In contrast to my post about "10 Things You're Not Cleaning But Should Be," here are eight things you might be spending too much time cleaning when you really don't have to be. So before you whipe out the antibacterial hand sanitizer or the disinfectant spray one more time, check out this list of not so dirty places that get a bad rap according to Good Housekeeping.
Toilet || There's more E. Coli in the average sink than in the toilet after you flush it, says microbiologist Charles Gerba (a.k.a. Dr. Germ), a professor at the University of Arizona's department of soil, water and environmental science. The seat is especially clean. "There's usually 200 times more fecal bacteria on a cutting board than on a toilet seat," he adds. (Unfortunately, that's not the case for telephones, remote controls, sponges and dishtowels!) Because you "perceive" your toilet to be dirty, you're more likely to clean it, says microbiologist Lisa Yakas, a home product certification project manager at NSF International, a nonprofit public health organization. "Those areas they don't think about are the ones that get ignored." Still flush with the toilet seat down to prevent spraying fecal matter and stash toothbrushes in a drawer or medicine cabinet, says Yakas.
Coins || Germs prefer soft, moist environments. “Coins are made of metal, and metal has some antimicrobial properties,” says microbiologist Kelly Wroblewski, director of the infectious disease program at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “They’re not a good place for germs to live.” In fact, copper, nickel, and silver are antimicrobial, says Gerba. “Coinage money, like dimes, nickels, quarters, generally don’t support bacteria,” says Philip Tierno, director of microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of The Secret Life of Germs. “Trace metals like silver, nickel, aluminum and cooper don’t allow survival of organisms. They’re poisonous to organisms.” And like paper money, which has an antimicrobial coating, coins are dry, says Tierno.
Dog Kisses || Slobber can be gross, but it’s not necessarily germy. “The dirtiest things around the house are the humans,” says Larson. “Everything has germs on it.” But not all germs are created equal. “A human bite is much worse than a dog bite,” she adds. “Saliva has antibacterial products in it.” And remember the hygiene hypothesis? Kids may get an immune-system boost from exposure to animals. “Children exposed to greater microbial diversity are less likely to have allergies,” says Wroblewski. “They exhibit better immune systems.”
Your Jewelry || Like coins, jewelry made from real copper, nickel, and silver makes a bad home for germs, says Tierno. That’s especially true for silver, which is less likely to be made of a composite and can actually kill germs. (Some bandage companies have even made products with silver nanoparticles as an antiseptic.) The metal prevents germs from replicating and dividing, says Tierno. So feel free to swap silver necklaces with a friend.
The Backyard || “Dirt is dirty, but that’s different from being germy,” says Elaine Larson, RN, PhD, associate dean for research at the Columbia University School of Nursing. So what’s okay when it comes to kids? According to Larson, “unless there’s a lot of poop from animals,” crawling around in the grass is perfectly safe. “There are lots of bacteria in your garden, but they’re harmless to human health,” says Wroblewski. “It’s germy, but the germs are not pathogenic.” Watch out for sandboxes, though, “because cats poop in them,” says Gerba. “They carry parasites your kids can pick up.” If your child has a cut or scrape, keep him out of the dirt, which “usually contains large numbers of bacteria,” says Tierno. “These ordinarily don’t hurt you unless you have an open wound.” Sometimes the organisms may even produce antimicrobial results.
Door Handles || Contamination is all about “high-touch surfaces,” says Sasha Madison, MPH, manager of infection prevention and control at Stanford Hospital and Clinics. Many people keep them open, which means the knobs stay surprisingly clean. “Doorknobs aren’t touched as much as people think,” says Gerba. And they’re usually made of inhospitable metal. “Bacteria and viruses are not going to live there very long,” says Wroblewski. One caveat: “The doorknob on the [restroom] entrance has more germs on it than the exit,” says Gerba. It turns out that only 67 percent of people rinse their hands with water after using a public washroom, and only a third of those use soap. Try to steer clear of hand dryers, which can spray around germs.
Trash Cans || “Bathtubs are germier than trash cans,” says Madison. “There are many organisms, but they’re not all dangerous.” To sterilize your wastebasket, or anything else, use a disinfectant like chlorine bleach, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide. Experts also recommend killing bacteria in the kitchen, where you may not want the smell of these products, with white distilled vinegar. “It’s clear, it leaves a nice shine, and it’s safe for pets and children,” says Duberg. Trash cans are also generally dry (assuming you use a liner). “Organisms can’t survive without water,” says Tierno.
Urine || Yep. That’s right. “Urine is sterile,” says microbiologist Donna Duberg, an assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. Feces, not urine, are the problem. That’s why microbiologists worry more about the kitchen and about raw meat, which may contain E. coli and salmonella from feces.