The next time you cut up chicken for dinner, do it on a clean surface: We recommend your toilet seat. “It has the least amount of bacteria of all the spots in your home,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. In fact, there are 200 times more fecal coliforms—otherwise known as feces bacteria—on the average cutting board than on the typical commode.

Blame the fact that most people just rinse their cutting boards instead of washing them thoroughly—and that all the little grooves made by knives provide perfect homes for bacteria. (Run your cutting board through the dishwasher after each use—or, if it’s wooden, sanitize it with a few drops of bleach mixed with water.)

Want to know what else is scary? The filth on your washcloth. And your water bottle. Even your watchband. You probably don’t want to fess up to how often you clean these items, but there’s a good chance that at least one of these has made you sick. In a recent multicountry study by the public-education group Hygiene Council, a whopping 28 percent of households were found to be heavily contaminated with bacteria, which can live on dry surfaces for days, or even months. In that time, they can migrate from, say, bathroom to hand to cutting board to mouth. “It’s something to be reckoned with,” says Philip Tierno Jr., Ph.D., a microbiologist and immunologist at New York University Langone Medical Center and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. “In fact, 50 to 80 percent of foodborne illnesses are contracted in the home, not in restaurants.” There are no health inspectors watching you make the food.

But before you start spraying bleach on everything in your house, relax: Simply being consistent about cleaning key items—some of which you may have never even thought about cleaning—can keep a lid on viruses and bacteria. Read on to discover some frequently neglected targets, along with smart antimicrobial strategies to make all of them safe.


Towels: They Absorb More than Just Water

Whenever you use a washcloth, hand towel, or bath towel, skin cells slough off your body and stick to the fabric. Those cells serve as food for bacteria, Tierno says. Plus, bacteria thrive in the damp, densely woven material, which has lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide in. As you reuse towels, these bacteria can transfer back to you and cause skin infections. “If you have any kind of wound, you may be infecting yourself with whatever is on the towel,” says Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., codirector of the Simmons College center for hygiene and health.


Your cleanup:

Scott suggests washing your bath towel at least weekly if you’re the only person using it, and using fresh towels daily if you share. Anything that gets soaked—like a washcloth—should be washed after every use. And don’t forget about guest towels; wash them every time you have visitors. Who knows where those people have been?


Office Coffee Mug: Your Handy Desktop Cesspool

Reusing your coffee mug is great for the environment but may not be so great for your health. “Colonies of germs are living in your favorite cup,” Gerba says. Twenty percent of office mugs carry fecal bacteria, and 90 percent are covered in other germs, according to Gerba’s research. That’s because in an office, most people tend to clean their cups with bacteria-laden sponges or scrub brushes instead of in a dishwasher. That bacteria transfers to the mug and can live there for 3 days, Gerba says.


Your cleanup:

You’re not going to down that scalding cup of coffee as soon as it’s poured, but don’t nurse the cup for longer than an hour or so, Gerba suggests. Bring your mug home daily to be washed in the dishwasher, and make sure it goes through the dry cycle, which uses the hottest temperatures and zaps every last germ. At the very least, wash it with hot water, soap, and a paper towel. If it sits unwashed on your desk after being used, germs will start reproducing immediately—and bacterial colonies grow even when the cup contains nothing more than a coffee ring.


Sheets: You Never Really Sleep Alone

When you’re rolling around between the sheets, you’re basically rolling around in your own filth. Studies have found feces, salmonella, and E. coli on bed linens—even ones fresh out of a washer, Gerba says. His research shows that sheets can contain 0.1 gram of feces, salmonella, andE. coli after just one night’s rest. That means they’d collectively contain about 10 billion microbes.


Your cleanup:

Wash your sheets once a week, and make sure the water is hot. According to Gerba, only 5 percent of Americans use high temperatures when they wash their linens, and germs can live through a cold or even a warm wash. And the dryer may not be much of a backup: Although E. coli is usually zapped in the drying cycle, salmonella andMycobacterium, which can cause pulmonary diseases, can survive, says Gerba. Your best bet is to kill them off with hot water in the wash cycle. Then rest easy.{C}


Water Bottle: Bacteria to Go

What better way to save cash and keep trash out of landfills than to drink from reusable plastic water bottles? Just don’t let the bottles become bacterial bombs. Researchers at the University of Calgary found significant levels of coliform bacteria in 9 percent of water bottles used by elementary school students—suggesting that when thirsty youngsters open the bottles with dirty hands, they can dump a host of fecal matter into the water. When they empty the bottle, the damp, warm, closed space becomes a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.


