Germ Alert! The Everyday Places Where Germs Are Hiding

As we approach winter, it’s important to keep our immune systems strong and limit the amount of germs we come into contact with. Washing our hands often is critical, especially because we’ll be spending more time indoors with others, where germs can be shared easily. We typically think of public bathrooms as the dirtiest places we come into contact with, whether it’s in the office or your favorite department store. Surprisingly, some of the routine things we come into contact with are dirtier than the average public toilet seat. Here are some of the germiest items to look out for:


According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, 64 percent of people thought that a public restroom doorknob had more germs than an ATM. Much to their surprise, ATMs are the dirtier culprit.

Tip: Wash your hands after using an ATM. Avoid touching your face or your cellphone before you do!

Elevator buttons

Elevators are great for getting where you need to go, especially when your destination is on the top floor. They aren’t so great in the cleanliness department, though. A study found that the number of bacteria present on an elevator button is almost 40 times higher than on a public toilet seat

Tip: Similar to when you use ATMs, wash your hands immediately after and do not to touch your face until you do. If you can, avoid using elevators altogether. This way, you avoid the germs and get more steps in!

Escalator handrails

All of the places where you ride escalators are swarming with people: airports, malls, and subways. It makes sense that germs are left where people are constantly touching the handrails to hold on. A study conducted on the escalator handrails in a mall found food, E. coli, urine, mucus, feces, and blood — gross!

Tip: Avoid touching the handrails, if you can. If you need to hold on for safety, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer immediately afterward.

Reusable grocery bags

Reusable grocery bags are great for the environment. They’re also sturdier than plastic bags, which is a plus when you’re making the trip from your car to your kitchen. Unfortunately, they can be a perfect spot for germs to fester. These grocery bags often come into contact with poultry, meats, and produce that have bacteria on them. And because, by definition, they are meant to be reused, people rarely think to clean them. In fact, 97 percent of shoppers admit they have never washed them. University of Arizona researchers found that reusable shopping bags harbor several kinds of bacteria, including E. coli.

Tip: Wash your bags after each trip to the store. Use these bags only for groceries. Because leaks are sometimes unavoidable, label your bags—one for meats, one for produce, one for drinks that sweat, one for dry packaged foods, etc.

Your coffee maker water reservoir

A report from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) said it found mold or yeast present in 50 percent of the reservoirs it tested. Most coffee makers come with specific instructions for how to clean and disinfect the water reservoir, but it’s not something most people commonly do.

Cleaning tip: First, check your coffee maker’s instructions. They might be specific to the appliance you have. Most brands recommend filling the reservoir with white vinegar, brewing until half of the vinegar has drained into the carafe, and letting the maker sit for an hour before completing the brew cycle and re-running with clean water a few times to flush out the vinegar.

Your computer keyboard

Keyboards can have up to five times the germs of the toilet seat. When you eat food at your desk and touch communal surfaces around the office and your home, germs find a home in the keys.

Cleaning tip: Wash your hands and disinfect your keyboard often, not just when it appears dirty to the naked eye.

Your keys

Every key on your keyring — whether it’s your house key, car key, or mailbox key—is coated with germs. Keys are items you use every day but don’t think to clean.

Cleaning tip: Clean them with antibacterial wipes regularly.

Your shoelaces

Shoelaces come in contact with dirt, mud, and animal droppings everywhere you walk. You probably tie them every time you put on your shoes, which is putting you in contact with millions of microorganisms.

Cleaning tip: Soak your shoelaces in hot, soapy water, or toss them in the washing machine with a load of clothing.

Your handbag

Your handbag goes everywhere you do. You need it to house all of the items you might need in a day. But, as it goes along for the ride, it’s often placed on surfaces that harbor germs: park benches, bus seats, etc. A study of 25 handbags found the average one is three times dirtier than an office toilet seat.

Tip: Keep your handbag off the ground and other communal surfaces when you can. Use disinfectant wipes for plastic or leather bags regularly, and throw cloth bags in the laundry when possible.

Your cellphone (and tablet)

Few people distance themselves from their mobile devices during the day. We use our phones while we eat, watch TV, work—while we’re doing pretty much anything. One survey even found that 75 percent of Americans said they use their smartphones while on the toilet. Imagine all of the germs!

Tip: Clean your screens with wipes or a soft, damp cloth. Wash your hands after eating or going to the bathroom before using your phone.

Some of these seem like obvious places for finding germs; others, not so much. Did you know port-a-potties are cleaner than picnic tables, shopping cart handles, escalator handles, and playground equipment? Playground equipment is the germiest of the bunch, so encourage your children to wash their hands often to avoid getting sick!