The Surprisingly Germ-Covered Items That You Touch Every Day

Most people think that toilets, especially public toilets, are the number one host of germs. They’re not. Research has identified many everyday items that host more bacteria than most toilet seats. While the germs on these objects aren’t guaranteed to make you sick, they do serve as a reminder to clean your belongings more often.

After all, most people don’t think about their cell phones, coffee makers, and even ice machines as germ communities. But because we use these items so often, we should clean them more. Here are the surprisingly germ-infested items that you need to sanitize more often.

Bathroom Towels

Creative storage for bathroom towels on Pinterest
Pinterest/Michele Redmond
Pinterest/Michele Redmond

Just like kitchen cloths, bathroom towels produce more bacteria than other home items. “Bacteria likes to grow in wet, moist conditions,” says Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. When you dry your hands and body in the bathroom, they become both wet and warm.

According to Gerba’s research, 90% of towels contain coliform, the bacteria found in feces. But don’t worry; researchers told Time that our bodies have adjusted to these microbes, so they won’t harm us. Replace your bathroom towels every two days for the cleanest results, and especially after you’re sick.

Your Coffee Maker

Man puts coffee capsule into a coffee maker
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Many people use their coffee maker every single day. If you do, make sure to keep it clean, because it’s an ideal breeding ground for germs. According to the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), a coffee maker is the fifth filthiest item in a person’s home.

Because coffee makers stay warm and damp for a long time, they produce far more germs than other kitchen appliances. Clean the reservoir every month by soaking it in vinegar or running vinegar through the machine. Just run water through it afterward to get rid of the bitter taste.

Office Coffee Mugs

Man in suit drinks coffee from Green Joe's Coffee Company in California

Plenty of office workers drink coffee at work with a mug that they keep there. In 2017, a study in The Journal of Dairy, Food, and Environmental Sanitation noted that 90% of office coffee cups are coated with germs. Even worse, 20% of these mugs had traces of fecal matter on them.

It gets worse. In the study, researchers found that if you wipe your mug with an office cloth or sponge, it has a higher chance of contracting E. coli. If you reuse a coffee mug at the office every day, take it home and run it through your dishwasher there.

Kitchen Sponges And Dish Towels

Yellow and green sponge near sink drain

Kitchen sponges are used to clean your dishes and appliances. However, dish sponges and towels are the worst carriers of germs in the kitchen, according to NSF International. If you don’t replace your sponge or dish towels frequently, they can develop yeast or even staph bacteria.

To keep your cleaning supplies germ-free, replace your kitchen towels every two days. Place your sponge in the microwave for two minutes to eradicate the germs every day. Ideally, you should replace your kitchen sponge every two weeks.

The Kitchen Sink (Including The Faucet)

Woman leans on kitchen sink watching water run

Think about how much produce, sauce, raw eggs, and discarded food you send down the drain. When you reflect upon it, there’s no surprise that it gathers a layer of harmful bacteria. “The sink is a great place for E. coli to live and grow since it’s wet and moist,” says Dr. Gerba. “Bacteria feed on the food people put down the drain and what’s left on dishes in the sink.”

Sanitize your kitchen sink (including the handles and faucet) weekly. Use a cleaning product that is made for the kitchen. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t recommend using vinegar or lemon as an alternative.

Your Cell Phone

Girl browses her iPhone on a desk

Because smartphones follow us everywhere we go, and are often stay near our hands and mouth, they accumulate a lot of germs. Scientists at the University of Arizona noted that cell phones carry ten times more bacteria than a toilet seat. These organisms include E. coli, Streptococcus, and MRSA.

Having bacteria on your phone won’t necessarily make you sick. But never let it enter your system. Don’t bring your phone into the bathroom, and frequently wipe it with a microfiber cloth. For a deeper clean, mix 60% of water with 40% of rubbing alcohol and gently rub the mixture over your phone.

