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Posted: August 08, 2017

Your kitchen sponge is filthier than your toilet, study says


By Najja Parker, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The toilet bowl holds quite a bit of muck, but according to a recent report, there’s another item in your home that’s even filthier: your kitchen sponge.

Researchers in Germany conducted a study to determine the different types of bacteria found on a sponge. To do so, they sequenced the DNA of 28 samples of bacteria collected from 14 sponges. 

 >> Dirtier than the toilet? These 5 items are among the filthiest in your home

They found 118 genera of bacteria. That’s more than what’s found on toilets. 

"Despite common misconception, it was demonstrated that kitchen environments host more microbes than toilets. This was mainly due to the contribution of kitchen sponges, which were proven to represent the biggest reservoirs of active bacteria in the whole house," the study said.

>> On AJC.com: Toothbrushes can be more germ-ridden than a toilet seat

However, the scientists noted that most of the genera of bacteria discovered was not harmful. The pathogens that were found were most concerning, because those can cause infections among humans. 

>> On AJC.com: How well are you cleaning the 10 filthiest places in your kitchen?

"Kitchen sponges are likely to collect, incubate and spread bacteria from and back onto kitchen surfaces, from where they might eventually find their way into the human body," the study said. “Direct contact of a sponge with food and/or the human hands might transfer bacteria in and onto the human body, where they might cause infections, depending on their pathogenic potential.”

Although many boil or microwave sponges to rid of toxins, analysts found that the latter method only kills 60 percent of bacteria. Plus, the bacteria could increase after cleaning, because the microbes re-colonize. 

>> Read more trending news

To minimize the spread of germs, researchers suggests that people replace their sponges at least once a week.


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Daniel Grill/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Kitchen sponge

Daniel Grill/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Kitchen sponge

Kitchen sponge
Dirtier than the toilet? These 5 items are among the filthiest in your home

Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Dirtier than the toilet? These 5 items are among the filthiest in your home

If you take your smartphone to the restroom with you, you might want to rethink that habit. 

A 2011 study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found fecal matter on 1 out of every 6 smartphones. University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba went even further with his research, which found that cellphones carry 10 times the bacteria of most toilet seats.

Part of the reason is that toilets get cleaned more frequently, Gerba said. People associate the bathroom with germs. Cellphones are often overlooked.

>> Read more trending stories

Here are five common items that are often left out of the cleaning routine:

Electronic devices

Cellphones are not the only electronic devices named as the dirtiest items in the home. Remote controls for televisions, DVD players and streaming devices are also overlooked during most cleanings. 

Tablet devices like the iPad are also culprits, USA Today reported. If multiple people use the devices, it spreads the germs and the subsequent illness. 

To clean: Electronic device surfaces can be wiped clean with disinfectant. 

Kitchen sink

A home’s kitchen sink carries more bacteria than both the toilet and the garbage can, Gerba’s research found. 

“There’s more fecal bacteria in a sink than there is in a flushed toilet,” Gerba told “Today.” “That’s why dogs drink out of the toilet. They know better than to drink out of the kitchen sink,” he joked. 

Even worse is a kitchen sponge, which Gerba found carries up to 200,000 times more bacteria than a toilet. 

To clean: Gerba said kitchen sinks should be washed daily with hot, soapy water, particularly after contact with raw meat or poultry. Used sponges should be wet and popped into the microwave for a minute to sanitize them. 

Playground equipment

Those colorful playground sets that children love so much have proven to be magnets for bacteria. 

“I won’t let my grandchildren go into playgrounds, though some of them do have hand sanitizing stations these days,” Gerba told “Good Housekeeping.” “Playgrounds are essentially public toilets for birds.”

To clean: If you allow your children to play on public playgrounds, bring plenty of hand sanitizer, Gerba said. 

Reusable shopping bags

Reusable shopping bags are a great way to help the environment, but they can harbor health threats, including E. coli bacteria, Gerba found. The levels of bacteria found were significant enough to cause serious illness, or even death. 

“Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags on a weekly basis,” Gerber said in a 2010 University of Arizona news release

To clean: Thoroughly wash all reusable bags, including with bleach if desired. 

Shoes

Gerba found that it takes just two weeks for a brand new pair of shoes to collect as many as 421,000 of bacteria, according to a study of germs collected on footwear.

“The common occurrence (96 percent) of coliform and E. coli bacteria on the outside of the shoes indicates frequent contact with fecal material, which most likely originates from floors in public restrooms or contact with animal fecal matter outdoors,” Gerba said

To clean: Throwing machine washable shoes into the machine with detergent eliminates all fecal bacteria and reduces all bacteria by 90 percent or more, Gerba found.  

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