Everyday Items In Your Home That Are Shockingly Dirty

You might be surprised which common household items are often covered with bacteria.

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When you think of germs in your home, you might imagine the usual suspects: the toilet seat, the well-used cutting board, or the refrigerator drawer where you store your meat and poultry. But bacteria can live on some household objects that you’d never suspect. We’ve rounded up six of the dirtiest items in your home, along with tips on how to clean them. And let’s just say, you’ll probably be shopping for a new toothbrush by the time you finish reading this.

Kitchen Sponge

You use your kitchen sponge to wash dishes and wipe down counter tops, so it only makes sense the sponge itself is clean, right? Wrong. According to germ expert Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, the kitchen sponge is actually the dirtiest item in your home. Here’s why: While you clean various surfaces and dishes with your sponge, the porous surface collects food particles. The particles, along with the sponge’s moisture, create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. So just how dirty is your sponge? In a study published by Scientific Reports, the German Research Center for Environmental Health extracted species from a sampling of sponges and found 362 different types of bacteria!

How to Clean:

It’s been suggested boiling or microwaving your kitchen sponges can kill the bacteria living on them. But researchers have concluded that these sanitation methods don’t work — and in some cases, the cleaning efforts increase the bacterial level. Instead, simply replace your kitchen sponges at least every two weeks. You can also switch to bacteria-resistant sponges, like this SKURA Antimicrobial Sponge with a fading monogram that alerts you when it’s time to replace it. Or for an alternative that you don’t have to replace so often, try one of these silicone scrubbers.

Bath Toys

Those seemingly harmless toys floating in your child’s bath are actually swimming in bacteria. The Swiss National Science Foundation studied traditional bath toys made from soft plastic and containing a “squirt” hole. When researchers cut open the toys to see what was growing inside, the results were not pretty. All the toys had “slimy biofilms on the inner surface” along with black mold. Fungi and bacteria were also present, and 50 percent of the toys tested positive for streptococci, indicating fecal contamination. You may never look at that rubber ducky the same again.

How to Clean:

To prevent mold and bacteria from growing in bath toys, be sure to squeeze out all the water after each use. Clean the toys about once a month by soaking them overnight in a mixture of 3/4 cup bleach and one gallon of water, then air dry.

Bath Towels

Ready for this gross fact about your towel? Gerba says, “Towels usually have large number of fecal bacteria in them because they stay moist, and bacteria loves moisture.” Sharing towels, flushing the toilet in the same room as your towel and the damp conditions of your bathroom all contribute to turning your towel into a fluffy Petri dish. In his study, Gerba found coliform (bacteria found in human feces) in 90 percent and E. coli in 14 percent of bathroom towels.

How to Clean:

Remember two things when cleaning your bath towels — frequency and water temperature. Your towels should be washed every two days, and skip the cold water cycle. Hot water is essential to kill the bacteria. For extra bacteria-killing power, use a laundry product with activated oxygen bleach, like OxiClean, along with your regular detergent.

Kitchen Utensils

We all try to be careful about cleanliness in the kitchen, but certain kitchen tools and utensils might be germier than you think. In their household germ study, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) found can openers and rubber spatulas tested positive for E. coli, yeast and mold. Yuck.

How to Clean:

The dishwasher is your safest bet when it comes to disinfecting your kitchen utensils. Can openers and rubber spatulas should be placed in the dishwasher after each use. If the rubber or silicone head of your spatula detaches from the handle, be sure to separate the two pieces before putting it in the dishwasher to ensure that each part is thoroughly cleaned. Then, be sure both pieces are dry before you put the head back on the handle. If you don’t have a dishwasher, hand wash utensils in hot soapy water. You can also sanitize your can opener by spraying it with hydrogen peroxide.

Toothbrush

Toothbrushes contain millions of bacteria, some from our own mouths and some from the environment where the toothbrush is stored. You’ve probably heard the rumor that your toothbrush might get sprayed with fecal bacteria when the toilet is flushed. We’re sorry to tell you, but it’s true. If you keep your toothbrush stored with those of other family members, it can be further contaminated either by direct contact with the other toothbrushes, or from family members’ hands has they reach for their toothbrush and inadvertently touch yours.

How to Clean:

According to the American Dental Association, after brushing you should rinse your toothbrush with tap water until it is completely clean, let it air-dry and store it in an upright position. The ADA also suggests soaking a toothbrush in three percent hydrogen peroxide or Listerine mouthwash to reduce bacteria. And, of course, replace your toothbrush every three months or when the bristles start to fray.

Coffee Maker

A 2015 CBS News investigation tested the coffee makers of 10 families. Yep, you guessed it — they found bacteria. They tested the water reservoir of the coffee makers, as well as the dispenser and the area where the coffee grounds are placed. Bacteria strains discovered included staphylococcus, streptococcus and E. coli. With that in mind, your coffee maker could actually be making you sick. These germs can cause gastrointestinal issues and an upset stomach.

How to Clean:

For best cleaning results, clean your coffee maker about once a month following the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. The NSF recommends adding up to four cups of undiluted vinegar to the reservoir, letting it stand for 30 minutes and then running the vinegar through the unit. Next, run the machine with fresh water for two to three cycles until the vinegar odor is gone.

Erica Young
Erica Young is a freelance writer and content creator, specializing in home and lifestyle pieces. She loves writing about home decor, organization, relationships, and pop culture. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication.