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Things You Should Never Touch — According to Doctors

You won't believe where fecal matter is hiding. 
Things You Should Never Touch — According to Doctors

Eighteen hours. That's how long cold and flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces, scientists say. Soft and porous materials can harbor germs for even longer. When you think about the sheer number of items we touch every day—right after dozens or hundreds of other people have done the same thing—it's surprising we don't have a cold or flu all the time. That's the miracle of the human immune system. 

But every now and again, a wily virus will slip through and make us sick, and it's probably from touching one of these hotbeds of germs identified by doctors. You may not be able to totally avoid touching some of these items and surfaces, but being aware of them can keep your hands clean and yourself healthy. Here's what the experts told us at The Remedy.

1

Hand Sanitizer Pumps

Female hands using hand sanitizer gel pump dispenser at office
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"We tend to associate Purell with being germ-free, but did you know that the hand sanitizer pumps themselves are some of the germiest surfaces?" says J.D. Zipkin, MD, MA, FAAP, FACP, of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care. "The good news is that the contents tend to kill most germs you just picked up, but always be wary of using a container to find it's empty. Your hands are likely covered in germs."

The Remedy Rx: Zipkin says that his practice has switched to hands-free, motion-activated pumps for that reason. If you share hand sanitizer with other people, like in the office or a busy house, it might be a good idea to do the same.

2

Elevator Buttons

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"Everyone deposits their germs on the small concentrated surface of an elevator button," says Zipkin. In fact, one study at the University of Arizona found that elevator buttons contain 40 times the bacteria of a public toilet seat.

The Remedy Rx: "Curl your finger and push elevator buttons with the back of a knuckle to reduce the spread of germs from your fingertips to your face," advises Zipkin. 

 

3

Computers

woman with a gray rag of a computer keyboard
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OK, so you can't avoid touching these. Your hands might even be on a keyboard all day, after touching other items around the office and house, eating meals and using the restroom. But when's the last time you sanitized it? "A shared keyboard and mouse at work are full of germs, and it's tough to effectively clean every surface," says Zipkin.

The Remedy Rx: Keep antibacterial wipes close by, and wipe down your keyboard regularly. 

 

4

Cell Phones

man text messaging in front of vegetables in the kitchen at home
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"Believe it or not, your cell phone is one of the dirtiest things you touch—and you touch it often," says Dr. Christopher Dietz, DO, area medical director of MedExpress Urgent Care. "A dirty cell phone, especially during cold and flu season, can negatively impact your health and spread germs that cause illness. Even though we take our phones everywhere from the bathroom to the dining room table, we rarely remember to sanitize them. Every time we set our phones down on a surface, whether it's the meat counter in the grocery store or the booth at your favorite restaurant, it can pick up bacteria that can then be transferred to your hands and then possibly into your mouth or nose—and into your body."

The Remedy Rx: "I know some of my patients find it hard to put down their cell phone, even for a moment, but as a healthcare professional, I recommend leaving your cell phone behind when you head to the bathroom," says Dietz. "When you're cooking dinner or packing your lunch, put your cell phone away so that you're not tempted to pick it up in the middle of your recipe – or, at least remember to wash your hands right after you send that text or make a call."

And clean your phone regularly. "I recommend sanitizing your phone every day – and possibly more than once a day during cold and flu season, when germs and bacteria are spreading more quickly," says Dietz. "I always recommend that my patients keep antibacterial wipes within reach in the car, purse or desk drawers, so easy and frequent wipe-downs are possible."

5

The Gas Station Pump

A man's hand holds a filling gun inserted into the hole of a gasoline tank of a car on a gasoline fueling
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"In addition to your cell phone, I always remind my patients that germs can lurk in unsuspecting places when we're out and about," says Dietz. "Think about things you touch all the time – the pump at the gas station, the pen at the bank, shopping cart handles – and then think about how many other people touch those same things day after day. Unfortunately, these surfaces don't get sanitized nearly enough. Luckily, we can take matters into our own hands with a few healthy habits."

The Remedy Rx: "Always keep a packet of on-the-go antibacterial wipes in your purse, bag or car, and wipe down the shopping cart handle or gas station pump before use," says Dietz. "I also keep an extra pen handy, so I don't have to use the communal one at the bank. Always wash your hands when you return home from running errands. You'll be amazed at how quickly these little habits become part of your daily routine."

6

Popular Items At The Office

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"Known germy surfaces in an office space can include door knobs, elevator buttons, the shared computer mouse, sink handles and more," says Kelsey Burger, PA-C, of Hartford Health-GoHealth Urgent Care.  

The Remedy Rx: "If you're not able to always wipe down these surfaces, then you need to make sure you have access to soap and water/hand sanitizer afterwards," says Burger. "Another good tip is to always carry a small portable hand sanitizer during flu season."

7

Menus

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"Menus in a restaurant are some of the dirtiest items in any eating establishment!" says Christina L. Belitsky, MS, RPA-C, advanced practitioner lead with Northwell. In fact, they can have 100 times the bacterial of a toilet seat: Researchers at the University of Arizona found an average of 185,000 bacteria on menus in a random sampling of restaurants in three states.

The Remedy Rx: "Carry around some hand sanitizer to fight these pesky germs," says Belitsky. Never let a menu touch your plate or silverware, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you order.

8

Turnstiles

Commuters pass through a ticket barrier
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Belitsky says that frequently touched turnstiles can be a magnet for germs. In 2015, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College swabbed surfaces in and around the New York City subway; they found 27 percent of those surfaces contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Remedy Rx: Push through a turnstile without using your hands, or carry hand sanitizer and squeeze some out when you're on the other side.

