You protect your computer from viruses—but what about your keyboard? For a recent study conducted by Kimberly-Clark, scientists swabbed 4,800 workplace surfaces across the country and discovered that roughly half have significant levels of germs.
“We found parainfluenza virus, which is a little worse than the common cold, on about one-third of the surfaces,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a virologist at the University of Arizona who consulted on the study.
How can those germs make you sick? It’s easier than you might think. Let’s say, like any smart person, you wash your hands after going to the bathroom. You touch the faucet handles to turn off the water. That’s mistake number one: In the study, three out of four faucet handles had enough germs to be classified as “dirty” by the research team.
Then you go back to your office and start typing away, transferring the germs to your keyboard. Half an hour later, you wipe your nose and go back to clicking the keys. Another mistake: “Viruses can live for several hours on a dry surface like your keyboard, and the number-one way germs enter your body is when your contaminated hands touch mucus membranes like your nose, eyes, or mouth,” says Jack Brown, Ph.D., professor emeritus of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas.
Experts say the best thing to do is not touch your face—ever. Problem is, the average person touches his face 16 times per hour. So it’s a tough habit to break. Take these precautions to protect yourself against the six germiest places in your office. For more instant health tips every day, follow Men's Health on Twitter!
Nearly 75 percent of the handles in the offices tested were dirty, and 91 percent could be cleaned better, the study found. Your move: Turn off the sink with a paper towel. If there isn’t one available, use your sleeve or your wrist. After all, how likely are you to rub your eye with your wrist?
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Half of all microwave handles in the study were dirty. “But unless you have an illness that’s compromised your immune system, touching the microwave handle isn’t terribly risky,” Brown says, adding that you’re not likely to be eating hot food with your hands. But if you are, scrub them for at least 30 seconds before diving in. That’s long enough to wash away 99 percent of viruses and bacteria.
Your fingers secrete oils and amino acids, which are like a Chinese buffet to hungry bacteria. No wonder 27 percent of keyboards in the study were dirty. Clean your keyboard every few weeks with a sanitizing wipe or a bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, Brown says. Don’t use hand sanitizer—most of them contain softeners, which will leave a sticky residue.
In the study, 26 percent of the fridge handles researchers swabbed were dirty. As with microwaves, you’ll be fine as long as you’re not don’t grab the handle and then eat with your hands, says Brown. Avoid germ exposure by opening the door with your sleeve, or washing your hands for 30 seconds afterward.
This one didn’t surprise Brown at all. “The biggest concern for germs is any public place,” he says. “Meeting rooms, break rooms, bathrooms. It just means you have to be cautious—you don’t have to be paranoid.” His advice: Don’t wipe your mouth with your hands (even the back of your hands) after using the water fountain. Newer water fountains can be activated by pressing a rubber pad on the front with your arm or thigh—that’s always better than using your fingers or hands.
One in five vending machines swabbed had filthy buttons, the study found. This one is a concern, since you’ll usually be eating your snack with your hands. Just scrub your digits before tearing into your Doritos. Better yet, avoid the vending machine altogether—along with these 20 Habits That Make You Fat.