How Clean Is Your Kitchen, Really?

Written by Angie's List Staff
Updated August 31, 2016
sink filled with dirty dishes

Our kitchen survey found the most germs on microwave start buttons, oven handles and the refrigerator door.

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We wipe down our countertops, scrub that excess grease off the stovetop and clean those dirty dishes, but how clean are our kitchens really? Do you ever disinfect the microwave start button? How about the oven handle? Or the refrigerator door? Many of us overlook those little bacteria paradises. And it turns out, those are some of the grimiest places in the average kitchen.

How do we know? We hired a lab to do some testing to find out where the biggest colonies of bacteria were hiding out in the average kitchen. They tested for something called CFUs, which is microbiologist speak for Colony-Forming Units: A measurement used to estimate the number of viable (living) bacterial or fungal cells in a sample. The higher the CFU, the more germs they found — and the higher your chances of getting sick.

So how many CFU per square inch will you find in your kitchen, and where are the danger zones? The results might surprise you.

Germiest Places in Your Kitchen

graphic showing number of germs on different home surfaces

Did you know that your countertop has 18 times more bacteria than your dog’s food bowl?

Our lab compared the average CFU per square inch throughout our kitchens with the averages for other common household surfaces, and the results are in: Countertops are one of the dirtiest surfaces in our kitchens. Other grimy contenders include refrigerator handles, which average over 55,200 times more bacteria than a remote control; dishwasher handles, with 1,392 times more bacteria than a child’s hand; and oven handles, with 4,550 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.

Are High-End Kitchens Germier Than Low-End?

graphic showing germs in high-end kitchen versus low-end kitchen

Turns out our kitchens are pretty saturated with bacteria, especially in the places we’d never suspect. But are all kitchens created equal? Do high-end selections like granite countertops or stainless steel stoves make a difference when it comes to cleanliness?

We compared high- and low-end kitchen selections and found that what you buy does matter, but perhaps not in the way you’d think. Low-end oven handles averaged 97 CFU per square inch. Its high-end counterpart averaged 1,565,000 CFU per square inch in our study. But when it came to countertops, laminate averaged about 1 million more CFU per square inch than granite.

Do older fixtures require more maintenance and, therefore, more cleaning? Whatever the correlation between high- versus low-end kitchen cleanliness, it may just be a matter of the way certain kings or queens rule their kitchens.  

Most Common Bacteria in Your Kitchen

graphic showing types of bacteria in the kitchen

Bacteria are something we strive to avoid in our kitchens across the board. But, of course, they come in many different varieties. Some — like the dreaded E. coli — are much more dangerous than others. So which types are most commonly found in our kitchens?

Our research says gram-negative rods — which can cause meningitis, bloodstream infections and pneumonia — are among the most common. Gram-positive cocci (a cause of pneumonia, strep throat and skin infections) and gram-positive rods (which can cause food poisoning and pneumonia) are also somewhat widespread.

How to Battle Your Kitchen Bacteria

Enough scary statistics. Let’s talk about what you can do today to make your kitchen cleaner, safer and less welcoming to germs.

Some of the answers won’t surprise you: Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Clean and disinfect countertops and surfaces. Never use the same cutting board for produce and raw meat. Click through the flipbook above for more suggestions and greater detail.

Spend More Time Enjoying Your Kitchen and Less Time Cleaning It

As it turns out, you’re not the only one who calls your kitchen home. Millions of bacteria are cooking up nasty diseases on your countertops, dishwashers and refrigerator handles — on both high-end and low-end appliances. And while this can be a major turnoff when it comes to prepping your favorite meals, there are things you can do to fight back, such as using disinfectant and paper towels and properly storing food.

If that’s not enough, however, it may be time to remodel. If you’re looking to achieve the dream kitchen, our Solution Center is the perfect place to go for helpful articles, easy-to-follow videos and breakdowns of potential costs. Whether you’re planning to just replace certain features, like kitchen cabinets, or want to remodel the entire kitchen, Angie’s trusted professionals are here to help.

Sources, Methodology, Fair Use



We swabbed 30 surfaces in home kitchens for bacteria: three low-end microwaves, three high-end microwaves, three high-end countertops, three low-end countertops, three high-end refrigerator handles, three low-end refrigerator handles, three high-end oven handles, three low-end oven handles, three high-end dishwasher handles and three low-end dishwasher handles.

EmLab P&K performed all laboratory testing. The numbers presented are an average of all like samples that were taken.


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