6 Items You Should Clean More Often Than You Do

Here's where little buggers hang out and what you can do to get rid of them

No matter how often or how vigorously you clean, you can still have germs lurking around your home. Unbeknownst to you, invisible microbes like viruses and bacteria might be making you sick.

For example, flu-causing viruses can remain active for as long as two days and some viruses may even spread infections for months. Germs may remain active on hard surfaces like stainless steel and plastic or on softer surfaces, like fabric.

Like viruses, certain bacteria may also survive without a host (such as a human or an animal). A 2013 study published in Infection and Immunity shows that bacterial organisms like Streptococcus pyogenes (a cause of strep throat) and Streptococcus pneumoniae (causes pneumonia and other illnesses) could remain active for extended periods of time, resulting in infections.

Where are all these little buggers hanging out? Here, we look at six places where germs can hide. But before you get thoroughly creeped out, we’ll tell you what you can do to make your home less hospitable to them.


Your Kitchen Sponge

woman cleaning dishes with sponge


Yes, the little sponge you use to clean your dishes and countertops can harbor all sorts of critters—over 350 different species of bacteria.

According to a 2017 ​study in Nature Scientific Report, researchers analyzed the microbial makeup of 28 used kitchen sponges and found species of disease-causing bacteria like Acinetobacter, Moraxella, and Chryseobacterium, among other pathogens.

How to Clean Your Sponge

Do you need to stop using sponges altogether? Not necessarily. Avoid using your sponge to clean up meat products. Instead, consider using disposable paper towels and immediately tossing them in the trash.

Also, you can clean your sponge by soaking it in a combination of water and bleach for one minute, running it through the dishwasher on the hottest and longest setting, and microwaving it on high for one minute. Finally, swap out your used sponge for a clean one every one to two weeks to cut down on the bacterial load you might be wiping around your kitchen.


Your Cell Phone

Woman on Her Cell Phone
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Like most people, you probably take your phone with you everywhere you go (including the bathroom) and don’t think twice about it. This creates a dynamic situation in which your phone can become a carrier of a variety of germs like E. coli, Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA), and Streptococcus. Additionally, British researchers discovered that one in six phones were contaminated with fecal matter. Doesn't sound too pleasant, does it?

How to Clean Your Phone

Traditional sanitizing wipes can be harsh on your phone, so the best disinfectant involves combining a little isopropyl alcohol (70% is preferred) with distilled water in a spray bottle. Shake the mixture up and spray it on a microfiber cloth and use it to wipe down your phone.

Or, you can purchase premade phone wipes at most electronic stores.


The Door Handles and Knobs

Door and Locks
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When you think about cleaning, it’s easy to overlook the tiny details in your home—like door handles, knobs, and deadbolts. On any given day, your hands touch these spots frequently, and that presents another opportunity to spread viruses and bacteria around your environment.

How to Clean Door Handles and Knobs

Cleaning these areas is a simple fix—grab a disinfectant wipe and run it over the small areas you and your family come into contact with the most.


The Pet Bowls and Toys

Dog with Bowl
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Unfortunately, your beloved, four-legged friend isn’t exempt from passing around germs that could potentially make you sick. In 2011, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) ranked pet bowls as number four and pet toys as number seven on the list of the most germ-filled places in your home. Pet products can harbor bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, and more.

How to Clean Pet Products

To clean your pet’s food and water bowls, wash them with warm soap and water each day and disinfect the bowls on a weekly basis by cleaning them in the dishwasher.

Additionally, since your pet is licking, chewing, and dragging toys around the house, it’s a good idea to throw those items in the wash every couple of weeks and to use a non-toxic disinfectant to wipe down any toys that aren’t washable.


The Vinyl Shower Curtain

Vinyl Shower Curtain
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Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found the soap scum that accumulates on your shower curtain may be more than just an unattractive sight. In fact, vinyl shower curtains are a haven for disease-causing microbes like Sphingomonas and Methylobacterium, which can be dangerous for people who have a weak immune system.

How to Clean Your Shower Curtain

To properly clean your shower curtain, try washing it in your washing machine on a gentle setting. If that doesn’t remove the unwanted soapy buildup, it might be time to buy a new shower curtain.


Your Toothbrush

Woman with Toothbrush
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One British study showed more than 10 million bacteria reside on your toothbrush!

Your mouth harbors many germs, and you use your toothbrush to clean off those germs. Your toothbrush can also pick up germs from the environment if you or someone else coughs near it or spills anything on it.

How to Keep Your Toothbrush Clean

To decrease the prospect of developing bacteria on your toothbrush, close the lid on your toilet when you flush it. Also, rinse your toothbrush and let it air dry; placing it in a container while wet creates a welcoming environment for pathogens.

Finally, the American Dental Association recommends that you replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if the bristles on the brush become frayed.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (FLU): Cleaning to prevent the flu.

  2. Kramer A, Schwebke I, Kampf G. How long do nosocomial pathogens persist on inanimate surfaces? A systematic reviewBMC Infect Dis. 2006;6:130. doi:10.1186/1471-2334-6-130

  3. Marks LR, Reddinger RM, Hakansson AP. Biofilm formation enhances fomite survival of Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenesInfect Immun. 2014;82(3):1141-1146. doi:10.1128/IAI.01310-13

  4. Cardinale M, Kaiser D, Lueders T, et al. Microbiome analysis and confocal microscopy of used kitchen sponges reveal massive colonization by AcinetobacterMoraxella and Chryseobacterium species. Sci Rep. 2017;5791(7). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-06055-9

  5. London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Contamination of UK mobile phones and hands revealed.

  6. National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). Consumer resources and food safety.

  7. Protection from toothbrush contamination in a snap secondBr Dent J. 2016;221(44). doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2016.503

  8. American Dental Association. Oral health topics.

By Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L
Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a licensed occupational therapist and advocate for patients with Lyme disease.