Like people, germs love a good get-together. Small groups like to hang out in the air, on food, and on our bodies. But there are specific spots that host especially high numbers:
Playground equipment can gather quite a collection of germs from the many little hands that touch it. Of all the outdoor play structures, sandboxes score highest on the ick-o-meter. Sand soaks up bodily fluids like saliva and urine, and unlike the slide or monkey bars, you can’t wipe it down.
Taking the fun indoors may not be any cleaner.
“Indoor playgrounds, like those in fast-food restaurants, are shielded from the germ-killing effects of the sun,” says Emily Hsu, MD, a pediatrician in Long Beach, CA. Your kids might love jumping in the ball pit, but keep in mind that “no one’s cleaning each individual ball,” she says.
The joysticks. The buttons. The fake steering wheels. Like most areas where kids play, arcade games are teeming with germs from multiple users.
It’s a given that toilet handles and soap dispensers are full of germs, but that’s why you wash your hands after you touch them. The faucet is another story.
“When my mother taught me about washing my hands in a public restroom, she’d leave the faucet on, then get a hand towel and use it to turn the faucet off,” says Tempe Chen, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Long Beach. “It’s not the best method for water conservation, but it’s better than washing the germs off your hands and immediately adding more.”
Even after all that, germs are still waiting for you on the door handle. Why? One study found that only 31% of men and 65% of women wash their hands after they use a public bathroom.
It starts with the cart. Studies have found the handles and seats are teeming with bacteria. And not just cold and flu germs either, but also salmonella and E. coli from packages of raw meat.
Getting from point A to point B on public transportation puts plenty of germs in your path. “Bus handles and poles on subways are what we call ‘high-touch’ surfaces,” Chen says. Same goes for the armrests of airplanes and the handles of rental bikes and scooters.
How to Protect Yourself
There’s no way to escape every germ, every time. But you can lower the chances you’ll get sick with some simple steps:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. And do it often.
- If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth until you wash your hands.
- Use a spare paper towel to grab the public restroom door handle as you leave.