We’ve all heard about how kitchen sponges harbor high levels of bacteria. Yet there are surfaces all over home offices and communal workspaces that rival the kitchen sponge for hosting pathogens. Here are some of the germiest surfaces in your office.
How Researchers Measured Germs on Office Surfaces
Back in 2012, Kimberly Clark Professional published the results of a study conducted on almost 5,000 surfaces in office buildings that host around 3,000 employees. The firm swabbed a variety of surfaces and analyzed the swabs with a device called an ATP meter. The ATP meter measures levels of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate that appears in organic cells from animals, vegetables, and microorganisms. A surface with a reading of 300 or over on the meter indicates a strong likelihood that nasty microscopic bugs are thriving there, and that touching that surface creates a high risk of transmitting germs that could cause illness.
What the Tests Revealed
Unsurprisingly, office kitchens and break rooms were teeming with germs. The study found that 75% of faucets, 48% of microwave door handles, 26% of refrigerator door handles, 21% of vending machine buttons, and 23% of water fountain buttons all rated a count of 300 or higher, along with 27% of computer keyboards. Plenty of other surfaces had meter readings of over 100, which means they need a thorough cleaning. These included computer mice, desk phones, and coffee pots.
Additional Surfaces of Concern
The COVID-19 crisis has caused careful people to regard all kinds of surfaces in a whole new light. Elevator buttons, doorknobs, copy machines, restroom sink handles, and non-automatic soap dispensers all are worthy of concern. A University of Arizona study found that your office desk surface can fester with 400 times more microbes than a toilet seat. That desk can be 100 times germier than your home dining table.
Steps To Reduce the Risk of Infection from Surfaces
Like the CDC has been saying during the COVID-19 crisis, wash your hands frequently, with soapy water, for at least 20 seconds. Keep a supply of FDA-approved hand sanitizer (the FDA has a list of brands found to be unsafe, either because they contain a toxic type of alcohol or because they don’t contain the right levels of the right kind) in the kitchen, break room, and on your desk. Wipe down your desk, keyboard, and mouse with disinfectant frequently.
Many businesses and cleaning services are now using sophisticated methods like electrostatic disinfection to effectively coat surfaces with disinfectants, in addition to regular cleanings.
Just being aware of the germy surfaces in your office can help you avoid them and remind you to clean your hands regularly. This will reduce the odds of coming down with a cold, upset stomach, or even the flu. We also know that COVID-19 is potentially transmitted through contaminated surfaces, but most often through respiratory droplets distributed through the air. Coworkers can protect each other by wearing masks and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from each other.