When it comes to germs, it's not all about the bathroom. The kitchen is the germiest room in the house. From the countertops and sink to the cutting boards and refrigerator, the kitchen is teeming with billions of microorganisms.
"I don’t think we take quite as serious an approach to cleaning kitchens as we do bathrooms, and we should," says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. "We should have more respect for kitchens."
You can tackle those nasty kitchen germs that lurk where you prepare your family's meals. Here are some kitchen hot spots and tips for how to clean them up.
The Germiest Kitchen Item?
Kitchen sponge. This is probably the most germ-filled item in your house. It's used to sop up all kinds of germs and grime and then often stored under the sink -- a wet, dark place that's a perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
When you use a sponge throughout your kitchen -- wiping dishes, counters, or the sink -- you're just moving germs from one spot to another, says Philip M. Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the New York University Langone Medical Center, and author of The Secret Life of Germs. You may have heard that zapping the sponge in the microwave will get rid of germs, but that's not enough, Tierno says. There are dead spots where the microwaves or heat doesn't reach, like cold spots in food, and germs will survive there.
Washing a sponge in the dishwasher also isn't enough to kill germs unless you have an extremely high-heat germicide cycle. You can use paper towels or a clean cloth; be sure to use the cloth only once and then toss it in the laundry. If you do use sponges, you can soak them between cleanings in a solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water, or vinegar and water. Soak them in the bleach solution for about 5 minutes or in the vinegar solution for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and let air dry.
More Kitchen Hot Spots
Counters. To wipe out lots of kitchen counter germs at once, Duberg suggests spraying a 10% vinegar solution on counters. Keep the surface wet for 30 to 60 seconds, then wipe. Keep purses, briefcases, lunchboxes, keys, mail, and electronic devices like remote controls off countertops because they're teeming with germs.
Cutting boards. It's a good idea to have one cutting board for raw meats, poultry, and seafood, and another for produce and bread. Disinfect cutting boards by soaking them in straight vinegar or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water for about 30 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly with hot, soapy water or put them in the dishwasher. Using the dishwasher alone isn't enough to sanitize them.