A Microbiologist Analyses The 11 Grossest Places In Your Home

A miniature world exists silently beneath our own—spreading, colonizing, infecting us with toxins and poisons while we eat, work, sleep, and try to live out our lives without incident or confrontation.

I'm not talking about killer mole people (unfortunately), I'm talking about germs. They're literally everywhere, seeking revenge for the murder of 99.9% of their brethren. To help us better understand them we enlisted the professional expertise of two microbiologists, Chris La Bella and Maria La Bella (yes, they're married), to tell us about the 11 of the germ-iest spots in our homes. 

Your pillow case

Threat level: Yellow (moderate)
What the experts say: "Pillows and pillowcases can collect all sorts of microbes. Many of the bugs found on pillows are benign organisms like staphylococcus species that are considered normal skin flora, but other potentially harmful bugs have been cultured as well. A common ailment caused by unsanitary pillows and pillowcases is conjunctivitis, or, pinkeye. This can be caused by allergens, viruses or bacteria. Dust mites and other microscopic antigens on pillows can also trigger allergies that may cause respiratory issues."

Vacuum cleaners

Threat level: Yellow (moderate)
What the experts say: "I wouldn’t necessarily say that the bag itself is the problem. It’s the dust that can cause the issue. Since the dust can easily become aerosolized when it escapes from the bag it is easily inhaled and if it is carrying a nasty mold or strain of bacteria it could potentially cause an issue. Think of the dust as a vessel carrying with it the bacteria and mold that are commonly found within the household."

Stuffed animals

Threat level: Yellow (moderate)
What the experts say: "Similar to the sponges or pillows, stuffed animals can harbor germs because of their relatively rougher surfaces that provide opportunity for germs to attach themselves. In addition, children can be germ factories themselves since they are less conscious of the microscopic threats that lurk all around us. It is important to clean stuffed animals and toys, especially if they are being shared, like in a daycare setting."


Threat level: Orange (moderate)
What the experts say: "Similar to keyboards. Also, a sticky surface can provide an opportunity for bacteria to cling on and colonize. A sticky surface may also provide nutrients that can promote bacterial growth."

Door handles

Threat level: Orange (high)
What the experts say: "They may be a lost cause in public areas but you can definitely take control within your own home or apartment. Keeping these commonly touched areas clean is a great practice especially in the winter months, when flu and cold viruses are more common."

Your refrigerator seal

Threat level: Orange (high)
What the experts say: "Molds and fungi love dark, damp areas and the seal of the fridge (the rubber lining on the inside of the door) is a perfect spot for their proliferation. Molds spread by releasing tiny spores that are light enough to be carried in the air (think of a Dandelion breaking apart in the wind), and this area is commonly disturbed."

Rags and sponges

Threat level: Red (severe)
What the experts say: "Rough and porous surfaces like those of a sponge or cloth rag provide a great opportunity for bacteria to grab hold and set up shop. Add moisture and food residues to the equation and you have essentially created a club med for bacteria and molds alike. Virulent strains of E. Coli, Staph and many other bacteria have components called 'adhesins' that facilitate adhesion to other cells or surfaces. These factors help these bacteria create a foothold on which they can establish a colony and proliferate."


Threat level: Red (severe)
What the experts say: "Keyboards, like door handles, are germ hotspots because they are used so frequently and often by many. Washing your hands before and after use can be helpful in preventing the transmission of any germ, viral or bacterial. Also sterile wipes can be used to control microbial buildup. If they settle there, airborne germs can definitely contaminate keyboards."

Cutting boards

Threat level: Red (severe)
What the experts say: "Some bacteria in raw meats include Salmonella, E. Coli, Listeria, or Campylobacter, or parasites like Trichinella and Taenia (Tapeworms). Avoid using wood cutting boards for raw meats since they are more porous than their plastic counterparts, which can trap germs and make for difficult sterilization."

Garbage disposal

Threat level: Deep Purple (extremely high)
What the experts say: "The food residues and moisture provide a prime environment for bacterial growth. These food residues provide the essential nutrients bacteria need to thrive. If left unchecked, bacteria can make their way up the sink and into the faucet where colonies can accumulate in dark and damp crevasses within the faucet head. The disposal could very well be considered ground zero for sink and faucet germs."

Behind the toilet

Threat level: Flashing Red Lights With Sirens and Screaming
What the experts say: ""Bacteria cultured in the bathroom can come from a variety of places; not just urine or fecal matter. Flushing the toilet with the lid open can also be a means for germs to contaminate bathroom surfaces. When you flush, a plume of contaminated water vapor escapes into the air and carries with it microbes that eventually settle on surfaces within your bathroom. The best way to protect your bathroom from this kind of exposure is to flush with the lid down."

Chris La Bella has a Bachelors of Science in Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology with 5 years experience as a microbiology diagnostic technologist. Maria La Bella is also a Microbiology Diagnostic Technologist with approximately 10 years of experience. Like all great Microbiology couples, they met over a petri dish.

Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Supercompressor. He will be flushing with the lid down from now on, thank you very much. Follow him @WilFulton.