Toothbrush Holders

Toothbrushes in a container on the bathroom sink

Toothbrush holders are often forgotten about, so they quickly become one of the dirtiest spots in the house. Because they frequently contact your toothbrush and splashes of bathwater, 68% of holders develop yeast and mold. In 2013, the NSF discovered a new pneumonia-causing bacterium, Klebsiella michiganensis, inside toothbrush holders.

Because of all this, the NSF ranked toothbrush holders as the most germ-covered surface in a home. To clean it, place your toothbrush holder in the dishwasher once or twice weekly. You can also scrub it thoroughly by hand.

Grocery Store Carts

11-month old baby in a shopping cart at the supermarket.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2017, researchers at the University of Arizona tested carts from 85 grocery stores and found that they had more bacteria than what they measured over 100 public restrooms. About 50% of these carts contained E. coli from raw meat, and 72% contained coliform bacteria. They also have traces of Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Fortunately, most grocery stores offer antibacterial wipes to clean your cart. If not, you may want to bring some with you. Make sure the food touching your cart is protected by packaging, and wash your hands and produce when you get home.

Your Work Desk

Katelyn Broughton working at her desk
Matt Reese / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Matt Reese / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Many people spend a lot of time at their work desk. But because you use the items on your desk so often, they may be the biggest source of germs in your office, according to microbiologist Michael Loughlin.

According to the University of Arizona, work desks contain 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. This includes keyboards, phones, drawers, and personal items. In a poll with South West, only 13% of employees admitted that they never disinfect their workstation. Try to wipe down your desk every week to prevent potential illness.

Ice From An Ice Tray Or Machine

Pouring a cocktail in Japan's restaurant Tomoiki

In 2017, a study in Annals of Microbiology indicated that ice contains a lot more germs than people think. After analyzing several packs of ice, the researchers found 1,113 bacteria in each. These bacteria grew in drinks such as peach tea, vodka, and Coke, but no strains grew in whiskey.

If you own an ice maker, clean it periodically by sanitizing it and giving it a water rinse. Also, change the filter every three to six months. If you use an ice tray, clean it with warm water and baking soda or a cleaning solution.

Pillows. Yes, The Ones You Sleep On

Teenager using a cell phone on her bed
Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

You may have heard that cleaning your pillow sheet helps clear your skin of blemishes. That’s because we shed a lot of skin while we’re asleep–around eight pounds of skin every year. According to Dr. Arthur Tucker, who studied the “health” of London’s pillows, one-third of a pillow’s weight is due to dead skin, bugs, and dust mites.

If you’ve been sick, you need to wash your pillowcase. Bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington tells people not to worry, because pillows usually contain bugs we’ve already had before. Even so, try to wash your pillows every one to three months.

Elevator Buttons (From Anywhere)

A visitor pushes a button in the Google offices' elevator
Adam Berry/Getty Images

In 2010, researchers for Microban Europe discovered that elevator buttons have 40 times more bacteria than a public toilet seat. Even if the buttons are cleaned consistently, bacteria builds up quickly.

Elevator buttons are especially dangerous in hospitals. “Elevators are a component of modern hospital care, and are used by multiple people with ungloved hands who will later go on to make contact with patients,” says the study’s co-author Dr. Donald Redelmeier. To avoid these germs, you can press the elevator button with your elbow or a pen. You can also apply hand sanitizer after pressing it.

Reusable Water Bottles

Illustration picture shows a woman in the sun drinking water from a reusable bottle in Antwerp, Tuesday 23
DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images

If you drink from a reusable water bottle, you’re doing the earth a great service. Just be sure to clean your bottle regularly. “Several types of bacteria can be found on water bottles,” says Dr. Bruni Nazario of WebMD. “Essentially, they’re the same ones you’ll find on your hands or in your mouth.”

If ignored, these bacteria can cause pneumonia, strep, or staph, according to Dr. Josie Znidarsic of Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To prevent this, thoroughly wash your water bottle after each use. Don’t leave water in it for a long time before drinking.

