You wouldn’t dare drink out of your toilet, but surprisingly, it’s not the grossest spot in your house. After all, it gets regularly disinfected (we certainly hope).
Yep, that’s right—there are potentially bigger, more disgusting threats to your health scattered throughout your home. And we’ve got more bad news for you: You’ve probably already touched a few today.
So grab a Costco-sized bottle of hand sanitizer before you read on—and clear your schedule. You’ve got some new cleaning chores coming up.
1. Your carpet
Your carpet—as well as any soft furnishing, like an area rug—acts like an air filter, trapping dust, dirt, and other allergens.
That’s great, except “carpets are so effective that they can hold approximately 200,000 bacteria per square inch,” notes Jotham Hatch, national training director of carpet and upholstery cleaning service Chem-Dry.
And if you wear shoes in your home, it gets worse: You could be tracking in the likes of E. coli bacteria, which can cause some nasty stomach problems.
How to clean: Vacuum threetimes a week using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, especially during the peak cold and flu season, Hatch suggests. But to truly gut the bacteria hiding in your carpet fibers, you’ll need to have your floor coverings cleaned by a professional—ideally, every six months. And please, take off your shoes.
2. Your kitchen sink
Your sink’s like the Grand Central Station of germs. Think of all the bacteria traveling from your dirty plates (and your dirty hands). But the biggest reason the sink makes this list could be your kitchen sponge. A single cubic centimeter on one may be packed with as much bacteria as there are people on Earth … multiplied seven times. Gulp.
How to clean: Keep your sink free of debris by putting leftovers directly into the garbage or (better!) a compost bin, suggests Debra Johnson, a home cleaning expert for Merry Maids. Rinse the sink with warm water and dishwashing liquid after each meal. Don’t forget to wash the faucet and handles. Sanitize your sink afterward with bleach. And replace your sponge every week. (Putting it in the microwave or dishwasher may just encourage more bacteria.)
3. Your doorknobs
A study by Michigan State University researchers found that only 5% of people who use the bathroom wash their hands thoroughly and long enough to kill germs that can cause illness. And those little bugs aren’t messing around, either. Another study out of the University of Arizona found that the bacteria from just one infected doorknob could travel to as many as 60% of the people in an office in under four hours. This is especially comforting during flu season, right?
How to clean: “Frequently use antibacterial wipes to wipe down doorknobs,” says Anthony Truong, owner of Two Maids & A Mop, a residential cleaning company in Orlando, FL. And while you’re at it, do the light switches.
4. Your coffee maker
You might have heard that coffee has some antibacterial properties. But don’t get too comfortable.
“It’s not enough to eliminate all germs that build up within your coffee maker,” warns Morgan Statt, a health and safety investigator at ConsumerSafety.org.
Good for you if you regularly clean your carafe, but don’t stop there.
“The water reservoir and piping system are prime spots for bacteria to grow since they’re often damp and dark,” Statt explains.
How to clean: On a regular basis, clean the removable parts of your coffee maker with soap and hot water and then let air-dry. Then once a month, mix one part vinegar with one part water and run it through your machine.
“The vinegar will be able to fully disinfect and remove any buildup,” Statt says.
5. Your bath towels
Bacteria thrive in wet, moist areas—and for that reason, they especially love the towels in your bathroom. According to research from the University of Arizona, nearly 90% of the towels that you use to dry your hands or body after a shower could be contaminated with coliform bacteria, which is found in, yes, fecal matter.
How to clean: In a perfect world, you should change your towels every two days and wash them in hot water to kill off all the gunk. It sounds exhausting, but hey, it’s better than living with the knowledge that you’re wiping fecal matter all over yourself!
“If you don’t want to frequently change them out, use paper hand towels instead,” Truong suggests.
6. Your shower curtain
Shower liners are primo spots for germs, especially if your shower is right next to the toilet. (Each time you flush, a plume of bacteria is released, and it’s gotta go somewhere.) Other bacteria swoop in through your water or plumbing system. That “soap scum” you see is really a booming community of microorganisms.
Oh, and that black lining along the curtain? “It means you have millions of mold spores near you every time you bathe,” Statt says. Calgon, take us away…
How to clean: Use a bleach-based spray to clean the curtain, rod, and rings. If yours is too far gone, buy a new one. Then, to delay the buildup of grossness, always keep the curtain closed, even when you’re not showering, Statt says. Doing so will prevent water from getting trapped in the folds and causing more bacteria to grow.
7. Your remote control
Grimy hands. Cheetos dust. Baby drool. We probably don’t have to tell you what you already know: Your remote control is all kinds of nasty. In fact, a TV remote’s been shown to be the dirtiest item in a hospital room.
How to clean: Dab some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and do a deep clean, including between the buttons, Truong advises. Then, use a disinfectant wipe to clean your remote once a week. And maybe stop with the Cheetos.
Stephanie Booth’s stories have appeared in magazines such as Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Psychology Today. Follow @stephanieBbarth