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Health
The germiest places you're not cleaning
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The germiest places you're not cleaning

The germiest places you're not cleaning

The germiest places you're not cleaning

People avoid touching the obviously dirty things — toilet bowls, garbage cans, anything in a public restroom. But for every well-known nasty, there are a host of under-the-radar threats we put in our mouths, roll around on all night, and regularly rub on our faces. In an effort to keep clean, happy, and healthy, here are 21 surprisingly dirty things and what to do about them.

KITCHEN

Sponges

It's easy for bacteria and food particles to get trapped in the crevasses of sponges, creating ideal conditions for bacteria to breed [1]. Moist, dark — what else could bacteria ask for?!

What to do: Try antibacterial sponges and dish soaps to limit the lesser of bacteria evils — but neither are very effective at controlling the spread of big name baddies like E. Coli and Salmonella [2]. Be extra safe by disinfecting sponges at least once a week by soaking in a bleach solution for 5 minutes, or microwaving on high for two minutes. (The microwave method has even been shown to kill 99 percent of bacteria[3]!)

Kitchen Buttons, Knobs, and Handles

Taking something from the fridge, grabbing spices from the cabinet, preheating the oven, zapping something in the microwave — a lot goes into cooking a meal, including any bacteria from that raw chicken or unwashed produce.

What to do: To minimize the risk, some experts recommend using a disinfectant on any frequently used kitchen surfaces several times a day, especially before and after preparing a meal. Keep it carefree by keeping antibacterial wipes right on the counter for easy access.

 Cutting Boards

With all the ingredients flying around that kitchen, it's hard to keep designated cutting boards for each type of food. (Fresh veggies tossed on a board right after a raw steak probably isn't such a good idea). But this hotbed for cross-contamination is essential to keep clean. Scientists debate whether wood or plastic makes for a better board: Plastic boards seem safer and easier to clean (because they're not porous), but once they're scored from repeated slicing, it's hard to clean the microscopic grooves [4]. Wood sucks bacteria down into its core, but researchers disagree about whether bacteria ever resurface; one study noted that heavily used wooden boards were more problematic than new ones.

What to do: Keep plastic boards clean by regularly running through the dishwasher (or washing with near-boiling water if the dishwasher isn't an option). Consider microwaving wooden ones to get the bad guys out. (But be careful — some folks have managed to catch their cutting boards on fire.) Let both boards air-dry completely before storing to minimize potential bacteria growth. But since the research is really mixed, just be sure to replace heavily nicked boards regularly.

Drip Coffee Maker

Even though coffee itself has some antimicrobial properties, coffee makers still need to be cleaned [5] [6]. Most home coffee makers don’t get hot enough to kill anything growing in the wet, dark environment of the water reservoir or the machine’s internal piping.

What to do: Running a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar through the machine once a month may help inhibit the growth of mold and some bacteria. Let half the mixture run through the machine, then switch it off for an hour before finishing the cycle. And don’t forget to deep-clean the carafe!

BEDROOM

 Pillows

Pillows aren’t just packed with feathers — turns out they can also be home to several types of allergy-inflaming fungi [7]. (Ick.) And all those hours spent sweating, shedding skin, and drooling like a sheepdog also create ideal conditions for dust mites, another potential allergy trigger.

What to do: In addition to regularly laundering bedding (specific instructions below), anti-allergen covers can help protect pillows from outside germs getting in and keep the sneezy stuff (down, anyone?) inside [8].

Sheets

Take all the reasons to be worried about pillows and add sweat to the tune of up to one liter per night.

What to do: Washing and drying everything on the highest heat available is a good policy, but regular bleaching is a good idea, too. (In fact, studies suggest a good hot wash and dose of bleach will not only kill bacteria on the cloth, but also cleans out the machine so germs aren't continuously spread around [9].)

BATHROOM

 Bath Mat

Bath mats sit there, soaked with shower water and pressed up against the floor, slowing evaporation and providing the dark, damp environment mold and bacteria love. Add to that the fact bathroom floors have been shown be one of the most contaminated parts of the bathroom (toilet bowl excluded, of course) and it’s obvious why we should put some brainpower towards that bath mat [10].

What to do: Launder mats once per week on the highest heat and with bleach (if possible — defer to the mat’s washing instructions, especially if it has rubber backing). And (clearly) keep separate from any bedding or clothes. Wooden mats may be an easier option, since surface disinfectants can replace regular laundering, but it’s important to remember to disinfect the floor to avoid re-infecting a clean mat.

Laundry Basket

All the grime from sweaty workout gear, underwear, and bedding sits in that laundry bag, soiling the hamper itself.

What to do: Try using one bag for dirty clothes, and one for the clean stuff, and wash the dirty bag along with the clothes! For hard plastic hampers, use any hard surface disinfectant, but be wary of anything with the potential to discolor (i.e. bleach).

Makeup and Makeup Brushes

People shouldn’t get diseases from getting dolled up, but cosmetics have been known to do just that [11]! Eye makeup seems to be the greatest cause for concern; one study found that within just three months of use, 40 percent of tested mascara tubes had some creepy crawlies growing in them [12] [13].

