The 5 dirtiest things you’ll touch today

Aug 1, 2011 at 5:03 a.m. ET

You carry antibacterial gel everywhere you go, wash your hands before you eat, yet somehow you still manage to get sick. What gives? Here are the five dirtiest things you'll touch today and how to protect yourself from those germs.

Woman pressing elevator button

1Restaurant soap dispenser

You wash your hands after using the toilet, but the very dispenser providing germ protection may be the worst offender. "You use a restaurant soap dispenser right after you touch the contaminated bathroom stall latch," says Philip Tierno, Jr., Ph.D., at New York University School of Medicine." The biggest danger, says Tierno, is if the dispenser doesn't contain soap. Using only water won't kill organisms. So if your dispenser is empty, get soap from a different one and perform a full, 20-second wash (sing Happy Birthday twice). Then take the paper towel you use to dry your hands to open the door and exit.

2Elevator buttons

You're in a rush to get to your meeting, so you jab the elevator button a few times. How many other people coughed into their hand or used the bathroom and then touched the same button? "Elevator buttons may be contaminated by flora from other people's mouths and skin," says Tierno. The good news: You're not in danger of getting sick until you touch your face or continue eating your lunch with your now-contaminated hands. Use an antibacterial gel or wash your hands with soap and water ASAP.

3ATM machines

Money transactions require focus, so germs lurking on an ATM keyboard may not be top of mind when depositing your paycheck. Many people touch ATM buttons after sneezing, blowing their nose -- and worse. Your best line of defense: Use a pen to tap the keys. Wash your hands or use an antibacterial gel as soon as possible to stop germs before they can do their dirty work.

4Microwave pads

When did you last wipe down and disinfect the touchpad of your office microwave? Likely never. In an office environment with a shared microwave, no one cleans it and they end up encrusted and dirty, says Tierno. Soap and water isn't enough to get rid of the grease, either. "The microwave pads should be washed with bleach to remove all the foodstuff." Ask the cleaning crew to use disinfectant and a rag or wipe and make it part of the regular cleaning routine.

5Inside latch of a public bathroom stall

Think about it: You use the toilet, then lift or turn the latch to leave the stall. So does everyone else. And you touch it both to enter and leave, making it double trouble. Unless you've used a tissue to open and close that latch, you can assume you're contaminated. Don't touch your face, mouth or eyes before washing your hands and/or using an antibacterial gel.

More everyday places germs are lurking

What's in your reusable grocery bag?
Scary sources of germs in your kitchen
How to get your kids to wash their hands the right way