Where are the grottiest spots in the home?

It's not the toilet that germs thrive the most in the home. 
Photo / Thinkstock
It's not the toilet that germs thrive the most in the home. Photo / Thinkstock

Most people think the toilet is the dirtiest spot in the home, but Professor Charles Gerba, who's known worldwide as Dr Germ, says this couldn't be further from the truth.

Dr Germ says because we clean the toilet so often it is actually the cleanest place in the home.

The toilet seat is the cleanest, but the cistern and bowl rate fairly well too because disinfectants are used in these areas on a regular basis.

"People are terrified of bug-borne diseases so they clean the heck out of a toilet seat," Dr Germ says.

"We always judge everything by how clean a toilet seat is," the microbiologist adds.

Surprisingly, the dirtiest area in the home is the kitchen.

"By far the most faecal bacteria is (found) in the kitchen area, particularly your sponge or dishcloth."

Sponges are a big issue, he says, and usually breed millions of bacteria within a week.

The more we use a sponge to clean the more we're spreading germs around the kitchen. The kitchen sink is also infested with germs.

"There's more faecal bacteria there than a toilet after you flush it," says Dr Germ.

"That's probably why dogs drink out of the toilet; they're probably smarter than we give them credit for."

The cutting board is also one to watch - it usually has about 200 times more faecal bacteria than a toilet seat, he says.

"Most people's kitchens would fail a health department inspection from what we've seen."

For the past 20 years, Dr Germ has been at the forefront of disinfectant research, bacteria and viruses detection, and microbial risk assessment. He has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and New York Times and his findings have been published in numerous scientific journals.

He says the reason scientists are coming across faecal bacteria is because it grows in the kitchen after being brought into the home via food products such as raw meat.

The bacteria then find a happy home in our sponges.

"If I was a microbiologist from another world I'd probably think the toilet was your kitchen sink based on what I see in the average home ... they (experts) even find salmonella about 15 per cent of the time in a kitchen sponge."

Just because the kitchen rates the worst for germs, it doesn't mean we're not cleaning. The problem is we're not using disinfectants.

To kill nasties, Dr Germ suggests using bleach in your sink once a week as well as on your cutting board and sponges.

He recommends using anti-bacterial wipes on surfaces, but if you prefer sponges, disinfect them.

The rule of thumb is to replace a sponge every three to four months, he says.

Aside from the kitchen, other spots people don't expect to be dirty are TV remote controls and phones.

"TV remotes tend to get really bad and during the flu season, where we find most of the influenza viruses are on TV remotes and phones, 'cause what's the first thing you do? You jump into bed, call your boss - 'I'm not coming into work' - and play with the TV remote the rest of the day ..."

The wipes also come in handy here.

Next on the list is the laundry.

"We probably wear the germiest (sic) clothes in 50 years because we use cold-water wash, (and) we dry for short periods of time," says Dr Germ. Viruses, particularly salmonella, can survive longer, especially in underwear, he says.

Dr Germ recommends giving the washing machine a weekly "mouth wash" with bleach.

Other hotbeds for germs are children's toys and face washers, while the home office desk, keyboard, computer touch screens and computer mouse also carry germs.

Add the bathroom sink and taps to the list as well. They attract bacteria because the area is frequently wet.

"Even in public restrooms the germiest places are the sink and the taps," says Dr Germ.

"The cleanest place is actually the doorknob on the exit of a restroom toilet."

Other areas outside the home we should be mindful of are grocery trolleys. They're top offenders for E. Coli because of the raw meat products we carry in them and because babies get rides in them.

Re-usable shopping bags also attract bacteria, he says, because they rarely get washed and some people also use them to carry dirty laundry or gym gear.

As for public transport, it's all pretty bad, especially the poles passengers grip.

"We find a lot of E. Coli in buses because I guess nobody disinfects a bus very often," says Dr Germ.

The worst public toilets for germs are on aeroplanes because of the disproportionate number of passengers per toilet, he says, while the cleanest public toilets are usually in hospitals.

To ensure we don't become a nation obsessing over bacteria, Dr Germ says we should focus on cleaning key areas - the kitchen, washing machine and, if someone in the home has the flu, the phone and TV remote.

"We don't try to make people more paranoid," says Dr Germ, "but we found in studies that if you practise proper hygiene in the key areas you can reduce your risk of getting common infections by as much as 50 per cent."

Those common infections include the cold, flu and diarrhoea.

- AAP

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