10 Germiest Things in Public Places


The germiest things in public places harbor disease-causing viruses and bacteria — like E. coli and Salmonella.  At home, adults touch about 30 objects within a minute and the majority of these objects are covered with germs. Remote controls, light switches, doorknobs, and phone receivers are just a few of the high-traffic areas crawling with microscopic bacteria.

Additionally, most objects in public places threaten our health because of the vast amount of germs they hold and what these microorganisms can do to us.

Germiest things and places

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), not all germs are harmful. However, researchers found microorganisms grow and survive on many public place surfaces they tested.

NSF says that these tiny organisms “could create an environment for disease-causing viruses and bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella.” The higher the level of bacteria means, the higher the probability that some bacteria are harmful.

The following is a list of 10 of the germiest things in public places:

Restaurant menus 

— Restaurant menus top the list as one of the germiest things many people touch. Charles Gerba, PhD, a microbiologist with the University of Arizona says restaurant menus harbor 100 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.

A study in the Journal of Medical Virology reported that cold and flu viruses could survive for close to 18 hours on most hard surfaces.  And if the restaurant is a popular one, hundreds of people may handle the menus — passing their germs on to you.

Be sure you never let a menu touch your silverware or plate. And wash your hands after you place your order, or use antibacterial wipes.

Condiment Dispensers

— In most restaurants, condiment dispensers are rarely cleaned — making the containers one of the germiest things found in public places. And many people do not wash their hands before eating. The person who poured the ketchup before may not have been as diligent as you may be. That would mean you might get his or her germs.

Before you pick up the condiment bottle, wipe some hand sanitizer on the outside of the container or use a disinfectant wipe. Using a napkin to pick up the bottle does not help. Microorganisms can pass right through napkins because they are porous.

Grocery carts

— Grocery carts joins the list of germiest things in public places. Two-thirds of the shopping cart handles tested in a study at the University of Arizona showed they were contaminated with fecal bacteria. In fact, the amount of bacterial on the shopping cart handles exceeded the amount of bacteria found in the average public restroom.

Grocery cart handles may have close to 11 million microorganisms — including ones from raw meat. And many parents and caregivers place their children with dirty diapers on the seat — the same one you’re putting your produce on. Be sure to wipe the handle and seat with a disinfectant wipe before using it.

ATM machines

— ATM buttons, including cash, are on the list of germiest things people can touch. Flu viruses can survive on a dollar bill for nearly 17 days. And who uses tissues or gloves when they handle money? As for ATMs, companies are hoping to provide touch screens with antimicrobial glass to combat colds and flu viruses. However, for the time being, your best defense against germs is to use a pen or pencil to press the buttons.

Elevator buttons

— Many people are aware that door handles are one of the germiest things we can handle. However, some people might miss how much bacteria is found on elevator buttons. To avoid getting germs from the person, or persons, who pressed the button you’re about to press, use your elbow or a hand sanitizer.

Public Restrooms

— The moist environment in a restroom allows bacteria to survive longer on soap dispensers and in sinks. Additionally, hand-washing stations are covered with germs. When you wash your hands, get the soap, lather up and then, stay away from the dispenser. Be aware that the restroom door handles may be covered with germs because most people do not wash their hands after using the restroom.

Live Science reports a team of researchers at Michigan State University performed a study and found that “95 percent of people fail to wash their hands long enough to kill harmful bacteria.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you should wash your hands vigorously using soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds — or the time it takes to sing or hum “Happy Birthday” twice.

On average, bathroom users only washed their hands for 6 seconds, and just 5 percent washed their hands for 15 seconds or longer, the researchers found.

In addition, the CDC says only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women actually wash their hands after using the restroom facilities.

Lemon Wedges

— Researchers performed a study and looked at dozens of lemon wedges from restaurant glass rims. They found nearly 70 percent of the lemon wedges had disease-causing microbes, including feces and E. coli — that could cause some painful stomach problems. Avoid using restaurant lemon wedges in your attempt to stay health.

Water fountains

— Water fountains are included in the list of germiest things in public places because they are filthier than toilet seats, as well. Bathrooms are regularly cleaned. However, drinking fountains are rarely cleaned.


— Playgrounds are also rarely cleaned. The germiest area of a playground is the sandbox. It contains 36 times more germs than a restaurant tray. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist places. Take some hand sanitizer and wipes with you when visiting a playground.

Water parks

— Swimming and other water-related activities are superb ways to get the physical activity and health benefits we all need for a healthy life. However, according to Michele Hlavsa, RN, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, a water park with hundreds of children can have 22 pounds of fecal matter floating around.

Little children can carry as much as 10 grams of leftover feces on their rear ends, Hlavsa says. They don’t usually wash themselves off before jumping in — so all that fecal matter just rinses off into the pool. It adds up — and chlorine does not kill everything. The CDC found that more than half of the pools test positive for E. coli, which can cause bloody diarrhea.

Preventing disease and illness

Viruses, fungi, and bacteria are everywhere. You may find yourself in some of the germiest public places. One study suggests that you have an 86 percent chance of transferring germs to your hands when you touch any public surface. Additionally you are also 82 percent likely of transferring those germs to your home or personal belongings hours later.

Therefore, if you touch things in public, or at home, germs will probably end up on your hands and on most of your personal belongings as well — even hours later.

We are all going to encounter other people’s germs when we visit public places. There’s no getting around it. So — we take the necessary steps and precautions to avoid becoming infected.

Nevertheless, our best protection against the germiest things in public places — and in our homes — is a healthy functioning immune system.

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George Zapo, CPH
George Zapo, CPH is certified in Public Health Promotion & Education. George focuses on writing informative articles promoting healthy behavior and lifestyles. Read more of George's articles at his website: https://georgezapo.com.