We all know germs and bacteria are almost everywhere, but where can you find the worst cases of the cooties? Check out this list of germ-laden culprits, and find out how you can protect your family without going overboard.
You probably don't think about it, but as you're climbing into bed, all the germs you came into contact with that day are climbing in with you. Keep in mind most germs are completely harmless, and can actually help strengthen your immune system, but that doesn't mean you should never wash your sheets. The sweat, skin, and bacteria that accumulate every night can make your bed the perfect spot for more harmful germs to breed.
It's a good idea to change your sheets about once a week. Wash them in warm or hot water with a regular detergent. Bleach or a bleach-alternative is also a good way to keep them sanitized.
Do you store your toothbrush on the bathroom counter? Considering that flushing the toilet can cause germs to fly anywhere from 6-10 feet, you may want to reconsider. At the very least, keep your brush as far from the toilet as possible, and protect it in a plastic container or holder.
The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every three months. Antibacterial soaps do little to kill the bacteria found on toothbrushes. To clean it, try running it through your dishwasher about once a week, since the high heat will help sterilize the brush. Finally, don't share your toothbrush with anyone, and avoid storing it in a communal cup or container. Store each brush separately in an upright position to allow the bristles to dry after each use.
Makeup applicators act like sponges and harbor germs that can lead to skin and eye infections. While you don't need to dispose of your cosmetics completely, you can take steps to make using them more sanitary.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends replacing your powders and eye shadows every two years, foundation every year, and mascara every three months. Wash any applicators frequently with regular soap and water, and wipe your brushes with alcohol. Finally, do not share your makeup with others. This is a sure-fire way to contract an infection or illness, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye).
The Kitchen Sink
When you think about all the dirt and uneaten food that goes in there, this shouldn't come as a surprise. Rinsing fruit, veggies, meat, poultry, and fish all in one place means a lot of bacteria in and around the drain. On top of that, we rinse pots, pans, pet bowls, and sometimes even kids in the very same spot. When it all adds up, kitchen sinks are actually germier than toilet seats.
The best solution for cleaning your kitchen sink is to use a bleach-based cleaner. Stainless steel sinks can benefit from a good scrub with a mild soap. Another option is to use white vinegar to sanitize and to remove any stubborn stains or spots. Just make sure to always rinse your sink well after cleaning it, no matter what kind of solution you use.
The Kitchen Sponge
Sponges make it easy to wipe up spills and messes, but they also make it easy for bacteria and germs to grow. Sponges stay wet long after they aren't being used anymore, creating the perfect environment for budding microbes to flourish. Add these to the millions of little buggers the sponge picked up on the countertop, sink, and stove, and you've got yourself a bacteria-infested minefield.
Disinfecting and cleaning a sponge is easy. Toss it in the dishwasher, or wet and microwave it for 1-2 minutes. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), microwaving your sponge for 1 minute significantly reduces bacteria, mold, and yeast counts. Microwaving your sponge for 2 minutes kills 99% of the bacteria living in it. Keep in mind, you don't need to kill every bacterium out there - only the ones that can make you sick.
Studies have shown a woman's purse can not only play host to germs such as E.coli and salmonella, it could contain trace amounts of fecal contamination as well. These are germs and bacteria you definitely do not want to bring into your home or expose your family to.
To help keep your purse clean, do not put it on the floor of any public place, such as the train, bus, or public restroom. Wipe it down every day with an alcohol-based sanitizer. Avoid using antibacterial products, since these can actually kill good bacteria and make bad bacteria like E. coli more resilient to cleaning solutions. If your purse is machine washable, toss it in the wash every couple of weeks. Using the gentle cycle will help it keep its shape and color.
And don't forget about all the germy items that can be found in your purse, like your cell phone and keys. Giving these a quick clean with a sanitizing wipe will keep bacteria from invading your purse's interior, too.
Wall-to-wall carpets can trap tons of germs and allergens, and are often hard to clean. Pet dander, germs from dirty shoes, and mold all live deep inside the fibrous material. If you do have wall-to-wall carpeting in your house, the best way to clean it is to use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. This prevents contaminates from recirculating.
Another alternative is to forgo wall-to-wall carpeting altogether and stick with area rugs. You can machine-wash area rugs using regular detergent, making it easier to keep germs that cause illnesses and diseases out of your home.
ATMs are frequently touched, but aren't frequently cleaned, which means the buttons on these machines house more germs than a public restroom doorknob. ATMs aren't the only culprit, either. Shopping carts, drinking fountains, and anything else used by the general public are all hot spots for germs to breed.
Try to get in the habit of carrying an alcohol-based sanitizer with you. This can be as effective as soap and water to rid your hands of any harmful germs you may have picked up during your daily activities.
According to the National Research Center for Women and Families, studies have found the average desktop has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet bowl. Since most people overlook this area for cleaning, germs that cause the flu and common cold are able to thrive and multiply. And what about the microwave handle and refrigerator door in the office kitchen? Office kitchens in general are very germy places, so you may want to take some precautions the next time you are heating up your lunch.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends regularly wiping down your desk with a disinfectant. Bleach or alcohol-based cleaners do the trick; antibacterial cleaners are not necessary. If you use the office kitchen, make sure to wash your hands with warm water and regular soap before and after eating your lunch. Washing your hands for 15 to 20 seconds is sufficient enough to kill off any harmful germs that may be lingering. Alcohol-based hand wipes and gel sanitizers also work when soap and water are not available.
Consider all the surfaces you touch over the course of the day. Then consider all the other people who have touched the same exact surfaces as well. Let's face it -- our hands are dirty bacteria transmitters. They are the common link in spreading germs.
You may know that washing your hands is essential, especially during cold and flu season, but do you know how to wash them effectively? The CDC recommends washing your hands, front and back, for 15-20 seconds with regular soap and water (no need for antibacterial soaps--using these can actually cause adverse effects). A good rule of thumb is to recite the entire alphabet in your head from start to finish while scrubbing up. This is sufficient time to rid your hands of any harmful germs that may be lingering.