Ready to be scared silly about germs? Here is the scoop on germs you need to stress-out about – and the ones you don’t.

  • The kitchen sink. Microbiologist Abigail Salyers says stop worrying about it. Yes, it’s crawling with bacteria – but we don’t eat food from it. And Dr. Salyers says, even if you licked your kitchen sink, you still probably wouldn’t get sick. Because it takes thousands of bad bacteria to make you sick.
  • Your sick family members. Worry about them, because they’re more likely to infect you. If someone in your family has a cold or flu, pretty much confine them to one room – so you can contain their bugs. That’s according to our friend, microbiologist Charles Gerba. He says flu viruses can live on household surfaces for 8 hours or more. And don’t share towels – even a hand towel by the bathroom sink. Bacteria multiply on damp items. You should also wash your sickie’s sheets and towels separately from the rest of the family – with hot water and bleach.
  • What about antibacterial sprays? The experts say, don’t go crazy with these. It’s true that they typically contain an ingredient that can kill, or slow, the growth of bacteria – including things like E.coli. But for every day use, soap and water are just fine. Plus, the active ingredient in a lot of antibacterial sprays can seep into your system. And studies have found that they may affect the thyroid and hormones. That’s according to the senior scientists at the Environmental Working Group. It can also contribute to antibiotic resistance. So, stick with plain soap and water for every day use – or a solution of vinegar and water.
  • Refrigerator door handles. Yes, worry. Because you might cut up raw chicken and then grab something from the fridge before washing your hands.
  • The toilet seat. No, don’t worry. It’s typically cleaned frequently – even in public bathrooms. And sparingly, it doesn’t come in contact with that much germy stuff!
  • The remote control? Only worry if a family member is sick. One study found that the remote control can spread the flu between family members. Clean it.
  • Your cell phone. Don’t worry if no one but you touches your phone. It IS covered in microbes, but you’re unlikely to infect yourself with your own germs. DO worry if you let your kid use your phone – or let other people touch it – or you place it on restaurant tables or other unclean surfaces.
  • The bottom of your shoes? Yes and no. Don’t worry because those germs generally stay on the floor. DO worry if you have kids or a baby crawling around, or playing on the floor.

Lesson Expert

Betsy Chase

-