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The unexpected household items that are covered in germs

If we are going to deep-clean anywhere in the house, it will likely be the toilet.

Yet you might be horrified to know your pillow, spice rack or pet bowl can be just as filthy. 

According to a new study by the  US Agriculture Department Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), more than 200,000 different species of bugs, bacteria and fungus live in our homes at any one time.

And although most won’t harm you, some can cause nasty illnesses, and they’re lurking in places you might least suspect. 

Dr Jonathan Cox, a senior lecturer in microbiology at Aston University in Birmingham, led a study of family homes, which found that many household items were covered in more bacteria and faecal matter than loo seats.

So do you know where the worst places are for germs? Femail reveals…

People may think the toilet is the dirtiest place – but in fact pillows, the spice rack and pet bowls can be just as bad 

Chopping boards

Many of the high-germ places in a house are in high contact areas in the kitchen, such as on chopping boards. Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter can easily spread here from unwashed vegetables, raw meat and poultry. These bacteria can cause tummy troubles and even food poisoning.

Spice jars 

We often touch some items – such as spice jars – but never think of cleaning them. Other touch points include kettle handles, as well as kitchen taps, sinks, recipe books and can openers, leaving behind the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which again can cause tummy upsets. 

Makeup bag

According to Healthline, the lids and bristles of make-up applicators are a prime spot for germs, especially if make-up is often carried outside the house. These germs can cause skin and eye infections. 

How to avoid germs

Use disinfectant wipes on taps, countertops and fridge surfaces

Heat damp sponges in the microwave for a minute to kill bacteria – although some studies show this doesn’t always work

Change dish towels a few times a week

Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after you touch raw meat or unprepared food.

Also use disinfectant wipes on knobs, handles, and switches

Top places to pay attention to are microwave and fridge handles 

When you are wiping down your table after dinner, wipe your salt and pepper shakers too   

In the bathroom, pay special attention to the shower head, drains, faucets, floor area around the toilet, toothbrushes and bath towels 

Other household items that need attention are keys, wallets, lunch boxes, carpets, pet toys and bowls and the bottoms of purses 

Pet toys and bowls should be washed in warm soapy water  

The website advises storing make-up products in a clean dry space at room temperature. It adds that make-up brushes should be washed once a week with soap and water, or cleaned with an alcohol spray.  

Many doctors also recommend replacing cosmetics every six months and throwing out eye make-up if you have had an infection.

Remote control

Items such as TV remote controls and video game controls that are typically shared between multiple family members can help germs flourish. 

And numerous studies have labelled the TV remote control as the dirtiest thing in the house.  

In a 2020 study, it was shown that TV remotes were 20 times dirtier than a person’s toilet seat, harbouring large elements of mould, bacteria and yeast.

This is because remotes get dropped on the floor, lost in the sofa, coughed on, sneezed on, and covered in sticky messes. Most remotes are also not designed to be easily cleaned.

Another study showed hotel remotes were the worst, containing traces of urine, semen or faeces. They also played host to a number of cold viruses and other germs.


Leave wet laundry in a machine even for a short time and it can cause germs to flourish. If clothes are left wet for more than 30 minutes, it is best to do another cycle. Also, if you are folding clean clothes on a surface, be sure to wipe it down first. 

It is also worth noting that when towels or bedding are used by more than one person, germs – which come from a person’s own skin, nose or gut – can spread between them. And when someone handles dirty laundry – particularly dirty underwear – germs can spread on their hands.  

Staircases and bannisters 

Perhaps it’s unsurprising – especially with children in the house – that bannisters and stair rails can harbour a bacteria group called Staphylococcus aureus. This can lead to tummy upsets and skin infections. Some strains are also resistant to antibiotics. 

To disinfect a wooden bannister, first wipe away any loose dirt. Then spray it with a 2:1 water and vinegar solution to penetrate the grime. Leave for a minute then wipe away.

Cleaning sponges

We use them to clean our kitchens – but in fact they are one of the dirtiest things in our house. According to Insider, a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports showed that sponges had a ‘massive colonisation’ of certain species of bacteria. One study even found that 75 per cent of them tested positive for Salmonella, E. coli and faecal matter.

It is thought people try to ‘get the most’ from their sponges and only throw them out once there is visible grime, leading to them being a breeding ground for almost 400 species. 

