We come in contact with millions of germs every day (gross, we know). While most are harmless, some bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella can cause serious infections. The good news? Hand washing, sanitizing lotions and disinfecting communal areas can reduce the chances of infection by 50 percent, according to Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, who has been studying germs in our everyday lives for more than three decades.
Check out our tips on how to protect yourself against germs in unexpected places.
Germs thrive in moist environments such as your toothbrush, notes Gerba. Add that to the fact that research in the 1970s discovered toilets spew fecal bacteria into the air every time they are flushed, so chances are, your toothbrush is teeming with microbes. To protect your mouth, replace your toothbrush every three to four months and close the toilet lid when flushing. If you want to be extra safe, the Philips Sonicare FlexCare electric toothbrush has a UV sanitizer that kills germs.
There is a reason that doctors and nurses are required to remove jewelry in the operating room. A 1997 study found that health care professionals wearing rings carry significantly more germs even after hand washing than those who don’t. Those nooks and crannies in our favorite pieces of bling can harbor germs and are tough to clean. However, silver is antimicrobial, so smooth jewelry made from this metal should stay relatively germ-free.
Sure, nearly all gyms have antibacterial spray handy, but have you ever seen it used to clean the yoga mats that come in contact with sweat and bare feet all day? While scientists haven’t officially studied the mats, there have been several reports of antibiotic-resistant bacteria thriving on them. Play it safe by bringing your own mat, such as antimicrobial one like Clean Yoga Mat by YOGAaccessories, or using a germ-killing spray, such as Manduka Mat Restore spray, if you need to borrow a mat.
Chances are, you wash your sheets and pillowcases frequently, but when was the last time you threw your actual pillow in the laundry machine? Pillows contain mold, bacteria and dust mites, which can cause allergies. And several studies have demonstrated that they are one of the biggest sources of infection in hospitals. At least there is an easy solution: Wash your pillows often.
In some cases, desktops have been found to have higher levels of bacteria than toilet seats. Workers spend hours a day touching, eating and heck, even sneezing on them. Custodians don’t clean them as they sweep through the office because they are considered private areas, so take up the charge yourself by regularly cleaning your desk with an antibacterial wipe.
When they aren’t on our shoulders, most purses are resting on the floors of restaurants, restrooms, movie theaters, cars, buses and sidewalks. A joint ABC News and University of Arizona investigation of 50 women’s handbags found that the outside bottom of the purses were teeming with bacteria, including fecal germs and those that can cause skin infections. The researchers found 6.7 million bacteria on one purse alone. Remember to wipe purses down from time to time with antibacterial cloths.
A 2011 study by Gerba and Kimberly-Clark Professional, the makers of products such as Kleenex and Scott, found that 71 percent of gas pump handles hosted bacteria in high enough concentrations to cause illness. And you thought rest stop bathrooms were bad. After spending time at the pump, wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer, such as CleanWell natural antibacterial spray.
The Kimberly-Clark study also found that 41 percent of ATMs, 40 percent of parking meters and 35 percent of vending machines contained dangerous levels of bacteria. Gerba’s other research also indicates that debit card touchscreens, elevator buttons and grocery shopping carts also have alarmingly high germ counts.
9Reusable Grocery Bags
Give yourself a pat on the back for using reusable grocery bags—and then go wash your hands. Not only can these bags contain bits of food from your shopping trip, more than half of people use these bags to haul more than just groceries—namely, things like shoes, dirty laundry and sweaty gym clothes. But only about three percent of people wash their reusable bags. “In some cases, we’ve found more E. coli in these bags than in people’s underpants,” says Gerba.
The warm, wet inside of a sponge is prime habitat for bacteria to grow, so you may think you’re cleaning those dishes and countertops when you’re actually spreading bacteria around. Luckily, there’s an easy fix: The National Sanitation Foundation at the University of Michigan suggests microwaving your sponge for two minutes every day to kill germs growing inside. Also, replace your sponges once every two weeks.