The pathogens lurking in your home and how to get rid of them

germs, pathogens, germs in house, bacteria, fungi

All items and surfaces in your house habour dangerous germs that cannot be seen by the naked eye

Photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • Germs are tiny organisms found everywhere, but the ones considered “germs" include a number of species of bacteria and viruses.
  • You might also find disease-causing fungi and protozoa in your home, especially in areas that are exposed to humidity.

Did you know that the items in your house are a germy hot spot? 

Scientists say not all germs are bad but those that carry the potential of transmitting diseases are a reason to observe better hygiene. 

Germs are tiny organisms found everywhere, but the ones considered “germs" include a number of species of bacteria and viruses. 

You might also find disease-causing fungi and protozoa in your home, especially in areas that are exposed to humidity. But which areas in your home do these pathogens hide?
•    This is one of the areas touched by everyone entering and exiting the house. It is a hotspot for bacteria and germs.

•    A study done in 2014 by researchers at the University of Arizona showed that just a single doorknob can spread germs throughout office buildings, hotels and health facilities within hours. A door knob contains 14 different colonies of bacteria, with each colony containing more than one million bacteria. 

•    One of the most common diseases caused by door handle bacteria is the common cold and even Covid-19 since the virus is spread mostly by direct contact with an object or surface that has been contaminated by the infection 

•    Clean the door handles regularly with soap and water.

Mobile phones

•    This is one of the objects touched frequently. Some people even carry it to the bathroom

•    A 2017 study of 27 students’ cellphones in Germs found more than 17,000 bacteria copies per phone, including Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause infections like food poisoning

•    When one is at home and the phone is carrying potential pathogens, the likelihood of spreading around the house is high possibly, thus a manufacturing plant for illnesses

•    Clean your phone by use of wet wipes or spirit regularly

Living room

This is where the family gathers for a meal or just to relax.It is also one of the rooms in the house with germ-infested items that require some extra cleaning 

Remote controls

•    Remotes are touched by everyone a dozen of times every day.  They attract soil and bacteria easily and chances of transmission are high in case one of the family members is ill.

•    Researchers at the University of Virginia found that half of the remote controls that they tested for cold viruses had positive results. Active germs can live on remotes for at least 24 hours and can pass on a cold with as little as one push of the button

•    Use a disinfectant wipe that is approved for use on electronics each day to wipe down remotes and accessories


•    This is a hub of dust and a dirt magnet.

•    According to research by Philip Tierno, New York University Langone Medical Center microbiologist, immunologist and author of “The secret Life of Germs”, a carpet is a lot dirtier than you think. In fact, it has about 200,000 bacteria per square inch. That’s about 4,000 times grosser than your toilet

•    Replace the dirty carpets, clean regularly and air them out on daily basis

Shoes and shoe rack

•    There are millions of bacterial organisms living on a single pair of shoes

•    A study conducted by the University of Arizona found that shoes are “dirtier than a toilet seat” – toilets typically contain 1,000 bacteria or less compared to the 66 million found on one of the test subject’s shoes

•    The test also revealed nine different species of bacteria living on the bottom of people’s shoes, which can cause infections in the eyes, stomach, and lungs

•    Bacteria live longer on our shoes than other surfaces, the more places we walk, the more our shoes pick up new germs and bacteria that feed the growth of the bacteria already there. The longer bacteria grow, the more dangerous and stronger it becomes

•    It is always advisable to disinfect the bottom of the shoes every day and clean inside before getting them inside the house. Always remove your shoes outside the house 

•    Shoe racks also collect and accumulate dust

•    Airing your shoe rack, cleaning and sterilising it regularly is recommended

•    If possible, keep the shoe rack in a sheltered area outside the house

•    Avoid keeping the shoe rack in the bedroom


Bedsheets, pillow cases, duvets

•    Your bed could be harbouring more bacteria than a toilet seat. 

•    A research by Amerisleep compared the number of bacteria on bedsheets and pillowcases to other household objects. Volunteers swabbed their bed for four weeks to see how much bacteria grew

•    Across the study, an average pillow had more than 350,000 potentially live bacteria colonies, with others harbouring live bacteria colonies that are known to be highly toxic and even fatal

•    Additionally, the average pillow had more than 100,000 potentially live yeast and mold colonies seething on its surface.  The research team also noted that men’s pillows on average have twice as much bacteria colonies, yeast, and mold as their female peers’ pillows

•    The research also found that a mattress that was over seven years old tested positively for four types of bacteria including gram-positive cocci and bacilli that can sometimes be the source of nasty sicknesses such as food poisoning

•    It recommends washing bed sheets regularly to reduce potential health implications, as will better mattress care by airing and changing the pillows and cases

•    To prevent harbouring bacteria, fold sheets half-way down the bed to dry out moisture which it thrives on. Use a mattress protector to keep out dust, dirt and spills. And replace your mattress if it’s more than seven years old.’

Tips to reduce bacteria in the bedroom
•    Open the windows for aeration every morning.

