You’re schlepping around more than lip gloss and cash in your purse: Your handbag may be contaminated with a ton of bacteria, too -- more than the average toilet seat, according to a new study from Initial Washroom Hygiene, a hygiene and washroom services company in the U.K.
Researchers swabbed and tested the surfaces of and the items inside 25 different handbags and compared the results to separate data on toilet hygiene. They found that the dirtiest part of the bag is the handle -- it carries more bacteria than the average toilet seat -- and that one in five handbags contained enough bacteria to be considered a health risk. As for the items in the bags, bottles of hand cream were the worst offenders. They were also more germ-infested than the average toilet seat but generally cleaner than purse handles.
Part of the problem is that people often forget to clean their handbags -- both the exterior and interior, says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. And that gorgeous leather bag that you lusted after and splurged on? Thanks to its texture, it’s basically a breeding ground for bacteria, she says.
Your bag can pick up bacteria from any of the surfaces it touches, says Duberg. If you consider all the places your bag ends up -- restaurant floors, countertops, even bathroom floors -- that’s a lot of opportunities for exposure.
The thing is, putting your bag on the floor is often inevitable: Few restaurants provide hooks under the table, and public restroom stalls may not have them, either. That said, there are a few simple ways to keep your purse a little less germy.
The most basic way to cut back on bacteria? Just wash your hands more often, says Duberg. Lathering up will not only help reduce the amount of bacteria you’re putting in and on your bag, but also the amount that you expose yourself to. “Having better hand hygiene breaks the cycle of infection,” she says.
Get into a clean routine
Make cleaning your purse -- and everything you carry in it -- a weekly practice, suggests Duberg. For leather purses, look for disinfecting wipes that don’t contain bleach or alcohol and wipe down the exterior and interior. Remember to pay special attention to the parts that you touch the most, like handles and straps. As for bags made from cloth, wash them in cool water on a delicate cycle, and add just a bit of baby soap to the machine. This will get the bacteria down to a safer level, says Duberg.
Another rule of thumb -- especially for women on the go: Don’t throw sneakers, food, or used tissues in your handbag. Each of these items is moist -- the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. The solution is pretty simple: Just put each of these in a separate plastic bag before placing them in your purse, says Duberg.