If asked to guess the dirtiest place in the house, the top answers would be the toilet seat or garbage bin, right? True, they can be grimy if not cleaned regularly, but according to the experts, it’s not these usual suspects that are havens for tiny disease-causing organisms. Here are their main secret hiding spots.
The biggest potentially lethal Petri dish of contamination is in the kitchen, according to Peter Collignon, professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University in Canberra. “The kitchen is more of a risk than the bathroom for picking up E. coli or food poisoning,” he says.
With 50 to 80 per cent of food-borne illnesses originating in the home, it’s critical to clean fridges, cutting boards, counter tops and cutlery, especially after they come in contact with raw meat or eggs.
Toothbrush and holder
A study by the public health and environmental organisation NSF International identified the toothbrush holder as having the third-highest concentration of germs in the home (behind the kitchen sponge and sink).
Toothbrushes can also be germ-ridden, Dr Heather Rickard, a lecturer in clinical microbiology at the University of South Australia, says. “They should be cleaned with hot water after each use, and replaced every six months or so.”
Rickard recommends drying toothbrushes after every use, then storing them in the cabinet.
You might not think twice about sharing a towel with your partner or kids, but Collignon advises against it. “Towels can be a means of cross-infecting skin bugs, like streptococcus and golden staph,” he says. “Use your own as much as possible and make sure it isn’t stored damp – bugs survive when things are moist and warm. Once it dries in the sun or dryer, the chance of catching a bug decreases.”
Shower and bath
You clean yourself in the shower or bath every day with hot water and soap, so surely it must be germ-free? On the contrary.
Shower germs are constantly plotting their invasion of the wettest areas of the home. They include staphylococcus or “staph” bacteria; fungi such as athlete’s foot; and general mould and mildews, which exacerbateasthma and allergies.
To keep your family safe from these nasties, Paul Kretzers, managing director of The Cleaning Coach, recommends using a shower chemical to clean the tiles and get into the grout once a week.
Regular vacuuming gets rid of obvious dust, but it doesn’t mean the carpet is clean. According to US microbiologist and immunologist Dr Philip Tierno, carpet can contain up to 4000 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
Kretzers says it’s critical to steam-clean carpets at least once a year – possibly more if you have kids.
“God knows what’s in the carpet – dog poo, tracked-in dirt, a spilt drink which attracts gunk. Carpets are a breeding ground for germs,” Kretzers says.
These nasty germs may be multiplying under our noses in our homes, but Collignon says it’s important not to become obsessed with germs. “We need to do what we can in our homes to decrease our risk without being so obsessive-compulsive about germs that it ruins our lives,” he says.