How to Disinfect the 6 Germiest Places in Your House

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated November 18, 2021
clean white contemporary kitchen
Lauren Edmonds/Stocksy – stock.adobe.com

Highlights

  • Your kitchen is the germiest place in your home

  • Sponges and coffee makers are particularly laden with bacteria

  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces daily

  • A solution of bleach diluted with water is usually the most effective

  • You can also use sanitizing wipes and sprays or disinfecting cleaners

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It’s time to flush your ideas about germs down the toilet. Contrary to popular belief, your porcelain throne isn’t the germiest place in your home. Research by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) found that toilets aren’t even one of the top 10 hotspots for contaminants like mold, yeast, and coliform bacteria (the family of bacteria that includes salmonella and E. coli). Instead, the largest concentration of germs is typically found in the kitchen—just like the type of dinner guest nobody wants.

That’s not to say all germs will make you sick, but you can reduce your chances of infection and foodborne illness by sticking to a regular cleaning schedule. Household germs are usually nothing a little bleach can’t handle.

Why Does Bleach Work and How Do I Use It?

Bleach is one of the most effective household disinfectants, which is why you’ll commonly find it in kitchen or bathroom cleaning products. Its active ingredient is sodium hypochlorite. This chlorine compound attacks the proteins in bacteria and viruses, damaging their structure. Once the proteins lose their shape, the cells can’t survive. Goodbye, germs.

Bleach Alternatives

Bleach isn’t the only effective disinfectant. You can also use:

  • Hot, soapy water

  • An EPA Safer Choice disinfecting cleaner

  • Sanitizing wipes or spray (which may contain alcohol or bleach)

  • Vinegar

The cleaning solution you choose depends on the area that needs cleaning and the types of germs you may encounter. Coffee makers work best with vinegar, but you’ll need something stronger to disinfect cutting boards that are exposed to raw chicken. Let’s discuss the six germiest places in your home and how to disinfect them.

1. Kitchen Sponges and Dish Towels

sponges on the side of the kitchen sink
DG PhotoStock – stock.adobe.com

Dish towels and kitchen sponges come into contact with just about every mess you’d find in your kitchen. It’s not surprising that they’re loaded with germs—but just how many are there? A 2017 study found 362 different bacteria species on kitchen sponges and as much as 82 billion bacteria in one cubic inch of space. Here are steps you can take to minimize bacteria and its spread:

  • Swap out your dish towels every one or two days

  • Put dish towels on a sanitizing cycle in your washing machine

  • Microwave wet sponges for two minutes every day (bacteria grows back quickly)

  • Replace sponges every one to two weeks

2. Kitchen Sink

The kitchen sink tends to collect a lot of bacteria. Not only is it moist (which helps bacteria grow), but many people use their sinks to defrost and rinse raw meat. According to the NSF, it was the second germiest place in most people’s homes. Rinsing your sink with dish soap isn’t enough to rid it of germs, either. Instead, you should scrub your sink twice a week with one of these products:

  • An EPA Safer choice disinfectant

  • A solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water

In addition, you should disinfect drains and disposals every month using a stronger solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach per 1 quart of water. Just mix it up, and pour it down the drain. 

Note: Never mix bleach with ammonia products (because it creates a dangerous gas) or hydrogen peroxide (because it could trigger a harmful chemical reaction).

3. Toothbrushes and Toothbrush Holders

With all the foot traffic, flushing toilets, and water around the sink, bathrooms can quickly become a place where bacteria and viruses thrive. Your toothbrush holder, which the NSF cites as the third germiest place in your home, should be cleaned once or twice a week by either:

  • Placing in a sanitizing dishwasher (if it’s dishwasher safe)

  • Washing with hot, soapy water and then using a disinfecting alcohol wipe

To sanitize your toothbrush:

  • Soak it in antimicrobial mouthwash for a few minutes

  • Use a toothbrush sanitizer that’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Store your toothbrush holder and toothbrushes away from the toilet bowl and sink.

4. Coffee Machines

Most coffee machines heat water between 195 degrees Fahrenheit and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, which is generally enough to kill bacteria like salmonella and E. coli that might end up in your drink. Nonetheless, your coffee maker is still one of the germiest spots in your home. Chalk it up to all that moisture and warmth. You’ll want to wash your carafe every day using warm soapy water or in a sanitizing dishwasher cycle. You should also wipe down handles and buttons with a sanitizing wipe or spray.

Once a month, the reservoir needs a deep clean per the manufacturer’s instructions. Some people also use vinegar (but again, check with the manufacturer). For this method:

  • Add 4 cups of undiluted white vinegar to the reservoir

  • Run a brewing cycle with the vinegar

  • Run subsequent brewing cycles with water until it no longer smells like vinegar

Vinegar usually works well for auto-drip and single-serve coffee makers.

5. Faucet Handles and Countertops

Whether they’re in your bathroom or kitchen, faucet handles are high-touch surfaces that harbor bacteria, mold, and yeast. The same goes for countertops, which are often exposed to raw meat, unwashed produce, and bacteria. These require daily cleaning—especially after cooking. Wipe down your faucet handles and countertops with:

  • A disinfecting cleaner (make sure it works with your countertop’s material)

  • Disinfecting wipes or spray

  • A bleach solution of 5 tablespoons of bleach per 1 gallon

Additionally, you can use the same method to clean your stove’s knobs once a week.

6. Cutting Boards

If there’s anywhere in your kitchen that most frequently comes into direct contact with raw meat, it’s your cutting board. Some researchers even claim it’s the germiest item in your whole house, and because it’s an essential part of food prep, you’ll want to keep bacteria at bay. When you’re done cooking, disinfect your cutting board by:

  • Sanitizing it in the dishwasher (if it’s dishwasher safe) or scrubbing it with warm, soapy water

  • Then, submerging it in a solution of 5 tablespoons of bleach per 1 gallon of water 

Be aware that most wood, bamboo, slate, or marble cutting boards shouldn’t go in the dishwasher. On the other hand, glass, silicone, or thick plastic cutting boards can usually be sterilized in the dishwasher. Make sure to check for a dishwasher-safe label.

Disinfecting the germiest parts in your home can feel like a big job, but having a bleach solution or sanitizing wipes on-hand can help you clean as you go. It doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes a day—make sure to pay extra attention to high-touch surfaces like knobs, handles, and pulls.

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