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.
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.
Choose functional tissues.
"The latest trend in tissues are virucidal tissues," says Schachter. "These tissues prevent the spread of viruses around the house because it kills them when you blow your nose, so they are not left lying around."
Wash your hands after you do your business.
This may be second nature by now, but you should always wash your hands after visiting the toilet or changing a diaper. You should also wash your hands after you come in contact with blood or body fluids, including vomit, nasal secretions, and saliva, says Horowitz. And don't forget: Wash your hands after you clean any area of the bathroom.
Scrub the inside of the toilet bowl.
"This should be done at least a couple times a week with products that contain bleach," Horowitz says.
Let the water run.
Germs can grow in showerheads. If you haven't used yours for a while, let it run hot on full power for a minute or two to flush any germs away before showering, Schachter says.
Scrub showers, bathtubs, and countertops.
These should be cleaned to help reduce the spread of viruses, fungi, and bacteria. "Do it at least twice a week with a disinfectant that contains bleach," Horowitz says. Here's what can happen if you don't: "Germs can line the walls (of the tub) and you can easily touch the surface and then touch your mouth," he says. What's more, the dead skin cells that sit on inside of the tub can be contaminated. If someone with a cut or open wound goes in the tub, those organisms can infect that wound and increase the overall load of bacteria."