It is recommended that we swap sponges every two weeks maximum. You can also clean them in the dishwasher or microwave – but this isn’t always effective. Or swap to a dish brush, which harbours fewer species of bacteria. 

Salt and pepper shakers

These are known to be bad places for germs in the home, with one study showing they will likely to harbour E.coli.

In a 2008 study by the University of Virginia, researchers asked 30 adults who were beginning to show signs of a cold to name 10 places they had touched in their homes over the previous 18 hours. 

After testing those areas for germs, it was discovered that viruses were found on 41 per cent of the tested surfaces. Every one of the salt and pepper shakers tested were positive for cold viruses. 

But it is shakers in restaurants that are the worst. One 2018 study revealed that on average they carried a bacteria count of 11,600.

Computers, iPads and mobile phones  

A survey from 2016 showed that the average computer or keyboard is 20,000 times dirtier than a loo seat, regularly holding the staph bug which leads to upset tummies.

Phones are also a huge problem as most people take them everywhere, from the GP waiting room to the dinner table. Also, the more germs phones collect, they more these germs are touched. 

One study showed 17,000 bacterial gene copies on the phones of high school students. Scientists at the University of Arizona have found that cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats.

There are ways to limit these germs, however.  When toilets flush, they spread germs such as E.coli everywhere, so it is best not to use a phone in a toilet.

Emily Martin, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, said: ‘Taking a cell phone into the bathroom and then leaving with it is kind of like going in, not washing your hands and then coming back out. It’s the same level of concern.’

Equally, iPads are also a problem – especially as they can also be taken into the bathroom and then used in the kitchen to show recipes. 

Coffee makers  

Traditional coffee makers or Nespresso machines – especially the part the stores water – can harbour all kinds of baddies, such as Salmonella and E. coli.

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), found that bacteria, yeast and mould can multiply on the water reservoirs of coffee machines. They even found coliform in some, which is a strain of bacteria that can cause diarrhoea.

Lisa Yakas, of the National Sanitation Foundation, told USA Today, that you should always empty unused water from a coffee machine and leave the lid off to dry it.

She said: ‘Some of these organisms like these moist and damp places.

‘If you eliminate that moisture altogether… then you eliminate their conditions to grow.’

Pet bowls and bedding

According to animal charity USPCA, pet bowls should be washed as regularly as human bowls and plates.

But studies show that pet bowls are often a breeding ground for Salmonella and E. coli that can make you and your pets ill. This is especially the case if the bowls are left outside for several days so the pet can drink. 

Pet owners should ideally wash bowls out after every use and clean them immediately after the pet has finished eating. If they are left outside, they should be cleaned twice a day.  

Stainless steel bowls are more hygienic than plastic bowls and last longer.  

Shower head  

Does anyone ever clean a shower head? Well, maybe you should as a nasty bug can grow here – Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

A study by Manchester University showed that bathroom scum was also linked to a range of illnesses from Legionnaires’ and Crohn’s disease to septicaemia and skin, hair, ear and eye complaints.

Dr Paul McDermott, a former Health and Safety Executive Inspector told the Mirror: ‘Water from an untreated shower could contain more bacteria than you’d find in your toilet.

‘The aerosols created when you’re stood under the spray can send any bacteria from the water system into your lungs, onto your body and, in certain circumstances, into the bloodstream too.’


We rest our heads on them each night – but the Sleep Council estimates that as much as a tenth of the weight is made up by dust mites and their poo, alongside human skin and mould.   

According to Silentnight , adults can also lose up to a litre of sweat in one night – leading to up to 16 types of bacteria in one pillow. 

It is recommended that pillow protectors are used and washed frequently, while pillows themselves should be washed at 60 degrees around every three months. 


Where you sit to relax can be just as bad. Dust mites also live in coach cushions and are released every time someone sits down. 

These commonly cause problems for people with asthma and allergies.  Studies have also shown elements of faecal coliforms – or traces of poo – on soft furnishings. These are likely to be from pets who climb on furniture – and of course sofas are difficult to disinfect.

Hot tubs 

Most think having a hot tub at home is a luxury. But not if you think of it this way. Those who use hot tubs will almost certainly shed their skin in them – which is a feast for bacteria. Small elements of faeces are also likely to end up in the water. 

Hot tub rash is caused by the germ Pseudomas aeruginosa, commonly found in water or soil. The rash usually appears a few days after sitting in a poorly maintained hot tub. 


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