What to do: A good rule of thumb is to replace eye makeup every season; toss lotions and liquid foundation every six months; and get fresh power-based products, lipstick, and nail polish every two years.

 Toothbrushes

Studies have found that flushing the toilet can spew bathroom-related bacteria into the air [14] [15]. (Ick!) Needless to say, it's a good idea to store that toothbrush far away from the potential contaminants (and close that lid before flushing!).

What to do: The ADA suggests making sure to rinse toothbrushes thoroughly after use, allow them to dry completely, and replace every three to four months. And while they don't deem sanitizing necessary, they do discourage sharing toothbrushes. That said, for those who were recently sick (or are sickened by the thought of germs) rinsing in a milk bleach solution is am effective disinfectant, as is running toothbrushes through the dishwasher [16]. And while it may seem that antibacterial mouth rinses (like Listerine) could be a good alternative to bleach, one study found that it was only about as effective as allowing the brush to air dry, although there are other brands (specifically Crest-Pro Health) which worked better [17].

Towels

We shower to get clean, so it’d be silly to get dirty drying off. But reusing damp bath towels could be doing just that! Drying down after the shower doesn't just get rid of the excess water — it takes with it deadskin cells and bacteria, too (including the dreaded staph infection).

What to do: The risks are low if towels are changed out about once a week and are allowed to dry completely between uses. Whileantimicrobial towels do exist, their efficacy and necessity are debatable — they could help cut down on smells, but that seems to make it easier to forget about cleaning them.

Contact Lenses

One study found that more than 80 percent of tested contact lens cases were contaminated with bacteria, regardless of the system used to clean (no-rub solution or hydrogen peroxide) [18]. (And some suggest inadequate cleaning instructions are to blame! [19])

What to do: Star by wiping out contact lens cases after each use and replace it every month (or at least clean by soaking in near-boiling water for a few minutes). If using a fancy hydrogen peroxide cleansing case, just allow fresh solution to sit in the case for 24 hours before using [20].

ON-THE-GO

Headphones

Those little buds aren’t just at risk from what they pick up in the bottom of that gym bag — using them for just one hour has been shown to coat headphones with bacteria from the ear [21].

What to do: Using water with electronic accessories is tricky, but audiophiles can clean detachable rubber nubbins (technical term) by soaking them for 15 minutes in a vinegar and water solution and letting them sit for 10 more minutes in water before drying. For the un-detachable kind a gentle mixture of soap and water should be used on the plastic exterior, and a clean toothbrush can remove any lint from the grill.

Keys

Anyone who drives — or just plans on returning home at the end of the day — probably has a set in their pocket, but who thinks about keeping keys clean?

What to do: The fact that many keys are made of brass, a copper alloy, offers some protection because it's naturally antibacterial [22] [23] [24]. But occasionally scrubbing keys with plain ol' soap or using a disinfectant probably won’t hurt, and at the very least shining them up offers some aesthetic benefits.

Handbags

A study of office workers found that women's purses were one of top three dirtiest things they touched throughout the day. In fact, one (very small) study found E. Coli on 25 percent of purses tested (out of a 50 purse sample).

What to do: Common sense (don’t rest it on the bathroom floor) and regular cleaning are enough to minimize risk. Wipe leather purses with a disinfectant wipe every few days, and put washable ones through the laundry (or send to the dry cleaner) as often as once per week.

Phone

Studies have repeatedly cited mobile phones as risk factors for infection, and we largely have our own unwashed hands to blame [25] [26] [27]. (One study found fecal bacteria on 1 in 6 phones!)

What to do: The clean up is simple: Power down the device once per week (more during cold and flu season) and wipe with a disinfectant cloth.

For the full list of 21 germiest places you aren't looking, go to Greatist.com.

