issues). The cell phones had up to 140 units of the bacteria. And, surprisingly, the office toilet seat had fewer than 20 units of bacteria.

In a small study by the University of Oregon, scientists tested the index fingers and thumbs of 17 subjects along with the touchscreens of their smartphones. They found an 82 percent overlap between the types of bacteria found on participants’ fingers and on their phones. And, the women had more bacteria on their phones than men.

Of the more than 7,000 different types of bacteria the researchers identified, the most common were in the StreptococcusStaphylococcus, and Corynebacterium families.

Of even greater concern is that, according to research, cellphones can act as potential carriers of nosocomial infections (infections acquired while being treated at a hospital). In the case of healthcare providers, smartphones used by males showed significantly higher levels of microbes than those used by females.

How to clean your cellphone: Spray an alcohol- or vinegar-based cleaner on a microfiber cloth and wipe down your cell phone. Then, take a Q-tip and dip it in the cleaner, but be sure not to soak the Q-tip completely (a light amount will suffice). Trace around the edges of your mobile phone, the buttons, and any other crevices. Then, air-dry the phone for a few minutes.

#3. Purses and Handbags

According to research by a British group called Initial Washroom Hygiene, the average handbag is three times dirtier than an office toilet seat. And, 1 in 5 handbag handles contain enough germs to pose a significant risk of cross-contamination from the handle to your hand. While the handles clearly contained the most bacteria, the contents inside the bag were also loaded with microbes. Of those, lotion bottles and lipstick were the dirtiest.

How to clean your purse or handbag: If you use a purse that can be cleaned in the laundry, do so with warm water. For leather purses, clean the outside and handles with warm water and soap. Then, use another damp washcloth to wipe off the soap. Last, dry with a towel. The contents inside the purse can be cleaned with an alcohol-based wipe.

#4. Money

Money is the root of all evil—and it’s also the root of germs. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can cause life-threatening blood infections, can survive on currency—something to thing about the next time you hand the convenience-store cashier a larger bill and you receive a pile of $1 and $5 bills from the cash register.

Other pathogens found on money include E. coli and Pseudonomnas aeruoginosa. A report in Scientific American notes, “The fibrous surfaces of U.S. currency provide ample crevices for bacteria to make themselves at home. And the longer any of that money stays in circulation, the more opportunity it has to become contaminated.”

How to clean money: More and more we use debit cards as currency. If that’s your preference, all the better in terms of germs: You can wipe your debit card with an alcohol pad periodically. However, if you’ve picked up some well-traveled bills that aren’t burning a hole in your pocket, you can always give them a quick bath. Place paper money on a towel; dip a soft toothbrush in a warm-water-and-soap solution, then lightly brush one side of the money. Flip over, and wash the other side. Allow to air dry. Filthy coins? Soak them in a solution of warm water and soap; then, air-dry on a towel.

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Where germs hide: Yes, your toothbrush. Keep yours clean with the tips in our post.

#5. Toothbrush

Yes, it’s gross! But, according to researchers at the University of Manchester in England, your toothbrush may be the dirtiest item in your home—and you put it in your mouth every single day.

The study revealed that a toothbrush can contain more than 10 million bacteria, including E. coli and Staphylococcus. What’s worse? The University of Alabama-Birmingham found fecal matter on toothbrushes, too.

How to clean your toothbrush: Number one, don’t flush where you brush! Store your toothbrush away from the toilet. If your toilet is next to your bathroom sink, consider using a toothbrush cover, or storing it in a counter or drawer. But make sure the toothbrush is dry before storing. Placing a wet toothbrush in a dark environment increases the chance for mold growth. Also, you can use mouthwash to disinfect your toothbrush. Once per week, pour the mouthwash in a glass and allow your toothbrush to soak for about 20 to 30 seconds. Last, you should buy a replacement toothbrush every three months. They are inexpensive and definitely worth the investment.

IS YOUR TOOTHBRUSH DISHWASHER-SAFE?

Does it help to run your toothbrush through the dishwasher sporadically? Some swear by it, pointing out that the heat from a dishwasher cycle kills any germs hiding out. From Woman’s Day magazine: “Toothbrushes, toothbrush holders, goopy soap dishes, nail brushes, plastic makeup brushes and bathtub drain plugs all benefit from an occasional run through the dishwasher. Place on the top rack with smaller items tucked in a dishwasher basket, and wash on a normal cycle with your other dishes.”

The American Dental Association (ADA), on the other hand, expresses concern that the practice will compromise the toothbrush’s effectiveness: “Some toothbrush cleaning methods, including use of a dishwasher or microwave oven, could damage the brush. Manufacturers may not have designed their products to withstand these conditions. The cleaning effectiveness of the brush might be decreased if it is damaged.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) echoes the ADA’s advice: “You do not need to use dishwashers, microwaves, or ultraviolet devices to disinfect toothbrushes. These methods may damage the toothbrush.”

Other CDC tips on toothbrush care:

  • Do not share toothbrushes. Toothbrushes can have germs on them even after rinsing that could raise the risk of infection, especially for people with immune suppression.
  • After brushing, rinse your toothbrush with tap water until it is completely clean, let it air-dry, and store it in an upright position. If more than one brush is stored in the same holder, do not let them touch each other.
  • Avoid covering toothbrushes or storing them in closed containers, which can cause the growth of bacteria.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles look worn out. This is because a worn-out toothbrush may not work as well, not because it might carry more germs.

For related reading, visit these posts:


[1] Br J Dermatol. 2008 Mar; 158(3): 442–455.
[2] Asian J Research / Hindu College of Pharmacy. 2017 Oct.
[3] Shiraz E Med J. 2017 April, 18(4).
[4] Are Gas Pumps the Dirtiest Thing That You Touch? (2015, June 01). Retrieved February 24, 2018, from https://cleantechnica.com/2015/06/01/are-gas-pumps-the-dirtiest-thing-that-you-touch/
[5] BDJ. 2016 July, 221(44).
[6] You’ll Never Look at Your Toothbrush the Same Way Again. (2016, November 14). Retrieved February 24, 2018, from http://www.stelizabeth.com/healthyheadlines/toothbrush-bacteria/
[7] Maron, D. F. (2017, January 03). Dirty Money. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dirty-money/

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Comments
  • Theresa G.

    In regards to toothbrush care, is hydrogen peroxide effective? I had read that it was and pour some over my toothbrush now and then and always if I am sick prior to replacing it. Is this harmful?

  • Larry C.

    Hi Theresa. Hydrogen peroxide fared well in a small study in 2011. The research involved 50 boys (aged 8 to 11) and compared the efficacy of water, Hexidine (ICPA Health Products), Detol (Reckitt Benckiser of India), Listerine (Johnson & Johnson), and 3% hydrogen peroxide in disinfecting toothbrushes. The results: “Hexidine, 3.0 percent hydrogen peroxide, and Listerine showed 100 percent efficacy, whereas Dettol showed 40 percent effectiveness in decontaminating the toothbrushes. Water as a control showed the least effectiveness in cleaning the toothbrushes.”

    The authors, from Contemporary Clinical Dentistry, considered cost in writing this summary: “The study concluded that 3.0% hydrogen peroxide is the most economical and effective disinfectant when compared with the other disinfectants.”
    —Larry Canale, UHN

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