•    Change and wash the bed linen after every two days

•    Clean the room everyday using disinfectant 

•    Do not congest the room and remember to remember to vacuum the mattress.

•    Don't eat or snack in the bedroom

Toothbrush/ toothbrush dispenser/sink

Research findings of a 2011 survey by the National Sanitation Foundation International of the United States indicate that your toothbrush and toothbrush holder is the third germiest spot/item in your household behind the dish sponge and kitchen sink.
•    A survey by the University of Manchester shows that your toothbrush is home to 100 million bacteria

•    These include E. coli and Staphylococci

•    You are at higher risk of germ infection if you keep your toothbrush in the bathroom

•    27 per cent of toothbrushes are likely to contain coliform (faecal contamination)

•    Flushing the toilet causes the bacteria to fly to your toothbrush

•    Toothbrush holders are also likely to contain mould and yeast 64 per cent of the time

•    The germs can float around in the bathroom for at least two hours after each flush before landing on surfaces including your toothbrush.

•    Researchers at England's University of Manchester found out that one uncovered toothbrush can harbour more than 100 million bacteria, including E. coli bacteria, which can cause diarrhoea and skin infections.

•    Researchers recommend placing your toothbrush where it can air out and dry after use but not too close to the toilet. 

•    Also, replace your toothbrush after every three months.

Couch/cushions/throw blankets

•    If you love to hang out in your couch, so do bacteria and viruses

•    Dust mites and allergens love soft furnishings such as sofas

•    Households with children and pets are at higher risk

•    The risk of spread is even higher if you host guests often

•    Some of the bacteria such as proteobacteria are brought in by pets

•    Couches collect and promote growth of mould because of their softness

•    This is especially the case if you live in cold regions

•    Some bacteria and fungi can stay dormant in a couch until they are picked by a suitable host

•    Dead mites, their shed skin and faeces trigger irritation of airways when inhaled

•    This can cause asthma attacks to those with respiratory illnesses

•    Clean and dust the sofa regularly to get rid of the germs or to minimise them at least


•    Studies show that the balcony is one of the germiest places in your house

•    This is especially so if you have birds coming to your balcony

•    Pigeons, doves and sparrows are carriers of lethal diseases such as Avian influenza (bird flu)

•    Bird droppings can carry up to 60 different diseases

•    Their nests and feathers contain a large number of fungi and bacteria

•    These are often blown into the house by wind

•    Pigeons carry candidiasis and histoplasmosis too, which can be fatal

•    Don’t let birds nest in your balcony

•    Avoid feeding them in your balcony
•    Clean up droppings as soon as possible

•    Install bird mesh outside your balcony to avoid contact between birds and humans

The bathroom is one of the most frequently used rooms in the household, but it can also be the dirtiest, especially if it is shared.
•    The bathroom is where most bacteria, fungi, mould and mildew thrive

•    Bacteria such as Streptococci, campylobacter and E. coli like the dampness often found in the bathroom

•    The bathroom floor is likely to host E. coli, Staphylococci, Salmonella and Streptobacillus

•    Accumulation of bathroom pathogens: Toilet seat (29 per cent) Basins (71 per cent) Shower tray (72 per cent), Shower heads (32 per cent) Taps (43 per cent)

•    Door handles are also common culprits for trapping germs

•    You can also collect dermatophitic fungi by walking barefoot in the bathroom

•    While mould and mildew may not necessarily cause infections, they can worsen asthma and allergies

•    Good news is, only between one and two per cent of bathroom germs are pathogenic

•    That said, clean and scrub your bathroom once every week

•    Use the right cleanser and disinfectant

•    Keep walls and surfaces dry


Among items that trap and keep germs, clothes rank high. After gathering these germs, the clothes end up in the wardrobe.
•    Germs spread from our bodies and other surfaces to our clothes

•    Underwear such as vests, boxers and panties contain more germs than outer clothes such as jumpers

•    They carry more germs due to accumulation of poo and infections such as thrush

•    Sports and gym are usually more soiled and are, therefore, the biggest culprits for transfer of germs

•    Clothes also trap animal wool/fur and dust from outside

•    Handing dirty laundry transfers these germs to clean clothes and other surfaces

•    Washing also allows the germs to spread other clothes
•    The damp and dark nature of wardrobes offers the right environment for pathogens to survive and spread

•    Pathogens are known to survive for long in most clothing fabrics

•    Always separate dirty and clean clothes in the wardrobe

•    Clean undies daily to avoid spread of germs

•    Wash clothes separately to prevent spreading germs


Findings of a study by the Centre for Clinical and Translational Science at Ohio University show that spoons, ladles and table knives carry more germs than most items in your household
•    One of the common viruses spread through spoons and knives is the Murine norovirus (MNV-1)

•    This virus causes 90 per cent of all endemic gastroenteritis cases

•    Norovirus, E. coli (K12) and Listeria innocua are left on cutlery, ceramic dishes and drinking glasses even after washing

•    Creams, cheese and cooking oils cause the germs to stick longer

•    These substances create a barrier between the cleaning agent and the item

•    When poorly cleaned, spoons are especially a favourite surface for germs to hang on

•    This is the reason for nausea, vomiting and severe diarrhoea after using such utensils

•    Germs typically live longer on hard surfaces such as plastics and stainless-steel items than on wooden spoons and ladles

•    Clean your cutlery in hot, soapy or sanitising solution

•    Air-dry them before putting them off in the rack or cupboard

•    When you use your tongs to put chicken in the oven, wash it thoroughly if you intend to use it to serve the meal

Do you remember the last time you gave your cooker/oven a proper scrubbing? If not, you are not alone. Few people do. Which is the reason for accumulation of grime, grit and grease.

