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What's the most unsanitary spot in your house?

Hint: Not necessarily the toilet


March 5, 1996
Web posted at: 7 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Al Hinman

TUCSON, Arizona (CNN) -- Veronica Enriquez and her husband scrub their dirty dishes, pans and countertops. It's a typical scene.

"Nobody wants to have microorganisms or germs in their kitchen," says Veronica Enriquez after washing the dishes.

But all that cleaning might have unintended and unwelcomed results -- what appears a clean sink might be dirtier than a commode.

Veronica's husband, Carlos, is a scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He and his laboratory helped dig up the the dirty truth about supposedly clean kitchens -- and discovered just how many germs lurk there.

Close up

The Arizona researchers tested sponges and dishrags collected from 1,000 kitchens in five major American cities.

In some cities, one out of five sponges had salmonella bacteria, which can cause food poisoning, gastrointestinal inflammations, typhoid fever, and other maladies.

At least two-thirds of all sponges tested contained some form of bacteria that could make a person ill.

In fact, Chuck Gerba says in some kitchen sinks researchers found more bacteria than in flushed toilets. (77K AIFF sound or 77K WAV sound)

Furthermore, one test dishrag contained enough bacteria to make almost anyone who came in contact with it seriously ill.

"We found that the most germ-laden object in your home is actually your sponge or your dishrag," Gerba says.

What's in that sponge or rag? Five major causes of food-borne illness, like salmonella , E.coli, campylobacter, clostridium perfringens, and staphylococcus.


More than 7 million Americans a year are hit with those bacteria, making them feel as if they've been struck with the flu or worse. Food-borne bacteria can kill.

Gerba says fastidious kitchen cleaners may even make the bacterial problem worse by spreading germs around through constantly cleaning with sponges or rags.

To combat the problem, researchers suggest first getting a new sponge. They recommend using a germ-resistant sponge, which they found dropped the amount of bacteria in a kitchen area by 99.9 percent.

The germ-resistant sponges use a proprietary technology developed by the 3M company, which claims the sponges keep killing bacteria through hundreds of uses.

Gerba says anti-bacterial soaps and disinfectants help achieve a similar effect.

And since the Enriquez family switched its cleaning habits, their kitchen has been clean, tests reveal.

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