For the past 14 months, to prevent COVID-19 most Americans have been washing our hands and disinfecting "high-touch surfaces" throughout the house so often that if germs were sentient beings they might have cried out for mercy. But even during the pandemic's intense focus on cleaning, there is one item in the house that was likely overlooked—and it deserves attention going forward, because it can make you sick. It's in your bathroom—but it's not the toilet. Read on to see the one thing you're probably not cleaning but should, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.
The germiest place in your house? Not where you'd think
In a study on household germs, the global public health and safety organization NSF International tested 30 surfaces in 22 homes for bacteria, yeast and mold. Six of those surfaces were in the bathroom.
What the researchers found: "While 27% of toilet seats contained mold and yeast, 64% of toothbrush holders did," reported Time magazine. "Of the toothbrush holders, 27% had coliform (an indicator of potential fecal contamination), and 14% had staph."
Now for a personal moment of reckoning: How often do you clean your toothbrush holder? (We're recoiling too.)
"The toothbrush holder often has many of the factors germs need," Lisa Yakas, a microbiologist at NSF International, told Time. "It is dark, damp, and not cleaned as frequently as it should be."
"Toilet plume" can cause contamination
You've likely guessed where fecal contamination in the bathroom comes from: The toilet. When flushed with the lid up, the resulting "toilet plume" can spread germs widely into the air and onto surfaces throughout the room—including your toothbrush and holder.
"Scientists have found that in addition to clearing out whatever business you've left behind, flushing a toilet can generate a cloud of aerosol droplets that rises nearly three feet. Those droplets may linger in the air long enough to be inhaled by a shared toilet's next user, or land on surfaces in the bathroom," reported the New York Times. Some scientists suspect toilet plumes may have been a factor in the spread of coronavirus.
Today, although the pandemic-era "hygiene theater" in many public places has abated, to protect you and your loved ones from illness, it's still important to regularly clean surfaces that may attract bacteria and viruses. In the bathroom, that includes the toilet, sink, faucets, handles—and, according to the NSF study—the all-too-overlooked toothbrush holder. Give it a scrub with soap and water, or pop it in the dishwasher on a regular basis.
As for your toothbrushes themselves, soaking them in 3% hydrogen peroxide or Listerine can kill up to 85% of harmful germs, experts say. (Just keep them out of the dishwasher; the high heat can make them melt.) And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss these First Signs You Have a Serious Illness.