You Won’t Believe How Dirty These Common Household Items Can Be

Cleaning your house isn’t just about making it look nice. It also prevents bacteria from spreading and potentially making someone sick. However, many people forget to clean the dirtiest parts of their home.

Studies have determined which objects in peoples’ homes contain the most germs. Sometimes, people clean these objects incorrectly and leave harmful bacteria. Other times, they forget that they need to wash them. Don’t forget to tackle your doorknobs, coffee machine, and computer keyboard. Here are the most germ-infested objects in your home–many of which are dirtier than a toilet.

Cell Phones Spread Germs

Asurion Research reports that most Americans check their phones 96 times per day. On top of that, many people scroll through their phones while outdoors or on the toilet. That accumulates a lot of germs. According to a study from the University of Arizona, the average cell phone is ten times dirtier than a toilet.

A woman browses her smartphone while waiting in an airport.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Research has located contagious pathogens such as Streptococcus, MRSA, and E. coli. Microbiology professor Charles Gerba says that the worst culprits are people who use their phones in the bathroom. If possible, disinfect your phone every day.

Clean Your Computer Keyboard

According to the Pew Research Center, 81% of Americans use their computer daily. Every time you touch your keyboard, germs transfer from your hands to the computer. In 2016, a study by CBT Nuggets discovered that most keyboards have 9,000 times more germs than toilet seats.

A person types on a computer keyboard.

Forty-two percent of the bacteria on keyboards were gram-positive cocci, the germs that cause staph and strep infections. Later research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found the bacteria Bacillus and Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause disease. Microbiologists recommend cleaning your keyboard at least once a week.

Disinfect Your Doorknobs

Whenever you go out, you transfer all of the germs to your doorknob when you return home. In 2019, scientists at the University of Kufa said that pathogens live on 90% of household doorknobs. That’s the same amount (if not more) than a toilet. According to a 2018 study, door handles had more traces of staph than most other household objects.

A man disinfects a doorknob with a wipe.

By cleaning your door handle, your risk of getting sick lowers drastically. According to research from the University of Arizona, cleaning office door knobs reduces the spread of illness by 80% to 99%.

A Toothbrush Holder Has Many Germs

Your toothbrush holder is likely teeming with bacteria–and the toothbrushes aren’t far behind. In 2011, NSF International found a surprising amount of germs on peoples’ toothbrush holders. Twenty-seven percent held dangerous coliforms such as E. coli and salmonella, and 14% contained staph.

Toothbrushes sit in a holder.
Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images

If your toothbrush holder is close to your toilet, then it has more bacteria. Researchers from Manchester University say that the toilet can spray over 10 million germs onto toothbrushes. Close the lid before you flush, and try to clean your toothbrush holder weekly.

Pillowcases Are About As Dirty As Toilets

In 2012, researchers at North Carolina State University tested the cleanliness of many household items. In most homes, the toilet and pillowcases were indistinguishable. Biologists found gut microbes on pillowcases, better known as “fecal contamination,” which can get people sick.

A photo shows a woman sleeping with a pillow and blanket.
Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images
Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

Every night, people shed sweat and 15 million skin cells onto their pillow. This results in fungi, dust mites, and bacteria gathering on the pillowcase. Researchers believe that one-third of your pillow’s weight is dead skin! To stay clean, swap or wash your pillowcase every few days.

Replace Your Kitchen Sponge Frequently

How often do you switch out your sponge? Every month? If so, you’re not doing it enough. In 2017, German researchers discovered that most kitchen sponges are “the biggest reservoirs of active bacteria in the whole house.” Some even had infective bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.

A person washes a mug with a sponge and soapy water.
Stefan Klein/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Stefan Klein/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The worst part is that cleaning your sponge doesn’t help. A report in Time magazine asserted that microwaving your sponge only causes the bacteria to multiply. The only way to clean your sponge is to throw it away. Replace it every week.

How Coffee Machines Get Bacteria

How often do you clean your coffee machine? Many people forget, and their coffee machine develops bacteria, yeast, and mold. In 2015, a study in Scientific Reports found that most office coffee makers have between 35 and 67 different types of bacteria. Some of these could even make people sick.

A person puts a capsule into a coffee machine.
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Why does this happen? According to Lisa Yakas of the National Sanitation Foundation, it’s because people don’t clean or dry their water reservoirs. Still, warm water quickly becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Ideally, you should clean your coffee maker after every use.

