Wash your hands. That's a common mantra -- and a worthy one -- as the H1N1 flu continues to spread around the globe.
But all the hand-washing in the world may not be a match for the germs and viruses lurking on household surfaces.
"There is a big appreciation for influenza that you can get it from your hands, but a lack of appreciation that viruses can be picked up on surfaces," said John Oxford, head of the Hygiene Council and a professor of virology at St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London Hospital.
The Hygiene Council, which includes global experts in public health and infectious diseases, recently released the results of its second annual International Home Hygiene Study. The 2009 survey of bacteria found on home surfaces in eight countries, including the U.S., shows that the kitchen remains the source of the most germy surfaces. Kitchen cloths and sponges were the biggest source of bacteria, followed by faucets.
We asked Oxford and Joe Rubino, another member of the Hygiene Council and director of research and development in global surface care and protection at Reckitt Benckiser -- a corporate sponsor of the council and the maker of Lysol -- to identify the dirtiest places in the home and tell us how to keep them germ-free.
Learn more at healthkey.com.
1Kitchen cloths and sponges
People frequently use sponges or cloths to wipe germs from surfaces in the kitchen. As a result, 70 percent of kitchen sponges in U.S. homes failed the hygiene test by having high levels of bacteria, according to the Hygiene Council. The council recommends running sponges through the dishwasher regularly and washing kitchen cloths on the hot cycle in the washing machine.
Typically people wash their hands after handling raw meat in the kitchen, but they touch the faucet to turn on the water and do not think about the bacteria they leave. The Hygiene Council found more than half of faucets in American homes are covered in bacteria. Use a disinfectant spray on faucets to kill germs.
3Tub and shower
Rubino identified the shower as the third germiest place in the home. The bathtub may have 100 times more bacteria than the trash can, according to an in-home bacteria study conducted by the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons College in Boston. The Hygiene Council recommends that showers and tubs be disinfected twice a week to get rid of dead skin cells left in the tub that can carry germs too.
4Pet food dish
Most pet food dishes stay on the floor and do not get washed regularly. Rubino said, "It's not practical to disinfect it every time, but wash your hands after you touch it."
5Microwave touch screen
This spot is notorious for not getting cleaned. "You can put something in [the microwave] that is raw to cook it and could leave behind E. coli or Salmonella," Rubino said. It is important to wipe down the touch screen regularly, especially after cooking raw meat.
Imagine the typical couch potatoes -- watching TV while they absent-mindedly chew their fingernails, snack on food and flip through channels, leaving all kinds of bacteria on the remote. "Anything in your home that you touch a lot leaves germs behind," Rubino said. Make sure to sanitize the remote control regularly to prevent sickness.
Touching the light switch is practically unavoidable, but keeping it clean is not. The bathroom light switch can have as many germs as the trash bin, according to the Simmons College in-home bacterial study. Disinfect light switches twice a week or every day if a member of your household is sick.
8Baby changing table
"When changing a baby's diaper, in all likelihood bacterial contamination will occur," Rubino said. The baby changing table area should be cleaned often.
The 8 Germiest Spots In The Home
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