old hand dryer
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Hand Dryers

Every time you flush, a spray of bacteria-filled droplets flies out into the bathroom air. Scientists call that a toilet plume. Where do all those germs go? Maybe into that old-fashioned wall-mounted dryer. A new study says they’re spreading germs with every blast of air. What about those fancy jet dryers? One group of researchers says they, too, shoot germs into the air at warp speed. But their makers say they’re fitted with a special filter to prevent that. The safest bet may be old-fashioned paper towels.

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family at waterpark
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Swimming Pools

A water park full of kids can have 22 pounds of poop floating around. Youngsters can carry as much as 10 grams of leftover feces on their rear ends. They don't wash it off before they jump in, either, and all that poop just rinses off into the pool. It adds up, and chlorine doesn't kill everything. The result: E. coli, which can cause bloody diarrhea. Your best line of defense? Try not to swallow any water.

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woman using free weights
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Gyms

If your gym offers a way to clean the equipment before you use it, do it. Even though you go there to get healthy, the place is home to a wide range of germs. That’s because bacteria make the leap from our skin to anything we touch. One study showed that free weights and elliptical machine handles were home to species commonly found in restrooms.

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woman reading a menu
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Restaurant Menus

Some have 100 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Even though tons of people touch them, most only get wiped down once a day, if that, and usually with a dirty rag. Don’t wash your hands before you sit down. Instead, scrub up after you order. And never lay your silverware on top of the menu.

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lemon garnish on cola
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Fruit Wedges

Like to squeeze a little lemon into your water? Researchers looked at dozens of wedges from the rims of restaurant glasses. They found that nearly 70% of the lemons had disease-causing microbes, including E. coli, and feces that could lead to some nasty stomach issues. Next time, take your iced tea lemon-free.

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boy drinking from water fountain
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Water Fountains

Think twice before you take a sip at your kid's school. That water spout could be dirtier than the bathroom! That’s because the bathrooms are cleaned regularly. Have you ever seen someone clean a drinking fountain? Just carry a water bottle with you instead.

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soap dispenser in public restroom
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Soap Dispensers

These sudsy pumps are a breeding ground for bacteria. Think about it: From the stall to the sink, there’s no telling what your hands can pick up. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, or carry hand sanitizer. And before you reach for that door handle, think about how many people don’t wash after using the restroom. The CDC says only 31% of men and 65% of women do.

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baby in shopping cart
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Shopping Carts

You might pick up way more than just a loaf of bread at the store. Your cart’s handle could be home to 11 million microorganisms, including some from raw meat. And just think about all the dirty diapers on that seat -- the same one you put your produce on. Many stores offer antibacterial wipes these days. Use them.

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woman pressing elevator button
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Elevator Buttons

If you shudder when you have to touch a door handle, be wary of elevator buttons, too. Push them with your elbow, take the stairs, or have sanitizer on hand.

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man using remote control
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Hotel Rooms

There are quite a few more extras in here than the mint on your pillow. The TV remote is the dirtiest item. Give it a quick wipe before you channel surf. Other germ sources: the bedside lamp switch, bedspread, hair dryer, telephone, and unwrapped drinking glasses.

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filthy sandbox
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Playgrounds

Grubby little fingers grab slides and swings one after another. But playgrounds are rarely cleaned. The worst spot is the sandbox, with 36 times more germs than a cafeteria tray. That’s because bacteria love nothing more than hiding out in warm, moist places. Come stocked with hand sanitizer and wipes.

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finger pressing atm button
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ATMs

Keypads, cash, and a revolving door of bank customers equal ick. In fact, the flu virus can live on a dollar bill for 17 days! But no one uses gloves or tissues to handle money. As for ATMs, companies hope to roll out touchscreens with antimicrobial glass to fight cold and flu. For now though, your best defense is to press the buttons with a pen.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 8/25/2017 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on August 25, 2017

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SOURCES:

American Journal of Infection Control: “Lifting the lid on toilet plume aerosol: A literature review with suggestions for future research.”

Applied and Environmental Microbiology: “Deposition of Bacteria and Bacterial Spores by Bathroom Hot Air Hand Dryers.”

News release, University of Westminster.

News release, Royal Society for Public Health.

Mayo Clinic Proceedings: “The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods: A Review of the Evidence.”

CDC: "CDC study finds fecal contamination in pools," "Handwashing: A Family Activity."

Michele Hlavsa, CDC.

Microbiome: “Athletic equipment microbiota are shaped by interactions with human skin.”

ConsumerReports.org: "Protect your child from playground germs," "Germiest items in your hotel room include TV remote."

Forensic Science Technician: "50 Germiest Places in the World."

Gerba, C. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, Jan. 22, 2007.

Gerba, C. Journal of Environmental Health, March 2011.

Gerba, C. Food Protection Trends, December 2012.

Charles P. Gerba, PhD, professor, department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science, University of Arizona.

Loving, A. Journal of Environmental Health, December 2007.

Microbe World: "Microbial Analysis of Environmental Surfaces in Hotel Rooms."

Ministry Health Care: "Getting the Dirt on Germs."

NSF International: "Germiest Locations In Public Places," "Germiest Places at Schools."

University of Arizona News: "Where do germs lurk? New survey shows most Americans don't know."

University of Toronto: "Worse than toilets: hospital elevator buttons a hidden source of bacteria."

Diebold: “Diebold, Corning Pioneer World’s First Antimicrobial ATM Touch Screen.”

Yves, T. American and Environmental Microbiology, May 2008.

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on August 25, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.