Toss It: 25 Household Items That Love to Harbor Bacteria
You may be shocked to learn the not-so-long shelf life of common items in your home. From bath toys to mascara, here are all the things you need to replace or clean ASAP.
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Keep your razor in the shower? Big mistake. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should dry out your razor completely from shave to shave to prevent bacteria from growing on it. And even when stored in a dry area, razors don’t have a long shelf life. The AAD recommends throwing away disposable razors after five to seven shaves.
Most people think the bathroom is the germiest place in the house, but according to a swab study from the National Sanitation Foundation, it’s actually the kitchen. By a lot. And the germiest item in the kitchen? Your dish sponge. The kitchen sponge outranked all other household items for staph, mold, yeast and Coliform bacteria. Disinfect your sponge every other day by moistening it and microwaving it on high for one or two minutes, and replace every two weeks.
Kitchen Scrub Holder
That cute little frog holder or sponge caddy isn’t clean either. Any area that constantly remains wet creates the perfect breeding environment for bacteria. Every time you change out your sponge, clean out your sponge holder.
How many times do you use a towel before tossing it in the laundry? By keeping a towel on a hook in the bathroom, it gets wet every time someone uses the shower or bath. And when a cloth item stays wet, that can create mildew. Make sure to wash bath towels frequently with hot water, and if you still detect that mildew smell after washing, it’s time to toss and replace.
The same goes for hand towels, dish towels and washcloths. These items should be washed frequently with hot water. If your towels are white, you can add a cap full of bleach to the wash, too.
Compared to other household items, the toothbrush isn’t that germy—it didn’t make the NSF top 30 list. However, the toothbrush holder did in a major way. (See the next slide for the reason.) Still, it's important to replace toothbrushes frequently (every three to four months, according to the American Dental Association) and immediately if someone in your home has a virus.
The toothbrush holder is actually way more germy than a toothbrush. Why? Every time you use your toothbrush and place it back in the holder, those trace amounts of water collect at the bottom of the cup and create the perfect home for mold.
Bacteria love wet places, and your makeup is no exception. Make sure you wash your hands before handling liquid foundation and concealers to prevent spreading germs, and toss your liquid makeup after about six months.
Just like liquid foundation, mascara creates a wet environment bacteria love. Replace your mascara every couple of months and never, ever share eye makeup.
Lipstick and Lip Balm
You might not think of lipstick and lip balm as liquid makeup, but these items have a short shelf life as they touch your mouth constantly. When you use lip products, tiny amounts of food can transfer from your mouth to the lipstick tube where bacteria can thrive.
Makeup sponges such as the Beautyblender are great for getting that flawless, airbrushed look. But if it’s been a while since you cleaned your sponge, you’re not doing your skin any favors and you might be spreading bacteria onto your face. Clean your sponges regularly with this technique, and replace them about every three months.
You wash your bed sheets frequently, but how often do you wash your pet’s bed? Dogs can track in small amounts of fecal matter from outside, so if you’re not washing your pet bed, it may be time to toss and replace. Look for a machine-washable bed, or one with a removable cover.
When was the last time you washed your pet’s toys? Cloth toys such as tennis balls and plastic toys with little nooks and crannies are the perfect home for mold and yeast. The NSF also found a high amount of staph in pet toys swabbed.
Contact Lens Case
A contact lens case doesn't seem like something that would need replacing—especially since it literally holds contact cleaner—but when you handle your contacts and case, you transfer germs from your hands into the case and reservoir. When dealing with items that go directly onto your eyeballs, it’s best to replace occasionally and always wash your hands before handling contacts.
Your child’s bath toys may be harboring mold, especially if the toys have openings that you can’t completely dry off after bath time. Make sure toys are stored in a dry place and not kept in the shower.
The loofah is one of the most overlooked items to replace in your bathroom, but it’s one of those items you should replace weekly. Think about it. It hangs on your shower caddy 24/7 in a wet shower. It’s basically a ball of potential mold.
It’s important to thoroughly clean your toilet brush after each use before placing it back in the toilet brush holder. Otherwise, the same situation that happens with a kitchen sponge and sponge holder or a toothbrush and toothbrush holder can occur. And if anyone in your home gets a stomach bug or virus, toss the toilet brush after using and replace with a new brush.
An air humidifier is a godsend during the winter months, but if you just pack it up and place it back in the closet after the season, your humidifier is probably harboring some serious mold. Make sure to keep filters clean and dry out components completely after each use.
According to the NSF study, your cutting board is dirtier than your toilet seat. If that seems crazy, consider this: Every cut made in the cutting board creates a tiny home for bacteria to breed. If you’re using a plastic cutting board, swap out for wood as most wood cutting boards have resins that are antibacterial.
Like bath towels, bath mats are constantly exposed to damp, dark environments bacteria love. But unlike bath towels, bath mats aren’t washed frequently. If you have a cloth bath mat and can’t easily wash and dry it completely, throw it out.
The coffee maker made NSF’s top 10 germiest items list and outranked the toilet seat with more Coliform bacteria. Why? The reservoir. Even if you toss the coffee filter and grounds immediately after making coffee, the reservoir can still breed bacteria. Make sure to keep the lid up after making coffee to help the reservoir dry out.
You wash your plates and bowls after every meal, but how often do you wash your pet’s bowls? In their swab study, the NSF found mold, staph, Coliform and even E. coli in pet food and water bowls. If you’re still using plastic, swap out your pet’s bowls for stainless steel (which are less likely to get chips and cracks where bacteria can grow) and wash frequently.
It may not seem like something to clean frequently—especially since food is often wrapped inside—but the lunchbox can harbor a lot of germs. Food waste mixed with thawed ice packs create a great home for mold and yeast.
Purses and Bags
We’re not saying toss your purse. But understand that it brings in tons of germs into the house. The NSF found a high amount of yeast and mold at the bottom of most purses swabbed. So the next time you come home, don’t immediately set your purse on the kitchen counter or dining room table.
While pillows aren’t typically a bacteria culprit, they do harbor dust mites, dead skin cells and body oils. Most pillows can be thrown in the washer, but if not, it’s time to replace. If you suffer from bad allergies, try replacing or cleaning your pillows every couple of months.