9

Electronic Pens

Empty cash desk with terminal in supermarket
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The electronic pens near keypads at banks and checkout counters can also be a hotbed for germs, says Belitsky. If dozens or hundreds of people used that pen since it was last cleaned, it's like you're shaking hands with all of them.

The Remedy Rx: Carry a pen with you, and use the non-writing end to punch keypad keys and provide an electronic signature.

10

Your Kitchen Sponge

gross sponges by skin
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"Contrary to public perception, the germiest place in your house is in the kitchen, not your bathroom," says Adam Splaver, MD, a cardiologist based in South Florida. "You're going to love the irony. It's your sponge — the one you use to clean your kitchen." In fact, a study by the Public Health and Safety Organization found coliform bacteria (which could indicate fecal contamination) on more than 75% of kitchen dish sponges, compared to only 9% of bathroom handles. 

The Remedy Rx: Sanitize your sponges once a week by saturating them with water and putting them in the microwave on high for 1 minute (for scrub sponges) to 2 minutes (cellulose sponges). 

RELATED: 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick

11

The Bathroom Sink

man washing in bathroom
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"The toilet seat is not the germiest place in the bathroom. It's the sink," says Splaver, who notes its dampness is an ideal breeding ground for germs. According to the PHSO study, the bathroom faucet handle is the sixth-germiest site in the average house; the toilet doesn't even make the top 10.

The Remedy Rx: "It is essential to wash your hands after using the bathroom," says Splaver. Make sure you're using soap, and wash for 20 seconds — about the length of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.

12

Air Dryers

Female dries wet hand in modern vertical hand dryer in public restroom
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In public restrooms, "It's essential to avoid the air dryers, which can be loaded with bacteria," says Splaver. According to a study by the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac University, petri dishes exposed to hot air from a bathroom hand dryer for 30 seconds grew up to 254 colonies of bacteria. That's because air hand dryers seem to suck in bacteria from washroom air.

The Remedy Rx: "Choose paper towels to dry your hands," says Splaver. 

13

Your Toothbrush

Toothbrushes in a ceramic holder
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If you leave it near the toilet, that is. Splaver says you should avoid storing your toothbrush near the commode to avoid the airborne transfer of germs.

The Remedy Rx: Store your toothbrush on your bathroom counter, in a far corner away from the toilet. And replace it regularly: the American Dental Association advises every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed.

14

This Type Of Soap

Putting whip foam soap on the hand
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"Use antibacterial soaps, but sparingly, because they can promote bacterial resistance," says Splaver.

The Remedy Rx: The FDA says that regular soap and water is just fine for getting rid of germs on your hands and preventing illness.

15

Other People's Towels And Razors

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"There are a lot of skin infections out there that are driven by bacteria that are more aggressive and resistant to antibiotics, such as MRSA," says Seuli Brill, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Some other potential infections include impetigo, cellulitis, folliculitis and abscesses. These infections can be spread through towels, washcloths, razors and soap bars." 

The Remedy Rx: "Don't allow anything that touches your skin to touch the skin of others unless it's been laundered or cleaned," advises Brill. "Change or wash towels and washcloths every few days, allow soap bars to dry between uses and don't share razors. Use paper towels instead of cloth in guest bathrooms."

16

Someone Else's Drink

Women share fruit cocktail
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"If you don't know the person, you probably don't want to share a drink with them," says Brill.  "Viruses can spread via drink, specifically mononucleosis and respiratory viruses like the common cold."

The Remedy Rx: If someone offers you a sip from their cup or straw, it's OK to pass — that just might help you skip a cold or flu too.

RELATED: 50 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet

17

Your Gym's Yoga Mat

Woman wearing black leggings finished or starting workout rolling mat
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Here's the opposite of namaste—exercise mats at your gym or yoga studio can be breeding grounds for bacteria; they're made from porous plastic, and germs can linger on them from hours to days. 

The Remedy Rx: "It's a good idea to bring your own yoga/exercise mat to workouts," says Brill. "If that isn't possible, make sure to wipe down surfaces before and after workouts to reduce risk of transmitting harmful bacteria." 

18

Your Uber's Door Handle

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Public transportation has long been a hotbed of germs. In fact, one study found that people who commute to work were six-and-a-half times more likely to come down with acute respiratory infections (a.k.a. bad colds). Yeral Patel, MD, a functional medicine physician in Newport Beach, California, reminds us that rideshares are public transport, too: The door handle of your Lyft or Uber rideshare car can harbor germs.

The Remedy Rx: Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer and apply it liberally once you reach your destination. 

RELATED: 20 Ways Your Car Makes You Sick

19

Shopping Cart Handles

pushing grocery cart through store
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One study found that more than half the shopping carts at an average grocery store had disease-causing bacteria on their handles, including E. coli, says Mitra Shir, MSc, RHN, a registered holistic nutritionist in Vancouver. 

The Remedy Rx: If your grocery store doesn't have antibacterial wipes near the carts, bring your own. Wipe down the handle and let it try for 20 seconds before touching it.

20

The Public Restroom Floor

Woman legs in a high heels shoes and a black clutch bag on a wooden floor
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Of course, you're thinking. Oh really? Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, has found that one-third of women's purses contain fecal bacteria, likely from being placed on the floor of public restrooms. If you come home and put your purse on your kitchen table or couch, you're welcoming those germs into the family.

The Remedy Rx: When you're using a public washroom, hang your purse on a hook or keep it in your lap, never on the floor of a stall. And when you're done, wash your hands. With soap. For 20 seconds. And don't use the air dryer. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.

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