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News

  • A 22-year-old police officer died in Oklahoma on Monday morning after he and a man exchanged gunfire when the man ran during a traffic stop Sunday night, Tecumseh police said. >> Read more trending news The officer, identified as 22-year-old Justin Terney, died of his injuries. The suspected gunman remained hospitalized Monday morning. Tecumseh Assistant Police Chief J.R. Kidney said Terney was shot multiple times after stopping a vehicle around 11:30 p.m. Sunday near the intersection of Benson Park Road and Gordon Cooper Drive. Kidney said Terney was working with dispatchers to verify information given by one of the vehicle’s passengers, a man, after becoming suspicious that he might have been giving Terney false information. As dispatchers were telling Terney that it appeared the man had an active warrant for his arrest, the man ran from the stopped vehicle and toward nearby woods, Kidney said. Terney fired a stun gun at the man. “The (stun gun) doesn’t have any effect on (the suspect) and he continues running through a wooded area, over a fence,” Kidney said. “About 25 yards inside that fence area, the officer and the suspect both exchanged gunfire.” Authorities took both the suspect, whose identity was not immediately known, and Terney to a hospital, where Terney underwent surgery for hours overnight. Kidney confirmed that Terney, who had been shot about three times, died Monday morning. The suspected gunman remained in intensive care with four gunshot wounds, according to KFOR. Terney joined Tecumseh’s police force about a year ago. “My department’s not doing good,” Kidney said Monday morning, adding that in the 22 years he has been with the department and the 38 years the chief has been with the department, this is the first officer-involved shooting for Tecumseh police. “We haven’t had to live through this yet,” he said. “We need everybody to rally around and support us.”
  • A woman fought off a knife-wielding man who broke into her southeast Atlanta home Saturday night. Adrien Gass said she was terrified when the man burst into her home on Memorial Drive and chased her with a knife. 'I said, 'I have money.' He said, 'I don't want no money. I want the car and I want your life.' And I said, 'Not today,'' Gass said. The mother of three told Channel 2's Matt Johnson that she threw a piece of furniture at the intruder, who chased her down the hall. 'I know he's bleeding because I attacked him,' she said. Gass said she locked herself in a bedroom. The attacker kept kicking the door and it hit her in the mouth while she held on to it. 'All my might, yes. I would not let that door go,' she said. Gass said she escaped by jumping out a window and the intruder left with nothing. 'I lifted up the window and pushed out and ran as fast as I could to the neighbor's house,' she said. Atlanta police said just three minutes earlier, a quarter of a mile away on Allendale Drive, someone carjacked a husband and wife at gunpoint. 'He was in the car, got the keys and gone,' Tris Siciginanosaid. Siciginano said the thief stole her husband's car and she believes the two crimes are related. 'It was too much in one night and the descriptions are so close,' she said. Police have not said if the crimes are related, but neighbors said they are staying vigilant. No arrests have been made.
  • Police have found no evidence that the man who killed four people in London last week was associated with the Islamic State group or al-Qaida, a senior British counterterrorism officer said Monday. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police said Westminster attacker Khalid Masood clearly had 'an interest in jihad,' but police have no indication he discussed his attack plans with others. Basu, who also serves as Britain's senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said Wednesday's attack — in which Masood ran down pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge before fatally stabbing a policeman guarding Parliament — 'appears to be based on low-sophistication, low-tech, low-cost techniques copied from other attacks.' Masood was shot dead by police after his deadly rampage, which police have revealed lasted just 82 seconds. Police believe Masood — a 52-year-old Briton with convictions for violence who had spent several years in Saudi Arabia — acted alone, but are trying to determine whether others helped inspire or direct his actions. Detectives on Monday continued to question a 30-year-old man arrested Sunday and a 58-year-old man arrested shortly after Wednesday's attack. Both were detained in the central England city of Birmingham, where Masood had recently lived. Prime Minister Theresa May said last week that Masood was 'a peripheral figure' in an investigation into violent extremism some years ago. But Basu said he was not a 'subject of interest' for counterterrorism police or the intelligence services before last week's attack. Masood was born Adrian Elms, but changed his name in 2005, suggesting a conversion to Islam. His mother, Janet Ajao, said Monday she was 'deeply shocked, saddened and numbed' by his murderous actions. In a statement released through the police, Ajao said that 'since discovering that it was my son that was responsible I have shed many tears for the people caught up in this horrendous incident.' Basu said there was no sign Masood was radicalized during one of his stints in prison, the last of which was in 2003. 'I know when, where and how Masood committed his atrocities, but now I need to know why,' Basu said. 'Most importantly, so do the victims and families.' As Basu appealed for anyone who spoke to Masood on the day of the attack to come forward, the British government repeated calls for tech companies to give police and intelligence services access to encrypted messages exchanged by terrorism suspects. Masood used the messaging service WhatsApp just before he began his attack. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Sunday that such services must not 'provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.' Tech companies have strongly resisted previous calls to create back-doors into encrypted messaging, arguing that to do so would compromise the secure communications underpinning everything from shopping to tax returns to online banking. Rudd is due to hold a previously scheduled meeting with internet companies on Thursday. Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman, James Slack, said tech firms 'should be helping us more' to prevent terrorism. 'The ball is now in their court,' he said. Slack said that if agreement was not reached with the companies, the government 'rules nothing out,' including legislation. Meanwhile, the families of the dead and injured set about the difficult task of going on with their lives. The family of an American victim expressed gratitude Monday for the kindness of strangers as they insisted some good would come from the tragedy. A dozen members of Kurt W. Cochran's family gathered to face the media, sharing their shock and sense of loss. Cochran, from Utah, was on the last day of a European trip celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary when he was killed on Westminster Bridge. Cochran's wife, Melissa, suffered a broken leg and rib and a cut head, but is steadily improving. The family offered profuse thanks to first responders, British and American authorities and people who had sent notes, prayer and donations. 'Last night we were speaking as a family about all this, and it was unanimous that none of us harbor any ill will or harsh feelings towards this,' said Sarah McFarland, Melissa Cochran's sister. 'So we love our brother. We love what he brought to the world, and we feel like that this situation is going to bring many good things to the world.' ___ Jonathan Shenfield contributed to this story.