By: By Chris Woolston from Reader's Digest magazine October 2011
Good news: Most microbes are harmless (including the vast majority of the billion or so on your skin). Bad news: There are some nasty ones close by. Here's where they're hiding.
Kitchen sponges and dishrags
The sponges people use to wash their dishes carry more germs than a toilet bowl, a recent study found. Even worse (if that's possible): Up to 7 percent of sponges and dishrags in another study harbored methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), aka flesh-eating bacteria. The fix? Sanitize the sponge in the dishwasher whenever you run it, or microwave it daily (wet it first). Throw the dishrag in the washer.
Kitchen sinks, toothbrush holders, and countertops
These are also bacterial hot spots, so make sure to clean them regularly. Use a diluted bleach mixture (one tablespoon bleach to a quart of water) for sinks and counters. Run the toothbrush holder through the dishwasher once or twice a week (or wash it by hand in hot, soapy water, then give it a once-over with a disinfecting wipe).
Bathroom faucets, TV remotes, refrigerator handles, and doorknobs
Cold viruses linger as long as 24 hours on these surfaces, researcher Birgit Winther, MD, found last year. (And flu viruses may live even longer.) Dr. Winther, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the University of Virginia, now cleans frequently handled surfaces daily when someone in her house is sick.
Public "touch spots," such as ATM keypads
British researchers recently discovered staphylococcus on 95 percent of the spots they swabbed in Central London.
An investigation earlier this year found E. coli or similar bacteria on more than 70 percent of shopping carts in four states. "Packages of meat tend to leak," points out the researcher, Chuck Gerba, PhD, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. "And babies put their bottoms where you put your broccoli." Protect yourself: If you eat it raw, don't place it in the top part of a shopping cart.
You've heard it before, but as we approach another season of sniffles, aches, and worse, it bears repeating: Wash your hands often and well. That means lots of lather. And rub for about 20 seconds-long enough to hum "Happy Birthday" twice.
See also: 8 more places germs hide in your home
Other sources: Elizabeth Scott, a microbiologist at Simmons College, in Boston; safety-advocacy group NSF International; infection specialists at King's College London
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