Cleaning & Organization

Things You Haven’t Cleaned In A Long Time—But Should

When's the last time you disinfected some of these items?

Bacteria, mold and other potential hazards are impossible to avoid completely, but you can minimize their effects on your family’s health and safety. You know the importance of proper hygiene, you wash your hands regularly and you keep your home tidy.

However, you likely come into contact with dirty, germ-laden items every day without even realizing it. Learn about some of the yuckiest common items you probably haven’t cleaned in a while.

Cell Phone

According to a recent study, the average smartphone user checks his or her device 47 times per day. All of that tapping, swiping, and pressing can lead to loads of germs. In fact, there is a good chance that your mobile device is actually 10 times dirtier than your toilet seat.

Wiping your screen often with a microfiber cloth to remove streaks and fingerprints is a good place to begin. Follow up by using disinfectant wipes recommended for your device or carefully cleaning with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water. Don’t forget to clean your case as well.

Getty Images | Tomohiro Ohsumi

Steering Wheel

Even if you just washed your car, the part you touch most frequently might be filthy. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that automobile steering wheels can be four times dirtier than a public toilet seat. Wiping the steering wheel with a disinfectant wipe or cleaning it with a cloth and cleaner made for your car’s interior can quickly eradicate the issue. Make it a habit to wipe down the wheel every time you wash, vacuum or toss out the trash inside your ride.

Flickr | anmuell

Dish Towels

Most households keep a kitchen towel draped over the stove handle, refrigerator door or other suitable place to dry hands, dishes or countertops. Although they might be convenient, it could also contribute to food poisoning. A 2018 study by the University of Mauritius showed that nearly half of household kitchen towels have bacteria growing on them.

Consider keeping multiple kitchen towels on hand and switching them out every day. Wash them in hot water and use bleach for white towels or color-safe sanitizing laundry soap for colored towels.

Flickr | anniehp

Doorknobs

When you think about how many times you twist, turn, push or pull on door handles every day, it seems easy to see why they could be less than sanitary. Grabbing a virus-ridden knob and then rubbing your eye, wiping your nose or chowing down on lunch could result in catching a cold, the flu or worse. Washing your hands is essential and hand sanitizer could help, but wiping knobs and handles with disinfecting wipes regularly goes a long way as well.

Flickr | raganmd

Soap Dispenser

Refillable soap dispensers can save money and help the environment, but they might also be making your home a little dirtier. Recent studies show that even the soap in these refillable dispensers can be contaminated with bacteria. Opening the bulk soap to fill the dispenser as well as opening the dispenser can introduce new germs. And if you touch it with grimy hands, you are adding to the icky stuff. Use your favorite all-purpose cleaner to wipe the exterior of the dispenser whenever you clean your kitchen or bathroom. Clean out the inside before you refill it.

Flickr | HomeSpot HQ

Faucet Handles

You use the restroom or handle raw chicken as you prepare a meal. You make a hygienic decision and turn on the faucet to scrub your hands. Now your hands are clean, but your faucet handles are covered in dangerous bacteria. Use disinfecting wipes or spray to clean the handles and other faucet fixtures in your kitchen and bathrooms at least daily to prevent illness. If you are upgrading your kitchen, consider installing a touch-free faucet to further eliminate potentially dangerous bacteria from finding its way to the tap.

Flickr | Daniel M. Hendricks

Grocery Bags

Reusable shopping bags can have a positive impact on the environment, but when they’re not cleaned properly or frequently enough, they can have a negative effect on your health. Dangerous bacteria, yeast or mold could hide and grow inside your bags when you use them to carry items such as raw meat, frozen foods with condensation, or fresh produce from the grocery store. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to wash or clean them after each use and make sure they are completely dry before you store them to use in the future.

Flickr | Mr.TinDC

Keyboard And Mouse

Your desk might look clean and neat, but it could be harboring hidden hazards. Keyboards and computer mice carry high levels of bacterial contamination, so cleaning them both regularly is beneficial. Unplug or turn off the devices before you begin. Turn your keyboard upside-down and shake out any crumbs or use a tool such as a small brush or electronic putty to remove bits of food and dirt from the keys. Wipe both the mouse and the keyboard with disinfectant wipes, taking care not to get moisture into any openings that could cause damage.

Flickr | orin.ryan

Children’s Toys

Your children roll their toys along the floor, drag them in the dirt, bury them in the sandbox and dunk them in the bathwater. Then they touch them, sleep with them and even put them in their mouths. Giving playthings a good cleaning on a regular basis is wise. Some toys can be tossed in the washing machine, while others require hand-cleaning. Scrub with soap and water or wipe with disinfectant and follow with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove residue from cleaning products.

