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These 16 places actually have more germs than your toilet

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Unexpectedly filthy

You'd never let your kids play in the toilet, right? What about touching and using these 16 items that are germier than you might think?

1. Toothbrush

It's 11 p.m. Do you know where your toothbrush is? If it's sitting in the bathroom exposed or in a communal cup, it's exposed to airborne and surface microbes you'd probably find rather unappealing. Additionally, if you flush your toilet with the seat up, you're spraying diarrhea- and other illness-causing bacteria (like E. coli) all over the place.

To reduce the effects, always flush with the toilet seat down, clean the toilet more often if anyone in the house is sick, and protect your toothbrush by using a Toothbrush Shield. It's not sexy, but neither is Clostridium difficile.

2. Your office

Brace yourself. According to a study by the University of Arizona, the average office desk has 400 times more bacteria than your toilet does. Other office offenders are the phone, the water fountain handle and the microwave door handle.

Our advice? Station some antibacterial wet wipes near these surfaces and encourage your co-workers to use them before they touch.

3. Your tech devices

Your tech

Whether you're at work or at home, your tech devices may be filthy. Mobile devices can have 10 times more bacteria than toilet seats (think about that next time you put your cellphone to your ear), and your keyboard can have up to 200 times more, even if you're the only one who uses it (and if you let your 6-year-old touch it, you're also getting all the lovely stuff he brings home from school or daycare).

Clean your devices according to the manufacturer's instructions regularly. This includes your remote control.

4. Restaurant menus

Think about how many people (and germy kiddos) touch a restaurant menu each day. Yeah. Most restaurants do have someone clean them between shifts, but it's not enough. Carry hand sanitizer in your purse and avoid touching your face, drink or any appetizers until you've used it.

5. Reusable shopping bags

When you're at the grocery store, you often touch several items as you compare prices and ingredients, right? So does everyone, and unfortunately, they don't all wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. When you pick up something that someone else has touched and purchase it, it goes into your shopping bag. Problem? Do you wash your shopping bags as often as you wash your underwear or clean your toilet? I thought so.

Make sure you invest in canvas or other washable bags and wash them after every trip.

6. Restaurant ice & lemon wedges

lemon wedges

A recent study of restaurant ice carried out by the Microtech Services Wessex lab in Dorset showed that six out of 10 of the most popular British restaurants were using ice from machines that contained more bacteria than the toilets.

Before you think "this sounds like a problem for the Brits," note that a recent outbreak of food poisoning at (oh, the irony!) the Food Safety Summit in Baltimore caused investigators to look into the in-house caterer, who was cited for a violation for improperly maintained ice machines, sparking a lot of chatter online about how they're maintained in other public eateries. A similar study in 2008 revealed the same was true of those little lemon wedges we all love to order with our water.

There's not much you can do to avoid this other than eat at home, but the good news is, most of the restaurants didn't have what's considered specifically dangerous bacteria unless you have a compromised immune system.

7. Carpet

There are 200,000 bacteria per square inch in your carpet, which is a lot more than your toilet seat. Not surprising when you consider that the millions of skin cells you and the fam shed hourly literally feed the little buggers.

It's not enough to vacuum regularly, you also need to steam clean regularly with antibacterial cleaner, which you may have to hire a professional to have done. Better yet, install tile or wood, which is much easier to clean.

8. Doorknobs

Especially in public places, doorknobs are some of the dirtiest places. They get touched by the hands of everyone who comes in and out.

At home, clean your doorknobs regularly, daily if possible. When you're out, just keep some hand sanitizer in your purse to use as needed.

9. Shopping cart handles

Much like doorknobs, shopping cart handles are touched by hundreds of people daily. I'm (not so) sure the staff cleans them daily, but many stores are providing little sanitizing wipes at the front of the store for your use. If not, carry your own.

First, wipe your hands (since you had to touch the cart), then wipe the handle of the cart all the way around. Don't forget the little seat in the front if you've got your little one with you.

10. Light switches

Light switches

Remember door knobs and shopping cart handles? Same thing. While you're wiping down those door knobs, don't forget the switches, especially in your kids' rooms and the bathroom.

11. Bathtubs/showers

 Bathtubs/showers

How does relaxing in a nice bubble bath sound? Not so good when you consider the amount of bacteria that could be in there. Think about it. The place you go to get clean is bound to get hit with plenty of nasty germs that wash off your bod. And it's a nice, moist environment for them to grow in (and if you don't close your toilet when you flush, it gets worse). The same goes for your showerhead, which is an even better environment for bacteria.

Clean your bathtub regularly and invest in an automatic shower cleaner to use after every bath. Also, invest in some CLR to clean your showerheads just like they do in the commercials. Trust me, it actually works!

12. Pillow

Even if your pillow is washable, do you really wash it as often as you should? Your pillow is exposed to bodily secretions, skin cells, dust mites, fungal spores and more.

Take a shower before bed every night to increase the life of your pillow, care for it as instructed on the tag, and replace it yearly, more frequently if you suffer from allergies.

13. Mattress

Even less pleasant than the thought of dust mites is the thought of the dust mite dung that makes your mattress double in weight after 10 years.

Clean your mattress regularly according to the instructions. Also, keep it covered with a mattress cover you can wash and replace frequently, and never — ever — sleep on it sans covering.

14. Money

Money

The average bill in the U.S. changes hands about 55 times a year according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. That's about once a week. Gives new meaning to "do you know where that's been?"

Money's always going to be dirty, and we don't recommend you attempt to clean it, but you should use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after handling it. Some banks even have sanitizer sitting right there at the counter.

15. Your handbag

Think about how many of the things on this list you keep inside your purse. How many times have you set it on the ground going to a public toilet? We ladies live out of those things, so it shouldn't be surprising they need to be cleaned regularly. Once a month, empty it out and clean it as necessary for the material inside and out.

16. ATM keypad

The ATM keypad is a breeding ground for a not-so-pleasantly named (and less pleasantly acting) bacteria called Bacillus cereus, which can cause illness similar to food poisoning.

A little hand sanitizer after using the keypad should help, but if I see you at the ATM wearing surgical gloves, I won't judge.

More on cleaning

10 Things you don't clean as often as you should
All-natural ways to clean your kitchen
Do green cleaning products really save you money?

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