Germs: Everyday Items with the Most Bacteria

Reviewed on 6/2/2021

Swimming With Bacteria

Swimming pools are a lot of fun for kids, and a great way to stay fit.

Swimming pools are a lot of fun for kids, and a great way to stay fit. But did you know that swimming pools actually contain a lot of poop? A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study found that 70% of public pools, 66% of water parks, and 49% of pools in private clubs had evidence of E. coli bacteria contamination, which is commonly found in fecal matter. E. coli can cause severe bloody diarrhea. Chlorine doesn't always kill germs right away, and some germs are more resistant than others.

Pools frequented by children can be the worst as children may not have the best hygiene habits and may not clean themselves before going in the pool. Further, swim diapers are not effective in preventing bacteria and urine from leaking. And let's face it, kids pee in the pool. Urine binds to chlorine, thus using it up and leaving less to kill bacteria.

The best defenses against recreational water illnesses (RWIs) include not swallowing water, staying out of the water if you have diarrhea, not peeing in the pool, and showering before you get into the water. If you have kids, get them out of the pool every hour for a bathroom break, and check diapers. Don't forget to reapply sunblock!

What’s for Dinner?

How many people touched that restaurant menu before it was handed to you?

How many people touched that restaurant menu before it was handed to you? Enough so that there can be up to 100 times more bacteria on a restaurant menu than a toilet seat! Bacteria on one diner's hands can get on a menu and can survive up to 48 hours. Menus are wiped down maybe once per day, if that, and maybe even with a dirty rag.

Protect yourself by washing your hands after you've handled the menu and ordered, rather than before.

Like Germs With Your Garnish?

Along with menus, lemon wedges at restaurants may also have high levels of bacteria.

Along with menus, lemon wedges at restaurants may also have high levels of bacteria. One study found nearly 70% of restaurant lemons tested positive for about 25 different germs and yeasts, including E. coli bacteria, which can cause illness. Most of the germs found were on the rinds, though some was found in the pulp. The study did not look at whether patrons actually got sick from these lemon wedges, but to be on the safe side, skip the lemon altogether. If you absolutely must have lemon, to reduce at least some exposure to the germs: request the lemon on a separate dish, squeeze the juice into your beverage, and do not place the wedge into your drink.

The Fountain of Youth

A dad helps his son drink from a water fountain.

A classroom water fountain spigot can have more germs on it than a toilet seat! This is because water fountains are cleaned less frequently than bathrooms. Have your children carry their own water bottles with them to prevent contracting bacteria that may lurk on the fountains.

Handle with Care

A scientist swabs a door handle for a germ sample.

Unfortunately, not everyone washes his or her hands after using the toilet. A CDC study showed that only 31% of men and 65% of women do so. Further, one study showed only about 5% of people actually wash their hands for the CDC-recommended 20 seconds or more. That means lots of people are walking out of the bathroom and touching the door and knobs with germy hands.

Germs can spread far and wide – and quickly. In one study, researchers placed samples of a virus on doorknobs and tabletops. Throughout the day they sampled 60 to 100 surfaces throughout the building from light switches to coffee pot handles to computers, and found that within two to four hours, the virus had spread to 40 to 60 percent of people in the facility. The researchers of the study found using antibacterial wipes on surfaces can help reduce the spread of harmful bacteria.

The CDC recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (you can hum "Happy Birthday" to yourself as a helpful timer), especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing, but should not be used as a substitute.

Carting Around Grime

A little girl in a shopping cart.

You might want to think twice before putting your child in the seat of a shopping cart. Shopping cart handles can be covered with more bacteria than is found in a public restroom! One handle could have up to 11 million microorganisms, including some from raw meat. Not to mention dirty diapers and runny noses.

Never put your own groceries, particularly produce, on that top seat. Many stores now offer antibacterial wipes to use before pushing a cart around; carry your own if your store does not. There are also shopping cart seat covers designed to protect children.

Don’t Press Your Luck

A man pushes the elevator buttons.

Yet another surface that is often more contaminated than toilet surfaces: elevator buttons. They are probably cleaned less frequently than bathrooms. The best choice for your health is to take the stairs (get in some exercise!). Otherwise, try to push the button with your elbow or the tip of a pen, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after pushing the button.