The Microwave, Especially The Handle And Buttons, Is Covered In Germs

If you’re worried about germs, focus less on the inside of your microwave and more on the outside. Microbiologists from the University of Arizona determined that the microwave handle is one of the kitchen’s dirtiest spots. The buttons are not far behind.

A chrome microwave sits on a kitchen counter.
Frederic Lewis/Getty Images
Frederic Lewis/Getty Images

Forty-two percent of the microwaves tested carried contagious bacteria. Microwaves in offices are more infectious than the ones at home. To stay safe, disinfect your microwave at least once a week. If your roommate is sick, clean it every day or every couple of days.

Shoes Can Bring Bacteria Inside

If you wear your shoes inside, you may be bringing in germs, too. In 2008, microbiologists at the University of Arizona reported that 96% of shoes carry fecal matter. At least 421,000 units of bacteria lay on the outside, while 2,887 unites thrived inside.

A basketball player ties his shoes.
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Some of these germs may be harmful. Research in Open Forum Infectious Diseases stated that 26% of shoes contain C. difficile. This pathogen can cause fatal diarrhea. Fortunately, you won’t get sick if you handle your shoes safely. Don’t bring dirty ones inside, and wash them with soap and water or the washing machine.

Your Car’s Gear Shift Is A Haven For Germs

For anyone with a long commute, your car is an extension of your home and it’s not immune from germs. In particular, the gear shift of a car is covered in dangerous germs, especially if you eat while you drive.

car shift

Scientists at Aston University in Birmingham, England report that the average gear shift has 356 germs per square centimeter. That’s 25% more germs than other places in the car. Be sure and wipe down your gear shift, steering wheels, and door handles frequently.

Scrub Your Bathroom Sink

Many people remember to disinfect the toilet but not the bathroom sink. In 2013, researchers at BioCote announced that the sink is the dirtiest part of the restroom. The average sink contained over 50,000 colonies of bacteria growing. And no, these aren’t public restrooms; they’re private bathrooms inside your home.

A square bathroom sink is pictured.
Fred Marie/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images
Fred Marie/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

In 2019, research in the American Journal of Infection Control found that 87% of most sinks have Klebsiella pneumoniae. This bacteria can cause pneumonia and blood infections. Scientists recommend cleaning your bathroom sink once a week, at least. Remember to disinfect the handles and sink head.

Why You Should Clean The TV Remote

Many people touch their TV remote every day, which only spreads bacteria. In February 2020, researchers declared that the remote is the dirtier than peoples’ toilets. Most remotes had heavy yeast, bacteria, and mold. Dale Gillespie, Head of Acquisition at ScS, said that it’s because people don’t clean them.

A person uses a remote while watching television.
Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images
Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Beware of remotes in public places, too. A 2005 study reported that remotes are the leading germ carriers in hospitals. The American Society for Microbiology discovered that they are the dirtiest object in hotel rooms. For your own remote controller, aim to disinfect it monthly.

Kitchen Towels Get Dirtier Than You Think

Your kitchen towels are likely dirtier than your bath towels. In 2018, scientists at the University of Mauritius examined over 100 kitchen towels after one month of use. Half of them contained pathogens such as E. coli, S. aureus, and Enterococcus. The longer the towels remained wet, the more bacteria they grew.

Kitchen towels are for sale in the UK.
Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“Those are bacteria that are concerns for foodborne illnesses,” food scientist Paul Dawson told CNN. Unfortunately, many people use kitchen towels to dry cooking utensils and hands. To prevent this, keep your towels dry and away from raw meat. Replace them every day, if possible.

You’re Probably Washing Your Cutting Board Wrong

Many people clean their cutting boards after each use, so what’s the danger? According to scientists, many don’t wash them correctly. When knives slice the board, they leave crevices that germs crawl into, and the dishwasher can’t disinfect those. A study in the Journal of AOAC International located salmonella and other pathogens in cutting boards.

Dough sits on a wooden cutting board.
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Researcher Dean O. Cliver reported that plastic cutting boards are dirtier than wood ones. In wood, bacteria sink into the material and suffocate. In plastic, they stay on the surface and multiply. To correctly disinfect your board, scrub it with a brush and warm, soapy water. Dry and sanitize them.

