Cleaning the Germiest Home Items
If you thought that your bathroom was the germiest place in your home, think again. In a 2011 germ study conducted by NSF International, 22 families swabbed 30 everyday household items ranging from kitchen surfaces to cell phones to pet items in order to measure contamination levels of yeast, mold and coliform bacteria (a family of bacteria that includes Salmonella and E. coli).
The findings from this study indicated that there are common misconceptions about where the highest concentration of germs is found in the home. The study revealed that three of the top five germ hot spots in the home actually were in the kitchen. The top ten hot spots are identified below, along with tips to help keep these areas germ free.
- Kitchen Sponge/Dish Rag
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, 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 sanitizing cycle or with bleach. Replace washable linens every one to two days.
- Kitchen Sink
The second highest concentration of microorganisms was found in the kitchen sink.
To Clean: Wash and disinfect the sides and bottom of the sink once or twice a week with a disinfecting cleaner. You may consider an EPA Safer Choice disinfecting cleaner or wash the sink itself in a bleach solution of one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water. Sanitize kitchen drains and disposals monthly by pouring a solution of one tablespoon household bleach in one quart of water down the drain. Wash kitchen sink strainers in the dishwasher weekly.
- Toothbrush Holder
The third germiest place in homes wasn’t 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 once or twice a week. If not, hand wash with hot soapy water, rinse and then wipe with disinfecting wipe once or twice a week.
- Pet Bowl
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 bleach solution1 of 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water with contact time of one minute once per week. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for all disinfection products for amount of product to mix with water, how to apply, contact time, and rinse and drying requirements.
- Coffee Reservoir
Rounding out the top five germiest places in the home was the coffee reservoir. Given the dark, damp location, it’s not surprising that it is 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 four cups of undiluted vinegar to the reservoir, letting it stand for 30 minutes and then running the vinegar through the unit. This is followed by running two to three 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
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, bleach solution (as described in #4 above) or disinfecting wipes. You may also want to consider an EPA Safer Choice disinfecting cleaner.
- Pet Toys
Pet toys were a source of coliform bacteria (including Staph bacteria), yeast and mold in many homes. Encourage everyone in your household to wash their hands after playing with household pets and especially before eating.
To Clean: Hard toys can be cleaned gently with hot soapy water, rinsed with fresh water, disinfected with a bleach solution of half a tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water and thoroughly rinsed to remove any residue then allow to air dry. Soft toys can be washed with other laundry on the washer’s sanitizing cycle. Wash monthly or more often as needed.
Countertops had coliform bacteria present in 30 percent of the homes tested. Sources of coliform can be traced to many food items, including unwashed produce as well as raw meat and poultry. Coliform can also be introduced into a kitchen through improperly washed hands as well as contact with household pets, including pet dishes and toys.
To Clean: Once all food prep activities are completed, wash the countertop with hot soapy water, rinse with clean water. To sanitize and disinfect, apply a bleach solution (as described in #4 above) or use a sanitizing agent recommended for your countertop type. This should be done daily or after each meal preparation.
- Stove Knobs
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: Once per week, remove knobs, wash in hot soapy water, rinse well, let dry and re-install.
- Cutting Boards
Because cutting boards may be used for many different foods, it’s important 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 and submerge in a bleach solution (as described in #4 above).
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 the hot spot locations in your home and be smart about protecting yourself and your loved ones.