Check In and Check It Out

A hotel room desk and television.

Hotel rooms can feel plush and inviting. But they also invite some unwelcome guests – germs. The TV remote control is probably the dirtiest object in the room. Wipe it off with a sanitizing wipe before use, or better yet, put it into a plastic baggie. The signal will still work, and you won't come into contact with bacteria or viruses that can make you sick.

Other places in a hotel room that might be contaminated include lamp switches, telephones, ice buckets, unwrapped drinking glasses, hair dryers, bedspreads, coffee makers, and bathroom faucets. Use a sanitizing wipe on all surfaces when you can, and just toss the bedspread aside and don't use it for sleeping. Request an extra freshly-laundered blanket if needed.

Frolic in Filth

A little boy plays in the sandbox at the park.

NSF International conducted a study to find the germiest public places, and the top spot went to the sandbox, which can contain up to 36 times more germs than a restaurant tray. Because sandboxes are warm and moist, they are an ideal setting for bacteria that come from wildlife such as cats or raccoons as well as from humans who leave behind saliva, food items, and germs from their hands. If your children stick their hands into the sand and then into their mouths, they could become ill from any bacteria or viruses in the sand.

Protect your little ones by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer on their hands as soon as they get out of the sandbox, and wash their hands thoroughly when you get home.

Dirty Money

A person enters in a code on a credit card keypad.

"Put your money where your mouth is," goes the old saying. Not such good advice, it turns out. Money – and the ATM buttons we press to get that cash – are covered in germs. A single dollar bill can harbor up to 3,000 different types of bacteria. Most of them are harmless, but a few are not. The flu virus is one – and it can live on a dollar bill for up to 17 days! Handling paper money is still something most of us need to do, so just be sure to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after handling cash, or wash your hands thoroughly when possible.

Like other public surfaces that are touched by many people, ATM buttons or screens can also be covered in germs. Some ATM companies are looking to develop antimicrobial touch screens that would inhibit the growth of germs. Until then, use a pen to press the buttons when possible, and once again, break out that hand sanitizer.

Gym Germs

Gyms are repositories for germs. Everyone gets hot and sweaty and there are a lot of shared, touched surfaces from free weights, to gym mats, to exercise balls.

Gyms are repositories for germs. Everyone gets hot and sweaty and there are a lot of shared, touched surfaces from free weights, to gym mats, to exercise balls. Even the shower can contain the fungi that cause athlete's foot. Staph, strep, and Norovirus can spread easily in this environment. Gyms are also hotbeds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA, which can lead to dangerous skin infections.

Wipe all equipment with sanitizing wipes before using. Many gyms supply these now, but bring your own if your gym does not. Always use your own gym mat and towels, use goggles and earplugs in the gym pool, cover any cuts or scrapes, and wear flip-flops in the locker room and shower.

Gas Station Hitchhikers

A man pumps gas into his car.

A 2011 study found that gas pumps are among the dirtiest surfaces Americans touch. More than 71% of the gas pump handles tested were found to be contaminated with bacteria and viruses that could make you sick. But we have to pump gas, so to stay healthy, use sanitizing wipes on the pump handles before and after use and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after you pump your gas. Consider using your glove compartment to actually store an extra pair of latex gloves to protect your hands.

Mobile Micro-Monsters

Add your phone to the list of items with more germs than a toilet seat!

Add your phone to the list of items with more germs than a toilet seat! Both cell phones and office desk phones can harbor bacteria known to cause infection. The problem is most people don't clean their phone screens and often share phones. A Journal of Applied Microbiology study warned that up to 30% of viruses could be transferred from a fingertip to a glass surface, such as that of your cell phone.

Disposable screen protectors are one of the best ways to protect against the spread of germs. Microfiber cloths can clean off dirt and other debris. There are some ultraviolet light sanitizers available to help clean your phones. Sanitizing wipes are generally not recommended for electronics. Check your manufacturer's warranty and follow all instructions if you use these products so as not to damage your phone. Finally, proper hygiene and hand washing can help prevent the spread of a lot of germs.

Germs: Everyday Items with the Most Bacteria

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