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The Top 10 Germ Spots in Your House

When we get sick, we often blame it on our coworkers or that stranger on our commute who coughed and didn't cover his mouth. But the culprit may actually be found at home -- specifically in the toothbrush holder, on the kitchen countertop, or in that reusable bag you've been toting around. Find out the germiest spots in your home below so you can start feeling better today.

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Kitchen Sponges

The very tool that scrubs away the gunk and grime from our dishes is the dirtiest item in the household, according to a study conducted by NSF International, a public health and safety organization. Researchers found traces of coliform, bacteria that contain both salmonella and E. coli, in 75 percent of the sponges tested. Why so dirty? Germs thrive in moist and warm environments, and sponges in particular have plenty of nooks and crannies where bacteria can multiply.

Clean up: Microwave your sponges for two minutes every day and replace them every two weeks, says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University says. Soaking them for 20 minutes in a mixture of vinegar diluted with water can also sanitize them. But overall, Duberg recommends tossing the sponge and using a dishrag you can throw into the washing machine instead.

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Toothbrush Holder

Researchers were surprised to find so many germs in families' toothbrush holders, says Robert Donofrio, the lead researcher or the NSF germ study. "Most people don't realize that toothbrush holders are a reservoir that will catch any of the water drained or residual on the toothbrush. Plus they're often positioned close to the toilet, so it's really ideal for bacteria." Um...gross?

Clean up: If the toothbrush holder is machine washable, include it in a dishwasher load on a weekly basis. Otherwise scrub it with soap and hot water once a week. And in case you weren't skeeved out enough about the statement above, move it to an area out of reach from the toilet.

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Electronics

If you thought your toilet seat was dirty, consider this: Your computer's keyboard may be five times dirtier. A 2008 study conducted by Which?, a UK consumer organization, swabbed 33 keyboards and found disturbing results, including one keyboard that contained 150 times the acceptable bacterial limit! The culprit, researchers noted, was eating at the computer and multiple people using one shared keyboard. The NSF germ study also found that almost 60 percent of TV remotes and video game controllers swabbed contained yeast and mold.

Clean up: The best thing you can do to keep your electronics clean is to wash your hands after eating a meal or touching your face, says Duberg. Use sanitizing wipes to clean the keyboard and controllers at least once a week -- more often if someone in your house is suffering from a cold or allergies.

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Bed Sheets

A 2012 survey conducted by the company Crampex found that 26 percent of respondents admitted to sleeping on sheets that had only been washed once a month. Another 13 percent said they slept on sheets that had unidentified stains, sweat marks, or drool on them. Unfortunately, our linens are teeming with filth from our bodies -- plus dirt from pets that sleep next to us.

Clean up: Launder sheets once a week in the hottest possible temperature allowed without ruining the sheets, says Duberg. This should get rid of any grime and also eliminate dust mites.

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Carpet

Carpets have long been associated with increased risk of illness, asthma, and allergies. A 2012 study published in Indoor Air found that whenever a person entered a carpeted room, 35 million bacteria were sent into the air. While researcher Jordan Peccia says the bacteria was mostly harmless and noninfectious, it's another story when it comes to dropping drinks and food onto the carpet. Residue from these foods and even pets can lead to salmonella contamination, so avoid eating off the carpet at all times -- even if it's within the five-second rule.

Clean up: It depends how much foot traffic the room gets, but generally carpets should be vacuumed once or twice a week at the very least. Duberg recommends using a HEPA filter, which traps small particles more efficiently than your average filter.

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Cutting Boards

Donofrio's germ study found 18 percent of coliform and 14 percent of yeast and mold left behind on cutting boards. If not cleaned properly after each use, cutting boards collect germs and bacteria since they come in contact with a variety of raw foods, including meat, fruit, and vegetables.

Clean up: Throw your cutting boards into the dishwasher immediately after you use them -- and always have separate boards for veggies and meat. To hand wash, Duberg says to soak them in vinegar for 30 minutes and wash well with hot, soapy water.

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Kitchen Sink

While the volunteers in the NSF germ study thought that the kitchen sink was the seventh dirtiest place in the home, results showed it was second to the sponge. Salmonella and E. coli were found on 45 percent of tested kitchen sinks because the moist environment creates a breeding ground.

Clean up: You probably already scrub your sink regularly (experts recommend one to two times a week) but look at what you're scrubbing it with. Spray the area with a disinfecting solution made of 10 percent bleach or vinegar and 90 percent water, and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes before rinsing. To clean the drain, pour a mix of one teaspoon bleach and one quart of water down the drain.

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Knobs and Handles

With constant traffic in and out of rooms, doorknobs are prime targets for funk, along with faucet handles and stove knobs. According the NSF, stove knobs ranked ninth in the dirtiest spots in the home.

Clean up: Use sanitizing wipes on all knobs and handles at least once a week, more often if someone is sick. To clean stove knobs, remove them once a week and wash them in hot, soapy water.

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Reusable Grocery Bags

They may be good for the environment, but if not washed properly reusable bags can do a number contaminating food. And the bacteria count increases if the bag is used for storing other items such as gym clothes, books, and shoes. While washing reduces bacteria 99.9 percent, a study funded by the American Chemistry Council found that only 3 percent of users said they wash their reusable grocery bags.

Clean up: Immediately wash bags that have carried raw meats, fruits, and vegetables with hot, soapy water. Hand dry before reusing. If the bag is made of cloth, run it through the washing machine.

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Coffeemaker

How can something that brings so much joy be so germy? Coffeemakers were ranked fifth in the germiest places at home according to NSF, with mold found in 50 percent of those tested. Again, it's the bacteria equation at work -- dark, damp locations are prime areas for mold and mildew to grow.

Clean up: At least once a month, add four cups of undiluted vinegar to the machine and let stand for 30 minutes. Then, run the vinegar through the unit. Afterwards, run two to three cycles of fresh water through until the odor is gone.

Melissa Romero is a Washingtonian magazine staff writer and editor of the blog Well + Being.

Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, March 2013.

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