Your cleanup:

Since water bottles tend to have narrow necks, they can’t undergo a thorough cleaning in the dishwasher. If you must reuse your bottle, wash it with hot, soapy water and use a bottle brush like the Oxo Good Grips model ($5,oxo.com). Feel free to reuse the bottle, as long as you wash it after every use and air-dry both the bottle and cap completely, Gerba says.


Gym Bag: Have You Ever Cleaned It?

Probably not, but you should. Now. Think about it: Even though spray bottles are usually placed around gyms to wipe down equipment, most patrons don’t use them. When you toss your clothes into your gym bag, the sweat from who-knows-how-many people transfers to the bag. “It becomes a terrific breeding ground for bacteria such as MRSA, which causes skin infections,” Gerba says. Since bacteria like MRSA can live for at least a day, reaching into your bag while you have a cut on your skin could lead to a potentially lethal infection.


Your cleanup:

After you remove your gear, sanitize the inside of the bag with a disinfectant wipe like the ones made by Clorox. You can stash packets in one of the side pockets so they stay handy but separated from the clothes. “That should cut back on the bacteria significantly,” Gerba says. “But if the bag is machine washable, you should also toss it into the machine every week.” (Throw in your shower flip-flops as well, he says—they can become equally filthy.)


Carpet: Wall-to-Wall Germs

Tierno’s research indicates that your carpet probably contains about 200,000 bacteria per square inch, making it 4,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat. “Rugs are botanical and zoological parks,” says Tierno, who says hundreds of thousands of different types of species live there. These invasions occur because the average person sheds about 1.5 million skin cells every hour; these skin cells hit the rug and serve as food forgerms. Add in food particles, pollen, and pet dander, and you have a gratis buff et, he says. And since a vacuum cleaner’s suction and rotating beater brush don’t usually reach the bottom of the carpet, you’re bound to have communities of E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, and other bacteria down there. Every time you walk on the carpet or roll around on it with your kids, you disrupt the bacteria, bringing some closer to the surface, Gerba says.


Your cleanup:

Hire a company to do a deep steam-cleaning at least once a year, and consider covering high-traffic areas with machine-washable area rugs.


Remote Control: 170 Channels of High-Def Filth

One day we’ll change channels using our brain waves. When that day comes, we’ll all be a lot healthier, because 50 percent of television remotes tested positive for rhinovirus, according to a University of Virginia study. The rhinovirus can live there for a few days, and othergerms can survive for up to a few months, thanks to the many hideouts found amid the rubber buttons and various LEDs. Ever have popcorn with your DVD movies? You’re making matters worse, Tierno says. “If you eat something greasy, then cough in your hands and go back to the remote, you’ve deposited an organism with some oil, which offers thegerms protection on a device that isn’t cleaned very often to begin with.”


Your cleanup:

Sanitizers don’t work well on remotes because you can’t get the cleaner into the cracks. Tierno suggests using a plastic-sleeve protector that can be wiped clean daily with a disinfecting wipe or other type of sanitizer. When you’re traveling, bring along a few ziplock bags to slip onto the remotes in hotels.


Watchband: Time’s Up

Ever wonder why leather watchbands start to stink after a few months? That smell is most likely caused by microbes, possibly Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that can cause skin infections, says Roberto Kolter, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Harvard medical school. Because leather is porous, it absorbs sweat and skin cells that serve as food for bacterial growth. “If you have any small cuts or scrapes on your wrist, the bacteria could enter and cause an infection,” Kolter says.


Your cleanup:

Rubber and plastic are safer than leather because they don’t absorb sweat as readily, and they can be cleaned with soapy water. If you prefer a leather strap, wipe it down once a week with a leather cleaner such as Leather CPR Cleaner & Conditioner ($7, leathercpr.com).

Original article can be found here.

Facebook Comments