Most people would probably guess that the toilet is the dirtiest item in their homes. Unfortunately, however, this is far from being correct. There are actually other, seemingly harmless, items in your home that are housing thousands – if not millions – more bacteria than your toilet. And you probably touch them a lot more often, too.
In fact, a 2022 study commissioned by the US Agriculture Department Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) discovered that more than 200,000 different species of bugs, bacteria and fungi live in our homes.
Another 2020 study conducted by researchers from NSF International, an independent public health organisation, swabbed common items in 22 households and pinpointed the ones that harboured more bacteria and faecal matter than toilet seats. Coliform bacteria – including Salmonella and Escherichia col – were found in 81 per cent of households, yeast and mould were present in 31 per cent, and Staphylococcus aureus (the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections) was found in over 5 per cent. So, it turns out, your toilet is actually pretty clean.
While most of these kinds of bacteria won’t actually harm you, some can cause illnesses — especially if, and when, you’re immunocompromised.
So, if you’re now itching to deep clean your home (sorry), here are the top dirty places to tackle first.
Household items crawling with bacteria
Dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments and multiply quickly when feeding off plenty of food in the form of dead skin flakes. And while most people are generally aware their mattresses are breeding grounds for these tiny critters, we often overlook our pillows. It’s estimated that as much as a tenth of the weight of a pillow that has never been washed, is made up of mites and… their poop… along with human skin and mould.
Gibson shared a video of her cushion being weighed before and after cleaning. Before spraying, the cushion weighed 3,186 grams. After spraying the cushion with an enzyme spray and leaving it to dry, it lost 85g.
“The enzymes will seek and destroy organic matter such as dust mites/dead skin cells, removing any bacteria causing odour,” Gibson wrote in the post.
While some bedding brands attach expiry dates to their pillows, there’s no clear answer about how often you should replace them. Two years is a general rule of thumb, but a simple test you can follow is this one by consumer group Choice:
- Put your pillow on a flat surface and fold it over in half
- Pop a sports shoe on top
- If the shoe flies off as your pillow bounces back into its original shape, your pillow is fine
- If the shoe stays there, or the pillow doesn’t spring back into shape, it’s probably time to buy a new one.
The sofa is where you and your loved ones (including pets) gather to watch Netflix and lounge after a long hard day — often with drinks and snacks in hand. Unfortunately, dust mites live in sofas and are released every time someone sits down. That’s not the mention the faecal matter (yes, poo) that is likely blanketing the surface of your favourite seat.
Before giving your couch a deep clean, make sure to check the couch’s care tag to see what cleaning methods and products are safe to use on the fabric.
Bacteria such as E.Coli, salmonella and campylobacter can spread from raw meat, unwashed veg and poultry, which can cause upset stomachs and, in worse cases, food poisoning.
The FSIS study specifically highlighted spice jars as being one of the most germ-infested items in the house. This is because you touch them when cooking but never think of cleaning them down. The same goes for kitchen taps, sinks, can openers and recipe books.
Salt and pepper shakers
While your household salt and paper shaker is likely harbouring E.coli, it’s the shakers in restaurants that are the worst. According to a 2018 ABC News study, salt and pepper shakers have an average bacteria count of 11,600, which was the second highest next to restaurant menus.
Computers, keyboards and mobile phones
It’s no surprise to hear all your tech appliances are covered in germs, but just in case you missed it, grim findings discovered by CBT Nuggets suggested keyboards and mobile phones housed more bacteria than money (and money is nasty). When compared to a toilet seat, a keyboard was found to be 20,000 dirtier and a smartphone 9,000 times more infectious. The most common type of bacteria found on these everyday items was gram-positive cocci, which is found in pneumonia.
The NSF International study found 50 per cent of sampled coffee reservoirs (the section that stores water) housed mould and yeast. The researchers even found coliform in some, the strain of bacteria that can cause diarrhoea.
To avoid germs multiplying at a faster rate, ensure you always empty any unused water from a coffee machine and leave the lid off to dry.
A study by the American Society for Microbiology found worlds of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) living in the biofilm (AKA the scum that coats the front of your showerhead). While NTM doesn’t lead to illness when inhaled in most cases, infections can cause shortness of breath, fatigue and weight loss, especially in people with weak immune systems.
Take preventive measures and treat showerheads like other fixtures in your bathroom. A budget-friendly way to clean them every week or two is by soaking them in a solution of white vinegar and water.
Cleaning sponges and tea towels
There’s no surprise that the warm, moist environment of your sponge provides a breeding ground for germs. The NSF International study concluded that of the 81 per cent of families that had coliform bacteria in their homes, over 75 per cent had the bacteria on their dish sponges or rags. To make matters more alarming, another study found 45 million bacteria per square centimetre in a single kitchen sponge. Yikes.
The TV remote is touched by everyone, gets dropped on the floor, lost in the sofa, coughed on and covered in sticky messes. So, when was the last time you cleaned yours?
A 2020 study commissioned by sofa and carpet specialist ScS, found that TV remotes were 20 times dirtier than a toilet seat, harbouring a plethora of mould, dust and bacteria. TBH, it makes sense when you think about it.
A not-so-fun fact: When your toothbrush is close to your toilet (up to two metres away), faecal matter can fly out and land on your toothbrush. Plus, researchers have found over 100 million types of bacteria contaminating toothbrushes.
Our word of advice? Don’t keep your toothbrush near the toilet bowl. Store it upright so the water trickles down, and replace it at least every three months.