The Germiest Places in America

We call them the dirty dozen. Its our laundry list of the germiest places youre likely to encounter during an average day. Sure, there are outbreaks of microbes and viruses across the country, but these buggers are where you live. In the office, at home, at the gym, on your vacation. “Its enough to make even the least germophobic person a little worried,” says Dr. Germ, a.k.a. Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. After all, some of these germs lurk where you least expect them, he says: “People are more worried about the trash can than the kitchen sink, when it should be the other way around.”

Dr. Germ and a panel of other experts helped us identify the dirty dozen and devise ways for you to keep clean. After all, the fight is in your hands. Literally. Eighty percent of infections are spread through hand contact. So wash up, people, and get ready to wage a bit of germ warfare of your own.


1. Your kitchen sink
“Kitchen sinks are dirtier than most bathrooms,” says Kelly Reynolds, PhD, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona. There are typically more than 500,000 bacteria per square inch in the drain. In fact, in a recent study, half of the top 10 germiest spots in the home were (gulp!) in the kitchen. That sponge you use to clean the counter? Crawling with bacteria, as are the sinks basin and faucet handles. Reduce the risk: “Clean your kitchen counters and sink with an antibacterial product after preparing or rinsing food, especially raw fruits and vegetables, which carry lots of potential pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli,” says Philip Tierno, PhD, author of The Secret Life of Germs and director of clinical microbiology at New York University Medical Center. Sanitize sponges by running them through the dishwashers drying cycle. “That killed 99.9 percent of the bacteria on the sponges we used in a recent study—and wed gotten them really good and contaminated first,” says Cheryl Mudd, a microbiologist with the Agricultural Research Services Food Safety Laboratory. As for the sink, clean it twice a week with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach and one quart of water. Scrub the basin, then pour the solution down the drain.

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Last Updated: March 12, 2008

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