If you thought that your bathroom was the germiest place in your home, think again.
After analyzing the results of a 2011 germ study where 22 families swabbed 30 items in their homes, NSF's microbiologists discovered that three of the top five germ hot spots in the home actually were in the kitchen. Below is a list of these hot spots, along with tips to help keep these areas germ free.
Getting the Smell out of Kitchen Sponges
The item most frequently used to clean dishes and countertops was actually the germiest place found in most homes. Sponges and dish rags can pick up bacteria during the cleaning process, and, if not properly sanitized between uses, they can be a prime spot for germ growth.
To Clean: Place wet sponges in the microwave for two minutes once per day and replace often - every two weeks or more as needed. Better options for kitchen cleaning are dishcloths, towels and rags. These items can be sanitized by washing on the clothes washer's hot water cycle with bleach. Replace every 1-2 days.
The second highest concentration of microorganisms was found in the kitchen sink.
To Clean: Wash and disinfect the sides and bottom of the sink 1-2 times per week with a disinfecting cleaner. Sanitize kitchen drains and disposals monthly by pouring a solution of one teaspoon household bleach in one quart of water down the drain. Wash kitchen sink strainers in the dishwasher weekly.
The third germiest place in homes wasn't actually in the kitchen, but the bathroom. And while many people would suspect faucet handles or light switches to be a germy place, the toothbrush holders in our test homes revealed more germs.
To Clean: If dishwasher safe, place the toothbrush holder in a sanitizing dishwasher and wash 1-2 times per week. If not, hand wash with hot soapy water, rinse, then wipe with disinfecting wipe 1-2 times per week.
If you have a pet in your home, you probably need to know that pet dishes were found to be the fourth germiest place in the homes analyzed.
To Clean: Pet dishes should be washed daily, either in a sanitizing dishwasher or scrubbed by hand with hot soapy water, then rinsed. If handwashing, place the dishes in a 1:50 bleach rinse (1 cap bleach in 1 gallon water) and soak for about 10 minutes once per week. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry.
Rounding out the top five germiest places in the home was the coffee reservoir. Given the dark, damp location, it's a prime location for bacteria, mold and mildew to grow.
To Clean: Follow the manufacturer's recommended cleaning instructions. A common recommendation is to clean by adding up to 4 cups undiluted vinegar to the reservoir, letting it stand for 30 minutes, then running the vinegar through the unit. This is followed by running 2-3 cycles of fresh water through the unit until the vinegar odor is gone. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning every 40-80 brew cycles or at least monthly.
Faucet handles in both the kitchen and bath contained coliform bacteria as well as yeast and/or mold.
To Clean: Clean daily with disinfecting cleaner or disinfecting wipes.
Pet toys were a source of coliform, bacteria, yeast and mold in many homes, including Staph bacteria. Encourage your family to wash their hands after playing with the pet.
To Clean: Hard toys can be gently cleaned with hot soapy water, rinsed with fresh water, disinfected with a mild bleach solution, then thoroughly rinsed to remove any residue. Soft toys can be washed with other laundry on the hot water cycle. Wash monthly or more often as needed.
Countertops had coliform bacteria present in 30% of the homes tested. Sources of coliform can be traced to many food items, including unwashed produce as well as raw meat and poultry. In addition, coliform can be introduced into a kitchen area through improperly washed hands and through contact with household pets, including pet dishes and toys.
To Clean: Countertop surfaces should be washed daily. Once all food prep activities have been completed, wash the surface with hot soapy water, rinse with clean water, then apply a bleach/water solution. For specialty countertops, use the manufacturer's recommended cleaning/sanitizing agent.
While not a place that many of us think about, stove knobs are in the top ten for common places for germs to hide in our homes.
To Clean: Remove knobs, wash in hot soapy water, rinse well, let dry, then re-install once per week.
Because cutting boards may come into contact with many different foods, it's important to make sure to thoroughly wash them after each use and between food types.
To Clean: Place in the dishwasher after each use or hand wash with hot soapy water, rinse, then apply disinfecting agency such as a bleach/water solution.
Although not all germs may cause health problems, proper cleaning of neglected or overlooked areas can help further reduce the risk of foodborne illness and infection. Be aware of where the hot spots are in your home and be smart about protecting your family.