The 11 Most Disgusting Everyday Surfaces You Touch All the Time

Man pumping gas, touching a pump handle loaded with germs.
Pavel Kubarkov / Shutterstock

The coronavirus pandemic makes everyone think of touch differently. We avoid hugs and handshakes, fight our ingrained habits of touching the face and take care not to rub ourselves against strangers.

But not all of our daily risky contacts are linked to skin-to-skin contact. Some of the grossest things you can come into contact with are not unwashed hands or sneezing – these are innocent-looking surfaces that can hide unpleasant pathogens.

You already know that public toilet cubicles and hospital waiting rooms are filled with surfaces you don’t want to touch. But what about things you don’t usually think twice about? We’ve done research so you don’t have to – it’s the nastiest surfaces you’ve touched throughout the day. Now go wash your hands.

Which surfaces are the largest?

While any surface can potentially harbor pathogens, some surfaces are more likely to become meaner than others. Which are the hardest to touch depends on a number of variables.

The most obvious variables relate to the frequency of contact and cleaning. Something that is touched by many people, but cleaned up infrequently, can easily host the coronavirus and much more. However, other variables are less obvious.

For example, you may think that soft or porous surfaces tend to harbor more pathogens than hard surfaces, and for longer. But that’s not really true: coronavirus can live on stainless steel and plastic for up to 72 hours, while it only seems to survive on the carton for up to 24 hours. Some research actually suggests that viruses survive longer on hard, flat surfaces than on soft, rough surfaces. Other conditions, such as heat, humidity, and light, also affect how long pathogens survive: for example, sunlight tends to kill pathogens.

In short, the most unpleasant surfaces to touch may not be what you expect.

Everyday surfaces you’ll never want to touch again

So which everyday surfaces have the most dirt? Here are the dirty things you’ve probably never thought of touching twice – so far.

Escalator handrails

If you go up or down an escalator, you probably put your hand on the rail without even thinking about it. However, these surfaces are home to all of E. coli blood bacteria.

Fuel pump handles

Although you probably don’t imagine gas stations to be particularly clean, you may be surprised that a study suggests that the handle on the gas pump may be the dirtiest thing you touch all day. That’s a pretty compelling reason to keep a supply of hand sanitizer in your car or, better yet, to pump your gas with gloves on.

Pedestrian crossing buttons

A study in Ireland have discovered that these bright, clear passage buttons can harbor large colonies of bacteria. To make matters even more crude, the researchers discovered that some of the bacteria secreted a sticky substance in order to better adhere to stainless steel. The good news? You’d probably be better off not pressing these buttons anyway: at least in the United States, very few of them actually works. If you have to push one, nudge it.

Restaurant menus

The grossest area of ​​a restaurant may not be what you expect. One of the dirtiest surfaces in the whole place is the menus (especially the plastic coated ones) because they are so often touched and rarely wiped properly. Other surprisingly coarse restaurant surfaces include the top of the pepper tree and the lemon garnish rinds.

Grocery Carts & Store Refrigerator Handles

Man retrieving items from a grocery freezer.
Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

Grocery baskets actually contain more bacteria than bathroom door handles, according to a study. However, you may be even more surprised to learn that refrigerator doors in grocery stores also harbor alarming bacteria colonies. Disinfecting the handle of your cart is a great idea and wearing gloves while touching objects in the store is not a terrible idea.

Soap dispensers

You can already take care of it in public bathrooms, using paper towels to protect your hands from the dirt of the doorknobs and faucets. But you should also be careful when touching the soap dispenser, whether in public or at home. These surfaces can contain many pathogens, and who thinks of cleaning a soap dispenser?

It gets worse, however: a study found that the soap itself can also be contaminated in public toilets. While hand washing is important, later use of a hand sanitizer spray is not a bad idea.

Cash

It probably won’t surprise you that the money gets dirty. But is it really disgusting? Rather bad: research suggests that there are more germs on paper money than on the toilets in your house. A reserve of money can be good in an emergency (and in some industries, it is inevitable), but you should probably wash your hands after touching it.

When we talk about money, it’s not a bad idea switch to contactless payments use your phone to remotely pay for groceries and other items.

Your phone and laptop

How many times do you touch your touch screen or keyboard throughout the day? Enough to make these surfaces dirtier than a toilet seat. But, of course, you’re not going to stop touching these essentials (especially in this era of social distancing). Instead, check out our product recommendations to clean them.

Your scholarship

Your handbag is another everyday item that is dirtier than a toilet, in terms of the number of bacteria. To keep your purse a little cleaner, you should avoid putting it on the floor, and (of course) clean it from time to time.

Your tea towel

Your cloth can seem innocent: a simple tool for nothing more than drying hands and dishes. however, cross contamination of the kitchen can make this towel dirty. The tea towels absorb nearby bacteria and provide a moist environment in which to thrive.

Reduce dirt by washing your towels more often and cleaning your kitchen surfaces more regularly. If you are light on the tea towels, this is the perfect time to buy a large package of plain cotton tea towels to facilitate their rotation.

Your toothbrush holder

What is the most unpleasant surface in your bathroom? No, it’s not your toilet, it’s your toothbrush holder.

A study by the National Sanitation Foundation found that toothbrush holders were the third most sprouted places in the house (after sponges and kitchen sinks). According to this study, your toothbrush holder is actually coarser than your pet’s food dish. But, like almost any surface in your home, you can fix it by cleaning and disinfecting it regularly.


While you can’t avoid touching every surface infested with bacteria and viruses around the world, knowing which ones are the worst will help you be strategic with your supply of hand sanitizer. And, at least when you’re at home, a little bit of routine cleaning can help. Then consult the cleaning essentials any home should have on hand!

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