Germs-the catchall name for bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms-are everywhere: at home, in the office, even in your car. Freaked out? Well, about 99% of them can't harm us, but the other 1% can be annoying, uncomfortable, or downright scary: Most of these nasty critters are either viral or bacterial and can cause everything from a runny nose to a potentially life-threatening infection. Here are a few surprising spots where germs like to lurk-and easy ways to get rid of 'em:
The Kitchen Faucet
That metal aeration screen at the end of your kitchen faucet reduces water flow, which is good for the environment, but not so much for your health: Running water keeps the screen moist, an ideal condition for bacteria growth. Because tap water is far from sterile, if you accidentally touch the screen with dirty fingers or food, bacteria can grow on the faucet. Over time, bacteria build up and form a wall of pathogens called biofilm that sticks to the screen. Eventually, that biofilm may even be big enough to break off and get onto your food or dishes.
KEEP IT CLEAN: Once a week, remove the screen and soak it in a diluted bleach solution-follow the directions on the label. Replace the screen, and let the water run a few minutes before using.
Your Vacuum Cleaner
Vacuums-including the brushes and bags-are like a banquet for bacteria: You suck in all this bacteria and food, creating an atmosphere for growth. A recent study found that 13% of all vacuum cleaner brushes tested positive for E. coli, which means you could spread it around the house each time you use the appliance.
KEEP IT CLEAN: Change your vacuum bag frequently, and do so outdoors to avoid the cloud of bacteria that filters into the air. (Vacuum bags that feature antibacterial linings are best and are available for many major brands.) Clean the cavity of a bagless vacuum with diluted bleach and let it air-dry.
Your Car's Dashboard
In tests of 100 vehicles from across the United States, the dashboard was found to be the second-most-common spot for bacteria and mold. (Food spills were number one.) The researchers' rationale: When air-which carries mold spores and bacteria-gets sucked in through the vents, it's often drawn to the dashboard, where it can deposit the spores and germs. Because the dashboard receives the most sun and tends to stay warm, it's prime for growth.
KEEP IT CLEAN: Regularly swipe the inside of your car with disinfecting wipes. Be more vigilant during allergy season-about 20 million Americans are affected by asthma, which is caused in part by an allergic reaction to mold.
Soap that harbors bacteria may sound ironic, but one recent study found that about 25% of liquid soap dispensers in public restrooms were contaminated by, ahem, fecal bacteria. Why? Most of these containers are never cleaned, so bacteria grows as the soap scum builds up, and the bottoms are touched by dirty hands, so there's a continuous culture going on feeding millions of bacteria.
KEEP IT CLEAN: Be sure to scrub hands thoroughly for 15 to 20 seconds with plenty of hot water-and if you have an alcohol gel disinfectant, use that, too.
Restaurant Ketchup Bottle
It's the rare eatery that regularly bleaches down condiment containers. And the reality is that many people don't wash their hands before eating, So while you may be diligent, the guy who poured the ketchup before you may not have been, which could spell trouble.
KEEP IT CLEAN: Squirt hand sanitizer on the outside of the bottle or use a disinfectant wipe before you grab it. Holding the bottle with a napkin won't help-they're porous, so microorganisms can walk right through
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[photo credit: Getty Images]
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