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Germs in the Bathroom

Changing a few habits and doing some spring cleaning around the calendar can help keep your bathroom sterile. Check out these 10 tips.
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WebMD Feature

While bathrooms are not as populated with germs as kitchens, they still harbor their share of illness-causing bacteria lurking everywhere from the sink faucet to the towels.

But changing some habits and doing spring cleaning around the calendar can help make your bathroom about as sterile as an operating room.

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Here are 10 tips to stop germs in the bathroom:

Color code hand and bath towels.
"This way everyone has their one color so family members don't swap towels and viruses, " says Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai in New York City, and the author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu. "If people are burrowing their faces in towels, they are doing more than drying off, they are depositing germs." If you don't want to color-code, use a waterproof magic marker on white towels, so every family member knows which one is theirs, he suggests.

Don't share toothbrushes.
Make sure everyone has their own toothbrush by color-coding them, Schachter says. "Don't let your toothbrush make contact with any other toothbrushes stored in the same holder either. Germs can be passed along that way," he says. "A good rule of thumb is to keep them at least an inch apart." Replace your toothbrush regularly after you've had any illness such as a cold or flu because germs can remain even after you've recovered. Here's why: When you brush, you remove plaque and particles so toothbrushes can become contaminated with bacteria, blood, saliva, and oral debris. This contamination can be passed right back to you.

Always flush with the lid down.
According to Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of microbiology at University of Arizona in Tucson, flushing the toilet with the lid up is not wise. "Polluted water vapor erupts out of the flushing toilet bowl and it can take several hours for these particles to finally settle -- not to mention where," he says. "If you have your toothbrush too close to the toilet, you are brushing your teeth with what's in your toilet."

Wipe down high-touch surfaces.
Use disinfectant spray or wipes on faucets, toilet flushers, cupboard handles, doorknobs, shower door handles, and any other area that you touch with your hands, Schachter says. "These sprays or wipes kill germs on contact." The rhinoviruses that cause colds can survive up to three hours, so cleaning surfaces with disinfectant may help stop infections, according to the National Institutes of Health. "Don't forget the toilet brush handle and plunger handle," adds Paul Horowitz, MD, the medical director of Pediatric Clinics at Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore. "These are high-touch areas that we don't think about, let alone clean."

Set up a paper cup dispenser.
"Use a paper cup dispenser not a plastic or ceramic cup because you are spreading enormous amounts of viral load in plastic cups that are often shared among family members," Schachter says.

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