Sure, you suspect the toilet handle in a public restroom or the shopping cart in your local grocery store to be breeding grounds for bacteria and gross germs. But your purse? Or even worse, your romaine lettuce?
It turns out some of the things at your kid’s school and lying around your refrigerator are as much as 16,000 times more germy than the shopping cart handle. And guess what? A public toilet in the women’s room is cleaner than all these things, too.
According to Stuart Reeves, Ph.D., director of research and development for Embria Health Sciences and author of The Key to a Healthy Immune System, the bottoms of women’s purses have bacteria counts in the tens of thousands per square inch—including several species of bacteria (pseudomona, staphylococccus aureus) that can cause staph and other infections. Salmonella and E. coli, the causes of food poisoning, are also common residents on the bottom of bags. “Four out of five purses tested positive for salmonella,” Reeves says. He speculates this is because women set their purses down in germy places like the movie theater or public restroom floors.
Clean it up: Reeves suggests keeping a pack of antibacterial wipes in your purse to give the bottom of your bag a good cleaning—preferably once a day. Even better, keep it on your shoulder or lap once it is clean instead of the floor! And since leather and vinyl purses are easier to wipe off Reeves suggests ditching cloth purses.
The Classroom Faucet
It’s there so your kids can clean up after art class, but according to NSF International Swab Testing, the average classroom faucet handle has about 32,000 colony-forming germ units per square inch. A grocery store shopping cart only has 2! One reason for all the germs: kids often cough and sneeze into their hands (instead of their elbows) and wipe runny noses with their hands, too.
Clean it up: A good scrub will knock out any germs your kids might touch turning on the faucet. But to keep their hands from getting plagued with bacteria when they shut off the faucet, teach them to use a paper towel to turn off the water after washing their hands.
Famed microbiologist Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, whose nickname is “Dr. Germ,” and a team of researchers found infection-causing bacteria present on 23 percent of public and restaurant restroom refillable soap dispensers. Sure, most of those germs might wash off when you scrub your hands, but if you happen to have a paper cut and touch a germy soap dispenser, that could leave you at risk for infections.
Clean it up: Unless the soap dispenser is hands-free, you’re better off using the hand sanitizer you’ve stashed in your purse (the one you keep off the floor).
Gerba also conducted a study of cars in the United States and found that cars in hot and humid climates have dashboards that are home to large amounts of bacteria. The dashboards of cars in areas where the mercury dips below 32 degrees on a regular basis (the Northern half of the country) were dominated by yeasts and molds, which thrive in the cooler climate. Gerba says the dashboard can hold onto millions of germs for a long time because a car’s circulation system drives air over the dashboard so the germs are free to breed undisturbed.
Clean it up: Use an antibacterial wipe to clean your car’s dash at least once a week. And make sure to clean things like the radio buttons, turn signal and the headlight on/off switch. Germs live there, too.
Your veggies and herbs look fresh and hydrated thanks to the misters in the grocery store produce department. But Reeves says those irrigation spouts are often filled with dirt and bacteria. One of the causes for all the germs is recycling. “Many of these systems recycle the water so the bacteria is continually sprayed,” says Reeves. Got asthma? He says anyone with respiratory conditions should avoid the area when those mister turn on. “Having asthma or respiratory illness makes a person more susceptible to developing colds or illness after breathing in the bacteria-laden mist,” Reeves adds.
Clean it up: Don’t leave your produce in the store-provided plastic bags you used to tote them up to the check-out lane. At home, wash—and pat dry—all produce before eating or putting in your fridge.
By Gina Roberts-Grey