•    The many components of a cooker/cooker make it prone to accumulation of dirt, grease build-up and unpleasant odours

•    E. coli and salmonella are the commonest bacteria in your oven

•    E. coli can survive for hours on your oven surfaces

•    Salmonella can live for up to four hours on any of your oven surfaces

•    Hepatitis A can live on your oven for several months!

•    Did you know your oven handle contains 1,500 times more bacteria than your toilet seat?

•    And that the power knob carries 16,000 times more bacteria than the average keyboard?

•    A germy oven will infect your ribs as you grill them and destroy the flavours

•    Some of these pathogens are spread by food

•    Poultry, raw meat and fish are particularly dangerous

•    The surest remedy is to scour your oven every few months

Kitchen floor
From water spills to food crumbs and germs from some foods, the kitchen floor claims the title of the highest bacteria concentration in the house.
•    Kitchen floors are known to have a high accumulation of germs, including bacteria, viruses, mould and mildew

•    Bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli thrive in the kitchen owing to moistness

•    Other bacteria in the kitchen floor include Listeria and Campylobacter, both which thrive in undercooked meats

•    A past study shows every kitchen is likely to have concentration of Pseudomonas aeruginosa

•    Human soles and pet paws are also likely to spread Faecal streptococci to the kitchen floor

•    Other bacteria are Staphylococci, Streptococcus bacilli, coliforms and Enterococci

•    Dirty kitchen floors are also a haven for cockroaches

•    Clean your kitchen twice a week, daily if you have children and pets

•    Sweep regularly to get rid of human and pet hair

•    Use hot water and disinfectant to clean your kitchen floor


The doormat collects most of the germs after your movement outdoors
•    Germs from the doormat are collected as you rest your shopping bags and other luggage

•    You then bring them into the house, by placing them on countertops, tables, floors and other surfaces

•    90 per cent of shoe soles carry the highest levels of disease-causing pathogens

•    Prevention Magazine calls the doormat the dirtiest spot in your house: a hotbed of germs and bacteria

•    This spot could contain 200,000 times more bacteria per square inch than a toilet seat

•    The higher the traffic into your house, the higher the risk of germs in your house

•    This high accumulation of dirt and germs justifies need for regular cleaning

•    The doormat is the first line of defence against germs

•    Remove shoes as soon as you get home.

•    Shake the doormat to rid it of pathogens

•    Vacuum it as often as possible

•    Powder it using baking soda and brush it to deodorise it

•    Rinse. Sanitise. Sweep up. Deep clean it.

Kitchen sink

If you are looking for one of the most germ-contaminated spaces in your household, look no farther than the kitchen sink
•    The kitchen is the heart of germs, according to Dr Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at University of Arizona

•    Half of kitchen surfaces are contaminated with dangerous levels of coliforms (the bacteria found in faeces)

•    Campylobacter jejuni, salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli are common bacteria in the kitchen

•    It is unsurprising then that the kitchen is considered dirtier than the toilet seat

•    High moisture levels create the ideal conditions for these types of bacteria to thrive

•    Every dirt and grime ends up in the sink

•    Tap water is usually non-sterile, which allows for bacteria to build up over time, forming a wall of pathogens

•    From water used to wash raw met to dishwater, the kitchen is one of the germiest spots in your home. 

•    Food preparation processes are known to spread salmonella and E. coli

•    The cutting board, for instance, is a big culprit of this

•    It’s safer to make your sandwich on a toilet seat than a cutting board, says Dr Gerba

•    In fact, a dog is more likely to drink off the toilet than the kitchen sink. 

•    Bacteria in meat or vegetables can quickly spread to other surfaces in the kitchen, including the food itself

•    If you defrost your meat/chicken (we all do!) in the kitchen sink, you are doing more harm than good.

•    Meats are known to contain a lot of germs.

•    It is considered safer to cook meat unwashed (the fire will kill the germs) than to wash it

•    Washing meat allows the germs to spread through the cut and to other surfaces

•    Do you make your salad from the sink? You are gobbling down thousands of bacteria

•    If you let the kitchen sink go for days without a thorough wash, you are creating the perfect ground for germs to multiply and spread

•    Clean the kitchen sink using disinfectant/bleach regularly

•    Wipe the sink every day

•    Countertops should be cleaned after preparation of every meal

•    Equally, kitchen sink strainers should be washed weekly in the dishwasher

•    While at it, wipe down the faucet handles



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