11 Surprisingly Germ-Ridden Places

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While air fresheners and antibacterial wipes may make us feel cleaner, no amount of deodorizing or disinfecting will scrub away the fact that we are always surrounded by alarming amounts of filth. Germ particles can take up residence anywhere, including these 11 surprisingly disgusting locations.


While you may have long suspected your bristles can harbor bacteria in their moist little stalks, your holder is probably a more favorable host: Drippings from used brushes pool on the bottom, creating a perfect spot for poo particles from a flushing toilet to proliferate. In fact, a recent survey of bacteria on household items found the toothbrush holder to be the second most bacteria-ridden item in the entire house (perhaps unsurprisingly, the dish sponge came in first).


It’s not really advisable to take a warm, waxy canal like the ear and then seal it shut—but that’s what we do every time we pop in a pair of earbuds. Fortunately, the ear is a poor conductor of germs. While it’s unlikely you’ll make yourself sick, giving your headphones a good scrubbing with alcohol is sound advice.


What could be more refreshing than a cold glass of water with a slice of lemon? How about a glass of fecal bacteria? Research has shown that lemons are rarely processed in a sterile environment: Of samples from 21 restaurants tested, almost 70 percent were positive for some form of microbial growth that could cause illnesses. And more worrisome, the study said that the lemons may have been contaminated before they even entered the restaurant.


Everyone in a household has their paws on the remote at one time or another, and it gets dirtier with every channel hop: A university study found half of all tested remotes had cold viruses on them. The contamination is even worse with hospital room remotes, which can harbor antibiotic-resistant bugs like MRSA. Some care facilities have switched to remotes with closed surfaces that are easier to clean to help control the spread of viruses.


Thanks to drive-thrus and packed schedules, cars often double as dining rooms. The problem is that accumulated fast food debris can be left to reheat on the warm dashboard, leading to bacterial overgrowth. Even a few crumbs, experts say, can turn your vehicle into a mobile Petri dish.


If you happen to be unfortunate enough to be struck ill after a fine dining experience, it may not be the chef’s fault: One news outlet swabbed 12 popular restaurant table items and found the menu to be the dirtiest. While the tables themselves are scrubbed after patrons exit, menus—even those encased in plastic jackets, where Salmonella and E. coli are known to thrive—don’t get nearly the same attention.


You’d think anything using detergent and hot water would be germ-devouring, but the moisture left over from cycles is actually prime bacterial real estate. E. coli can grow there, as well as Salmonella. Keeping the lid open for better air circulation and using bleach once a month, experts say, helps avoid proliferation.


Naturally, rotting foods hiding in the margins of your fridge aren’t going to be a wise choice for dinner. But shelves aren’t the only place where microscopic danger lurks: The rubber seal on most refrigerators is a prime spot for mold growth due to moisture and lack of air circulation. Worse, the mold can go airborne every time you open and shut the door.


Five-star accommodations don’t always mean five-star maid service. A university study found that hotel phones were among the dirtiest items in a guest room, with up to three times the acceptable limits of bacterial infestation.


While most people wipe down their kitchen tables, not many bother to swab salt and pepper shakers. The result, according to one research study, is that households with cold or flu viruses had contaminated their seasoning containers 100 percent of the time.


While a pair of glasses may not be sterile, at least they’re not placed directly over your cornea. Failing to properly clean your contacts can invite germs that can cause microbial keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), a serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to blindness. Experts warn that trying to avoid pathogens by rinsing out a contact lens case can actually make things worse, since regular tap water commonly contains a certain ameba that can cause an extremely painful version of keratitis. It’s best to replace the case on a regular basis and follow care instructions to the letter.

Now that we’ve ruined your refreshing glass of iced tea, your bathroom, and your dinner, tune in to the Adam Ruins Everything Series Premiere on truTV tonight at 10/9C (but maybe don’t use your remote).