The Bottom Shelf Of The Refrigerator

Professional organizer Rachel Strisik organizes each bin and labels it in her refrigerator at her home
Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Our refrigerator stores all of our fresh food, so we want it to remain as clean as possible. The lower shelves receive the worst treatment because condensation from other food drips down to the lower levels. Since cold air sinks, the upper shelves are warmer, so they don’t store raw meat as safely.

To avoid cross-contamination, StateFoodSafety recommends storing produce in the drawers and placing raw meat on the lower shelves. Wipe down your fridge every two to three weeks. Remove drawers to clean them with hot, soapy water.

The TV Remote

An elderly woman uses a remote control after installing a digital TV receiver
Alexander RyuminTASS via Getty Images
Alexander RyuminTASS via Getty Images

When people think of germ-covered surfaces, many don’t consider their TV remote. But think about it: the remote is touched by multiple people a day, dropped on the floor and carpet, and gathers dust when it’s not used.

“E. coli can be a problem on TV remotes,” says neuropathic physician Jennifer Stagg, MD. She recommends covering a hotel remote with a ziplock bag. At home, you can clean your remote with an antiseptic wipe or a damp, soapy cloth. Clean it every day or every other day.

Pet Bowls And Dishes

Two cats that are up for adoption eat out of their food bowl.
Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images

If you have pets, make sure you’re cleaning their bowls regularly–for their safety and your own. According to the NSA, pet bowls are the fourth most germ-filled items in the home. Of these bowls, 67% harbored Salmonella.

“Both food and water bowls…can harbor a variety of germs and bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, which is why it’s so important to disinfect them regularly,” says veterinarian Dr. Jessia Vogelsang. She recommends disinfecting your pet bowls weekly and washing their toys while you’re at it.

Your Barbecue Grill

Grilling vegetables and meat during the 2019 Russian Grill Fest
Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images
Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images

When is the last time you cleaned your BBQ? Many people don’t clean their grill because they assume that the fire kills all germs, but this is far from the truth. According to UK researchers, most grills contained twice as many germs as a toilet seat.

“To help keep the family safe, I would suggest cleaning and disinfecting garden furniture and barbecues prior to use,” says Dr. Lisa Ackerley, a leading expert of food safety in the UK. Allow the metal to fully heat up before throwing food onto it, and don’t leave charcoal hanging around inside.

Restaurant Menus

A man is holding a menu in his hand at a branch of the Vapiano restaurant chain.
Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images
Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images

Restaurant menus are handled by numerous people daily, and they’re rarely ever washed. One study by Bowling Green State University located 185,000 bacteria on one square centimeter of a menu. Plastic menus are worse because they don’t soak in the water, allotting more time for microbes to grow.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, high levels of bacteria don’t necessarily doom you to illness. Although you can’t do much about menu hygiene, you can ask your server for another menu if yours is soiled. You can also use some hand sanitizer after holding one.

The Microwave, And The Food Within It

Ted Musgrave's fifties microwave
Doug Jones/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Pinterest/Miriam Bonet

It’s a common misconception that microwave heat kills bacteria. But debunks this myth. While heat does kill bacteria, microwaves heat some foods unevenly, posing a health risk. One study in The American Journal of Epidemiology found that those who microwave their food have an increased risk of Salmonella.

If you can heat up your food using a skillet or oven, use those instead of the microwave. Clean your microwave every two to three months, or more often if needed. To clean it, wipe down the walls with warm, soapy water.

Coins, Bills, And Credit Cards

Man counting American dollar bills

Most people carry money with them every single day, and these items gather all the germs from the places you visit. In a 2017 study published in PLoS One, researchers found microorganisms from hands, bacteria from the vagina, and microbes from the mouth on $1 bills.

In addition, 80% of cash in America contains small traces of cocaine. “You don’t know who’s touched it,” says microbiologist Susan Whittier. Even so, researchers agree that these microbes won’t harm you. Wash your hands a couple of times a day to kill off this bacteria.