NSF International, a safety organization, actually has done the dirty work. (And by dirty work, I don’t mean actual cleaning, I mean research.) They had 22 families swab 30 items in their homes and then tested the swabs for levels of yeast, mold, and bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli.
You’d think the top 10 list would include the garbage can and toilet bowl, but it doesn’t.
1. Kitchen Sponges
Coliform bacteria — the family that Salmonella and E. coli belong to — can be found in about 75 percent of kitchen sponges. They love hanging out and breeding in warm, moist environments. Replace your sponge with a dishcloth or rag, which can be tossed in the laundry (every day or two is ideal), and you will rid yourself of a ton of germs. Can’t part with your sponge? NSF recommends sanitizing it by heating it while wet for two minutes in your microwave, once a day.
2. Kitchen Sink
The next-biggest germ breeder was the sink, which most of us incorrectly associate with cleanliness. Just think about how many dirty things get rinsed there and its position on this list makes sense! To keep your sink clean, use a disinfecting cleaner to wipe down the sides and bottom; then mix a teaspoon of bleach with a quart of water and pour it down the drain. Put the sink strainer in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning and disinfecting. Then, vow to do it all again weekly.
3. Toothbrush Holder
This one actually didn’t surprise me. Those things get grimy! When it comes to disinfecting, the dishwasher is your friend. If your toothbrush holder is dishwasher safe, just throw it in for a cycle. If it’s not, wash it by hand in warm, soapy water. Maintain its cleanliness by wiping it with a disinfecting wipe once a week.
4. Pet Bowls
My poor pooch! His bowls don’t get washed nearly enough. NSF advises washing pet bowls in a sanitizing dishwasher or hand-scrubbing them in soapy water. If you’ve been neglecting Fido or Mr. Wiggle’s bowl as I have, start washing it once a day.
5. Coffee Reservoir
Think about the inside of your coffeemaker. It may make a mean cup of Joe, but it’s also dark and moist in there, and therefore susceptible to mold, mildew, and bacteria. To clean yours, check the instructions that came with it to see what’s recommended. There may be a self-clean feature, or the manufacturer may advise adding four cups of vinegar to the reservoir, letting it sit for 30 minutes and then running it through the maker. Then, run water through it a few times to get rid of the vinegar taste. Do this once a month.
6. Faucet Handles
Faucets in the kitchen and bathroom get touched quite a bit, so they tend to test positive for yeast, mold, and bacteria. Luckily, cleaning them is easy. Use a disinfecting cleaner or wipe, and repeat daily.
7. Pet Toys
Raid your best friend’s toy basket and give everything a good germ killing. Wash toys in hot soapy water. Launder soft toys using your washing machine’s sanitizing cycle. Remind family members to wash their hands after playing with pets, and clean toys monthly or more often if they need it.
Those unwashed carrots you set on the counter? The package of raw chicken? Dirty little kid fingers? Any of those could have transferred harmful bacteria onto your counter. Clean your counter with hot, soapy water and then rinse it with clean water. NSF recommends following up with a mixture of bleach and water or another sanitizing agent.
9. Stove Knobs
I hadn’t even given my stove knobs two thoughts! Remove them from the stove; wash them in hot, soapy water; rinse them, and then allow them to dry before putting them back on. Put this on your to-do list once a week.
10. Cutting Boards
Cutting boards tend to come in contact with a lot of different foods and can carry some of their germs. So, after each use, put yours in the dishwasher or hand-wash it in hot soapy water. Easy!