You can't see them, but microscopic bacteria and other nasty bugs are everywhere, including areas of your home you touch and use every day. And surprisingly, the toilet seat is not the #1 germ-filled site. Thankfully, figuring out how to get rid of germs in your house doesn't have to be complicated. And you don’t need to spend hours doing a daily deep clean, either. Here, doctors reveal the top germy hot spots (including ones you might not expect!) and share the simple ways to get rid of sick-making bugs.
The types of germs found in your house
Believe it or not, the average person is exposed to about 60,000 germs every single day. If you're squirming right now, that's understandable. The good news: "Most of the germs we come in contact are harmless," says Mary Hopkins, MD, Director of the Tufts Medical Center Infectious Diseases Clinic in Boston, MA. "In fact, thousands of them live in harmony with us."
Still, some of the germs that often lurk in our living spaces can make us sick. That includes common cold germs that can give you the sniffles, stomach bugs like noroviruses, and heavy hitters like E. coli, Salmonella, or Staphylococcus, which can cause severe and even life-threatening infections, says Carlene Muto, MD, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control for Temple Health in Philadelphia, PA.
And while you likely know about germy hotspots like the toilet seat or doorknobs, the opportunistic bugs also tend to gather in some unexpected spots. Think sink faucets, coffee makers, and even the sponge you use to wipe down your counters, Dr. Muto says.
How long do germs live on surfaces?
Different germs have different lifespans. Some, like E. coli and Salmonella, can linger on hard surfaces like your kitchen counter or cutting board for around 4 hours, says Dr. Hopkins. And "viruses like COVID-19 can last for a couple days" on spots like doorknobs or remote controls, she adds.
Coliform bacteria, aka bacteria from fecal waste, are even heartier. They can stick around on surfaces like toilet seats, bathroom counters, or doorknobs for months if not cleaned, according to Nikhil Bhayani, MD, an infectious disease physician with Texas Health Resources in Bedford, TX.
How often you should clean to get rid of germs in your house
Since you can't tell whether a surface is harboring germs (and if it is, whether the germs are friends or foes), it pays to try to keep things clean. Dr. Muto's rule of thumb: "In the hospital we ask that high-touch surfaces get wiped down a few times a day. At home I'd be happy with once a day."
That doesn't mean you need to scrub your house from top to bottom every day. Instead, Dr. Muto recommends focusing on hotspots that are most likely to accumulate problem-causing pathogens. "There are a lot of things we can do to make sure we don't have contamination in our home and get it into us," Dr. Muto adds. And even tackling some of the germiest spots every few days or once a week can help keep troublemaking bugs at bay.
The top 2 germy rooms in your house
Can you guess which areas tend to have the most bugs and bacteria? If you said the kitchen and the bathroom, you'd be right.
Kitchens tend to be germ magnets because that's where food prep happens. That includes prepping things like meat, poultry, and eggs that can contain E. coli and Salmonella. Kitchen counters, cutting boards, sinks, faucet handles, sponges, and dish rags are some of the top offenders. And if you forget to wash your hands, you could end up contaminating whatever you touch next, like the refrigerator handle, oven knobs or microwave touch pad, Dr. Muto adds.
Bathrooms are prime spots for coliform bacteria. The sink faucets are the grimiest, since we touch them after using the bathroom before we've had a chance to wash our hands, Dr. Muto says. More spots coliform bacteria can wind up: the bathroom counter or even your toothbrush. "When you flush the toilet, you get a plume, or tiny particles of fecal matter that can spray onto surfaces near your toilet," Dr. Muto says. In fact, microscopic bits of stool "can travel up to 15 feet," adds Dr. Bhayani. (Bathrooms can also be a breeding ground for mold. Click through to learn how to get rid of mold on your ceiling and other areas of your home.)
Other common germy areas
According to Dr. Muto and research findings, these spots also tend to be bacteria breeding grounds:
Doorknobs and door handles
Pet bowls and pet toys
Click through to see more of the top dirtiest places in your house — and find out how to clean them.
How to get rid of germs in your house
Ready to beat the battle of the bacteria (and viruses, fungi, mold, and other germs)? These 8 expert tips and tricks make it easy and inexpensive to get rid of germs in your house.
1. Zap sponges in the microwave
The top germ hot spot in your home is not your toilet seat, but your kitchen sponge, asserts consumer safety expert Mindy Costello. The problem is that the sponge picks up germs from whatever it touches. And because it stays moist, it feeds them, so they multiply. "Even if your sponge looks dry, it's moist on the inside," explains Charles Gerba, PhD, a microbiologist and University of Arizona professor whose expertise has earned him the nickname Dr. Germ. "Within about four or five days, you've got millions of bacteria on the sponge."