Flickr | Elizabeth/Table4Five

Kitchen Appliance Handles

You grab the refrigerator, freezer and oven door handles when you are preparing or putting away food. You turn the knobs or press the buttons on the stove or microwave as well. Cross-contamination from raw or unwashed food, as well as germs from dirty hands, can accumulate and potentially lead to illness. Wipe down handles, knobs and buttons at least once a day. Ideally, these surfaces should be cleaned following every meal. Use disinfectant wipes or your favorite spray cleaner to wipe away grime and germs.

Getty Images | Scott Olson

Kitchen Counters

Just as your kitchen appliances come in frequent contact with bacteria and germs from food and fingers, your countertops can easily collect harmful microorganisms. These surfaces might hold everything from unwashed produce to uncooked meat to the backpack your son was just dragging across the front lawn. Spraying it with a disinfectant cleaner and wiping it with a paper towel or clean dish towel (which you promptly toss in the wash) is the best way to remove any unpleasant contaminants.

Flickr | virtualcourtney

Knife Block

You would never slide a used knife back into the wooden block where you store it, but you might not have considered that the block itself could need cleaning. The slots that hold the knives might also hold much more. Clean them by shaking out any crumbs that have made their way into the crevices, using pipe cleaners to help dislodge any stuck particles. Finish the job by hand-washing the block and drying it thoroughly before putting it to use again.

Flickr | 2Eklectik

Light Switches

Many people take light switches for granted. You mindlessly turn them on and off as you enter or exit rooms, never thinking about how clean (or dirty) they might be. Much like doorknobs, light switches are an ideal place for dirt, bacteria and viruses to hang out. Wiping the switches and plates with disinfectant wipes, household cleaner or rubbing alcohol on a paper towel or microfiber cloth is an easy way to kill germs and remove unsightly fingerprints or other grime.

Unsplash | Steve Johnson

Makeup Tools

You have morning and evening routines to keep your skin clean, moisturized and healthy. But what if your makeup applicators are undoing all of your efforts? Dirty makeup brushes and tools can cause everything from breakouts and allergic reactions to deadly skin infections. Depending on your skin type and how often you use makeup tools, experts recommend cleaning your makeup brushes at least twice a week or as frequently as every day using a high-quality cleanser made especially for makeup tools.

Flickr | kandance

Coffee Maker

Even if you clean your coffee machine regularly with vinegar and water, it still might be pretty grody on the inside. Your coffee maker could be home to mold, yeast and unhealthy bacteria, thanks to the damp environment and hard plastic surfaces inside. Clean the lid, filter basket, and carafe with warm, soapy water every day. If you have a machine that uses cups or pods, make sure you use a fresh one for every cup. Wiping the reservoir with a paper towel after use can also help.

Flickr | yourbestdigs

Pet Bowls

You always put the same food in your dog’s or cat’s food bowl and keep the water bowl filled with cool, clean H2O. But how often do you actually give your pet’s dishes a dunk in the sink? Life-threatening bacteria can live on your pet’s bowls. Keeping them scrubbed can protect you and your four-legged best friend. Vet experts recommend treating your cat’s or dog’s dishes just as you do your own by washing them after every meal in warm, soapy water.

Flickr | markhillary

Pet Toys

Fido and Fifi can bring bacteria into your home with their playthings, too. The toys that they bat around, squeak and gnaw on might be carrying bacteria, dirt, mold and yeast. Many soft toys can be cleaned in the wash, while harder ones can handle a good scrub with soap and warm water. Torn or damaged toys should be tossed and replaced, as they might not only be germ-laden but could also be a health hazard to your pet.

Flickr | ohmil

Pillows

The right pillow can help you get the best sleep of your life. However, no matter how comfy it is, your pillow could also be filthy. While you sleep, you sweat, drool, shed skin and more, making your favorite pillow a breeding ground for all things gross. Consumer Reports recommends airing it out regularly, laundering it twice a year and drying it thoroughly before use. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before tossing pillows into the washer or dryer.

Flickr | www.metaphoricalplatypus.com

Purse

Even if you keep the contents organized and empty out any trash or unused items weekly, your handbag is likely harboring unwanted hangers-on. Your purse goes where you go and rests in some unbecoming spots, such as public restroom floors or the seat next to you at the doctor’s office.

If your handbag can handle it, use disinfecting wipes to clean the outside habitually. Other purses might be machine washable or require special cleaners. Taking care to hang your purse instead of resting it on unsanitary surfaces can help as well.

Flickr | Christine und Hagen Graf

Refrigerator Drawers

The head of lettuce you forgot about in the back of the vegetable crisper or the package of ground beef you thawed in the meat drawer might be making your fridge an unfriendly place for other food. Your refrigerator drawers could contain E. coli, listeria, salmonella, yeast and mold. NSF International, the Public Health and Safety Organization, recommends cleaning your fridge’s interior monthly as well as any time you notice spills or leaks by removing the drawers, if possible, and washing with warm, soapy water.

Getty Images | Ethan Miller

Remote Controls

You use it, you lose it, you find it and then you use it some more, but do you ever clean it? Your TV remote control can contain 70 bacteria per square inch. Disinfect it monthly or anytime someone in your home is sick.

