Emily DiNuzzo, Reader’s Digest
Washing your hands is a given if you want to avoid germs—but it’s especially important after touching these microbe magnets.
Washing your hands is essential to good hygiene, stopping germs in their tracks. Washing your hands limits the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other germs, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using soap and clean water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands, as studies show both are effective ways of keeping germs at bay. Of course, it’s impossible to keep your hands 100 percent germ-free all the time, but it’s absolutely essential after touching the following 10 things.
These days, you can use a debit or credit card for most purchases, but sometimes you just need to handle cash. When you do, be sure to wash your hands as soon as possible. Researchers tested $1 bills from a New York City bank and found hundreds of microorganisms, including oral and vaginal bacteria, and DNA from pets and viruses. Similar research has shown some cash and coins even contain pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. It doesn’t help that money circulates for a while—$100 bills can circulate for as long as 15 years, according to the Federal Reserve.
Handrails, handles or doorknobs
Handwashing is incredibly important to limit the spread of bacteria and viruses, says Katy Burris, MD, a dermatologist at Columbia University Medical Center. One of the critical times to remember to wash is after riding public transportation, where multiple people are continuously touching the same surfaces, Dr. Burris says. This includes everything from handrails on an escalator to poles on the subway to bathroom door handles.
Restaurants can be germ-ridden places—but the menu is the worst carrier. Researchers from the University of Arizona found that menus had a whopping 185,000 bacterial organisms. It makes sense, as so many people handle restaurant menus. You can’t avoid touching it but do wash your hands afterward.
Almost anything in a doctor’s office
Thanks to a parade of patients coming through all day, most things in a doctor’s office harbor germs or bacteria—especially the sign-in pen. In fact, there are 46,000 more germs on that pen than on an average toilet seat. Other gross things to avoid are the waiting room chair armrest and the door handle. So, take a few minutes after your visit to stop by the rest room and thoroughly wash.
Not everyone washes their hands after touching pets or animals, but they should, according to Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, a physician and health expert. “Animals may carry various diseases,” she says. “And because pets are generally thought of as family-friendly, handwashing is sometimes overlooked.” Handwashing after touching animals or interacting with pets, whether yours or someone else’s, is absolutely essential.
Now that technology replaces some paper goods, it’s key to wash your hands after touching any screens. One of the worst offenders are kiosk machines in airports or public transportation locations, Dr. Burris says. “Germs are everywhere, and some places may harbor more than you may realize,” she says. Cell phones count, too; especially as we may share them with others. The good news: “Simple washing with soap and water will reduce transmission of these pathogens,” Dr. Burris says.
Cutting boards and kitchen sponges
The kitchen is a germ-laden environment. You are not only bringing in raw or uncooked food but also cleaning food, utensils and textiles, like kitchen towels and sponges. One study found as many as 326 different species of bacteria living on used kitchen sponges. Make sure to toss out the old ones and, as Dr. Burris suggests, always wash your hands before preparing a meal and after handling raw meats.
Pens that aren’t yours
Although many people use their phone or computer to take notes and write lists, sometimes you just need to borrow a pen. That’s fine but wash your hands after using it. The average office pen has ten times the germs of the average office toilet seat, at about 200 bacteria per square inch, according to the Wall Street Journal. If that doesn’t gross you out, consider that many people like to chew or gnaw on pen caps.
Soap dispensers or pumps
Wait, are we saying you need to wash your soap? Well… sort of; soap dispenser pumps are a haven for bacteria. Researchers from the University of Arizona found refillable soap dispensers especially germ-laden. As you’re pressing the pump, any bacteria you’re hoping to wash off has an equal opportunity to get transferred onto the dispenser. Lead researcher Charles Gerba, Ph.D., says touching refillable soap containers can actually transfer more bacteria to your hands than if you stuck your hands in a toilet.
Pretty much anything in an airport
Some 2.6 million airline passengers are traveling every day, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. More people mean more germs, and more shared public surfaces where you’ll encounter them. Avoid touching doorknobs, water fountains, kiosk screens and especially those plastic tubs and trays in the airport security line. People put their dirty shoes and bags in those trays, leading to contamination, according to research published in BMC Infectious Diseases.