To sanitize your sponge (which should be replaced every two weeks), just pop the wet sponge into the microwave for one to two minutes or run it through your dishwasher. Research shows the heat used this simple trick destroys 99.99% of bacteria. No dishwasher or microwave? No problem! Dr. Gerba and his colleagues found that soaking your sponge in a solution consisting of 1 tsp. bleach diluted in 1 cup of water every four to five days also works well to destroy germs.
2. Wipe countertops with a DIY bleach spray
No need to shell out tons of money for pricey cleaners to get rid of germs on the kitchen or bathroom countertops in your house. You can disinfect these types of hard surfaces with a DIY bleach solution, Dr. Muto says. Simply combine 4 tsp. bleach with 1 quart water. Add some to a spray bottle, then store the rest in a clean plastic container (like a milk jug) for quick refills. Spritz your countertops with the mixture, then wipe with a clean washcloth or paper towel.
3. Sanitize reusable grocery bags in the washer
In one study, a whopping 51% of reusable grocery bags tested were contaminated with coliform bacteria, and 8% contained E. coli. As it turns out, the opportunistic germs are hitching a ride on the groceries we carry home — such as raw chicken — and then spreading to other foods, as well as our countertops, when we set our bags down. The good news is that throwing reusable cloth bags into the washing machine in hot water and running them through the dryer kills virtually all of the bad-guy bacteria. (Click through for the best reusable grocery bags.)
4. Clean coffee makers with a vinegar rinse
You probably never suspected your coffee maker of being a germ trap, but its water reservoir is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The fix? About once a month, fill it with white vinegar and run the machine twice, advises Costello. “The vinegar is acidic, which gets rid of unwanted microbes.” To remove any lingering vinegar smell afterward, just run plain water through a brew cycle.
5. Dip your toothbrush in boiling water
Your toothbrush and holder are among the biggest germ magnets in your home. Not only are they damp bacteria havens, the spray from every toilet flush can travel and land on them, Dr. Bhayani says. Luckily, de-germing both your toothbrush and holder is easy. Simply run your toothbrush holder through the dishwasher once a week. And dip the head of your toothbrush into a small cup of boiling water for about 30 seconds to help kill the germs. If boiling proves too harsh on your bristles, can you swish your toothbrush head in a small cup of mouthwash or denture cleaner for a minute instead. (Click through to find out how often to replace your toothbrush.)
Tip: Closing the toilet seat before you flush cuts down on germ spray too, Dr. Bhayani notes.
6. Disinfect sinks with a lemon scrub
Dr. Gerba says the kitchen sink is another moist place where bacteria multiply — especially if you have a garbage disposal that releases food particles and other germs when you run it. “You should be disinfecting your sink every few days,” Dr. Gerba says. He favors a scrub like Comet (Buy from Amazon, $9.72). But those who prefer a more natural option can simply slice a lemon and sprinkle salt on half.
Lemons often feature in cleaning products because they contain citric acid that cuts through grease and grime. And research in BMC Chemistry found this same compound acts as a disinfectant against several common viruses, including norovirus (the stomach bug). Salt is a powerhouse when it comes to preventing the growth of bacteria, too, which is why it has long been used as a preservative. It kills bacterial cells by sucking water out of them, causing them to malfunction and collapse. (Click through to learn how lemon also removes limescale from faucets.)
7. Spritz TV remotes with vodka
We touch remotes constantly, and unlike more obvious germ hot spots, they're seldom cleaned. To disinfect them, first pop out the batteries. Then spray a cloth with one part water and one part vodka then wipe them down once a week. Vodka kills bacteria and dries quickly, making it a smart pick for remotes we often reach for. (Wiping with a cotton cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol also does the trick). This speedy cleaning method is a smart way to get rid of germs on other high-touch zones in your house, too, such as your computer keyboard and mouse.
8. Run cutting boards through the dishwasher
Whether it’s made of plastic or wood, Dr. Gerba says your cutting board is a hotspot for germs because they build up in the tiny crevices created by cutting — and most of us don’t clean them as well as we should. “We did surveys of homes and found there was more fecal bacteria on cutting boards than toilet seats,” he said. Rather than simply wiping your cutting board down after use, Dr. Gerba suggests putting it in the dishwasher or washing it with a food-safe disinfectant cleaner. “And make sure to use a separate cutting board for meat to avoid cross-contamination with bacteria such as Salmonella found in raw meat."
For more on how to keep your home free of sick-making bugs:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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