Start by removing the batteries. Wipe it down with rubbing alcohol on a soft cloth. Deep clean by dipping a cotton swab into the alcohol and cleaning around the buttons. Use a toothpick to dig out grunge inside crevices. Make sure the device is dry before you replace the batteries.

Flickr | purpcheese

Salt And Pepper Shakers

Wash your hands before you come to the table! While this might be your family’s rule, once the meal begins, hands usually don’t stay clean. Food and germs on fingers can make their way to other surfaces, such as salt and pepper shakers on the table. They can be breeding ground for viruses, as well.

Wiping down the shakers — and any condiment bottles you might have used — after every meal will keep germs at bay. Toss them in the dishwasher or scrub in the sink before refilling empty containers.

Flickr | andrewmalone

Sink

Your sink is where you clean grubby hands, wash grimy pots, rinse produce and perhaps even thaw raw meat. In other words, your sink gets gross. Isn’t it time you gave it some good, clean attention? Sanitize it by soaking it with bleach in hot water before giving it a hearty scouring. Rinse it well and dry until it shines. Keep it clean by scrubbing, rinsing and drying it every evening or anytime it is soiled with something especially unsanitary, such as blood or mop water.

Flickr | brownpau

Sponges

A study by microbiologists at Furtwangen University in Germany showed that kitchen sponges are rife with bacteria. A single, used sponge can contain 362 different species of bacteria with a density of up to 45 billion per square centimeter. Using that dirty sponge to wipe your kitchen table or your baby’s highchair might seem downright scary.

In this case, hot, soapy water won’t help — and it can actually foster the bacteria. Instead, use heat. Toss it in the dishwasher with the heat cycle on or nuke it in the microwave for a minute every day or two. Then, swap out your sponge for a new one every couple of weeks.

Flickr | yourbestdigs

Can Opener

Your can opener takes up a small, unassuming spot in a drawer or on your kitchen counter. It’s there when you need to crack open a can of tomato sauce or vegetables, but goes largely unnoticed the rest of the time. You might want to give it a little more TLC. When you use this gadget, food, liquids and even dirt can slosh onto the blade and other parts of the can opener.

If you have a manual opener, scrub it with an old toothbrush, a scouring pad or a scrubber and soapy water or baking soda until the grime is gone. If your electric can opener has a removable blade, you can put it in the dishwasher or hand-wash it. Otherwise, unplug the opener and carefully clean it with a wet cloth or paper towel.

Adobe

Toothbrush Holder

As long as you replace your toothbrush regularly (the ADA recommends doing so every three or four months) you don’t have to worry much about sanitizing it. The same cannot be said for the receptacle you use to hold your toothbrushes. In 2013, researchers at NSF International’s Applied Research Center discovered a new bacterium in the same family as E. coli on a toothbrush holder. Sanitize yours in the dishwasher or with hot, soapy water followed by a wipe with disinfectant one or two times each week.

Flickr | woodleywonderworks

Trash Can

Its job is literally to contain all of the nasty, dirty and unwanted stuff in your house until you empty it into a larger receptacle. Your kitchen, bathroom and other household trash bins could be in desperate need of cleaning. Household garbage cans may contain 411 bacteria per square inch. Disinfect it weekly (or sooner, in the event of a leak or spill) by rinsing it, applying a disinfectant spray, scrubbing any apparent gunk and drying thoroughly before replacing the bag.

Flickr | yourbestdigs

Vacuum Filters

The filters in most upright vacuum cleaners are intended to protect your family from dust, dirt and allergens that might otherwise be floating around your home. It turns out that they can also contain harmful bacteria. When the filters are not cleaned or changed as recommended, they could be spreading those microorganisms around the house instead. Swap your vacuum filter for a new one regularly or thoroughly clean and dry washable filters to keep your vacuum working as it should.

Flickr | AngieSix

Washing Machine

Your washer handles whatever you throw at it — muddy kids’ clothes, sweaty gym gear, grease stains, baby blowouts and more — so it’s not far-fetched to consider that this cleaning machine might need cleaning itself.

University of Arizona microbiology professor Charles Gerba told ABC News that fecal matter is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to washing machine bacteria, with about 100 million E. coli in the wash water after a single load of underwear.

Wash your washer by running an empty load with nothing but bleach and water periodically.

Getty Images | Scott Olson

Water Bottles

It’s crucial to drink an adequate amount of water, and reusable bottles are so much better for the environment than their disposable plastic counterparts. However, even if you are the only one to use your water bottle, it is vital that you clean it regularly. Unwashed containers can carry more bacteria than even your dog’s water bowl. Many water bottles are not dishwasher safe, so check the manufacturer’s instructions. Scrubbing with clean, soapy water by hand is a safe bet for any type of bottle.

Pixabay | GSquare