The Kitchen Sink Holds Millions Of Bacteria

Next to the sponge, the sink is the dirtiest spot in your kitchen. In March 2020, scientists at NSF International discovered that every 10 cm area contained 11,381,285 bacteria on average. Coliform bacteria, which can cause illness, made up 45% of all the germs found. Twenty-seven percent of them had yeast and mold, too.

A woman washes her hand in a kitchen sink.
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If you leave your sponge in your kitchen sink, it could get dirtier. Kelly Reynolds, a public health researcher, says that the sponge transfers germs to your sink, and vice-versa. Wash your sink at least once a week, especially around the drain.

Pet Food And Water Bowls Can Become Contagious

If your pet has a water bowl, it’s probably far from clean. A study from Hartpury University discovered several kinds of bacteria on dogs’ bowls. E.coli, salmonella, and MRSA all survived on the bowls. Plastic containers harbored more bacteria than stainless steel ones.

Two puppies eat from the same food bowl.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Some pet owners assume that they don’t have to wash their pet bowls if the food is dry. But Veterinarian Dr. Jessica Vogelsang says that even dry food can leave bacteria. In the worst-case scenario, germs can transfer from pet bowls to humans. Experts advise pet owners to wash the bowls after every meal.

Wash Reusable Water Bottles Every Day

If you own a reusable water bottle, you should clean it every day. Otherwise, it can grow dangerous bacteria. In 2019, Brazilian researchers examined reusable water bottles from fitness centers. They saw harmful bacteria such as staph and E. coli on 90% of the plastic bottles.

A student holds a reusable water bottle.
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Dr. Lisa Cuchara, a biomedical professor at Quinnipiac University, says that the germs come from your sweat, backwash, and the surrounding environment. The warm, moist inside of the bottle allows these bacteria to multiply. Opt for stainless steel bottles, which attract fewer germs. And wash your reusable water bottle after every use.

When’s The Last Time You Cleaned Your Light Switches?

Think of how many times you press light switches ever day. They accumulate a lot of germs over time. According to a study by the University of Houston, hotel light switches contain 112 colonies of bacteria per centimeter. Scientists at Simmons College claim that switches have as many germs as a trash can.

Three light switches are on a wall.
GHI/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
GHI/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In these studies, bedside lamps held more bacteria than wall light switches. In hotel rooms, these buttons are some of the dirtiest objects besides TV remotes. Disinfect light switches every two weeks, and do so more often if someone is sick.

Pay Extra Attention To Faucet Handles

Faucet handles in both the restroom and kitchen can harbor germs. Research in Applied and Environmental Microbiology compared germs across peoples’ bathrooms. Faucet handles were the second-dirtiest spot, with 27% having yeast and mold, 9% containing contagious coliforms, and 5% having staph.

Handles of a bathtub faucet are pictured.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Oddly enough, copper handles prevent the spread of germs more than stainless steel or brass ones. Even so, you should clean your handles at least once a week. Wash them with warm water and soap, let them dry, and disinfect them. This will guarantee that most pathogens die.

How Purses Carry Germs

Although some people carry their handbags everywhere, few remember to clean them. In 2013, a UK study concluded that most purses have more germs than a toilet. One-third had fecal bacteria, including E. coli. After all, when you go to a public restroom, your handbag usually goes with you.

A fashion blogger holds a Louis Vuitton purse.
Kirstin Sinclair/Film Magic
Kirstin Sinclair/Film Magic

According to another study in Advanced Biomedical Research, dirty purses equal dirty wallets. Peoples’ wallets also contained bacteria such as micrococcus, staphylococcus, and bacillus. Only three in 80 women admitted to cleaning their purses once a month. To reduce germs, you should clean your bag with a disinfectant wipe every week.

The Dangers Of Kids’ Toys

If you have kids, remember to clean their toys frequently. Danish researchers have pinpointed several types of bacteria on kids’ toys, especially in daycares. These include fecal germs and respiratory bacteria that could get kids sick.

Wooden toys and toy cars are pictured.
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To make things worse, these germs can survive on toys for a long time. Scientists from the University of Buffalo found contagious bacteria–those that cause ear infections, strep, and respiratory illnesses–stay on toys for hours after human contact. Aim to clean toys every few days. If the toy is fuzzy, wash it every few weeks as needed.