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Hygiene traps in everyday life - at home, in the office, in hospital or even when traveling

In recent years, we have all learned how important hygiene is and that it contributes significantly to the health of all of us. But do we actually know what the biggest hygiene traps are in our everyday lives? Where and how we can get infected by germs? What we should really pay attention to and in which situations we don't have to overdo it? Many people think that the toilet is unhygienic and one of the biggest germ traps, but this is far from being the case - on the contrary! The UVIS hygiene experts have taken a close look at where we should pay attention to hygiene in our immediate surroundings and what means can be used to find a healthy level.

Let's start in our immediate environment - our home. The fact that everything here is not always germ-free is completely okay. Our immune system wants to be challenged a little, but not overburdened either. Not everything in the household has to be disinfected and the gummy bear from the floor that lands in the child's mouth will not trigger an infection. But there are areas that we should pay more attention to than most people probably do.

Illustration of flat with several germ traps
Germ traps in your own home

Hygiene at home - sometimes more sometimes less

Most people assume that the toilet is the most unhygienic place in the home, but this is a fallacy. Because if there's one thing bacteria don't like, it's cold and smooth ceramic surfaces. The toilet bowl is therefore one of the most hygienic places in the entire home. Who would have thought that? In fact, the greater danger of the toilet comes from the flush and comes at the push of a button! The turbulence of the water when flushing first carries the germs into the air, and then they settle on all surfaces and our hands.

That's why hand washing is so important to prevent the spread of germs. After washing, however, the next germ trap is already lurking, namely the towel we use to dry our hands. Dander and moisture are strongly attracted to it, and bacteria love the warm, moist environment that prevails in bathrooms. Towels should therefore be changed at least once a week. Above all, different towels should be used for the hands and the body. Any souvenirs from the swimming pool, such as a small athlete's foot, can otherwise be transferred to other parts of the body and people in the household.

Hygiene in one's own bed is a matter of course. The bedding is changed several times a month and one enjoys the feeling of lying in a freshly made bed. The many little roommates see it the same way, which are often simply ignored - mites, bacteria, fungi. They like to nest in pillows, blankets and mattresses and cause considerable problems, especially for allergy sufferers. Pillows should therefore be washed every now and then at 60 degrees or taken to the cleaners with the blanket. Mattresses should also be vacuumed regularly and cleaned of mites and germs with UVC light, for example, with the UVIS Surface.

A small, technical device that people tend not to think about is the remote control, because it is often forgotten when cleaning. It is not the main transmission route for infections, but cold viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 24 hours, long-lasting viruses even up to several weeks. In the cold months, especially if someone in the household has a cold, you should therefore disinfect the little helper regularly.

Rinsing sponges stacked on top of each other like a brick wall
362 different species of bacteria cavort on a rinsing sponge

Distributor for germs - the kitchen

However, significantly more germs are found in the kitchen, where it should actually be more hygienic than in the toilet, because in the kitchen we work with food that we consume. In fact, one of the biggest sources of germs in normal households is the dish sponge. Due to the porous structure of the foam, the surface area of such a sponge is immense. Again and again, this is made nice and wet, with warm water. These are optimal conditions for germs to multiply unhindered on it. A study by Furtwangen University of Applied Sciences, Justus Liebig University Giessen and Helmholtz Zentrum München found that 362 different species of bacteria love this habitat in the kitchen. In some cases, the bacterial density was more than 5 times 10 to the power of 10 cells per cubic centimetre. "These are concentrations that are otherwise only found in faecal samples," explained study leader Markus Egert. The experts' absolute recommendation is therefore to store the sponges dry after use and to replace them at least once a week. However, to avoid creating too much waste, one should use sponges or cloths that can be washed at at least 40 or preferably 60 degrees.

We stay in the kitchen and turn our attention to the fridge. Something is quickly pushed into the back corner, then forgotten and after a few days or weeks the contents say "hello" when you open the fridge door. The germs, often mould, then readily spread to other foodstuffs and the fridge itself. This means that the conditions for fungal and bacterial strains to multiply are limited, but still unhindered. The same applies to the freezer compartment. Bacteria do not die at sub-zero temperatures, but only go dormant. If something is then taken out of the freezer, the germs can also proliferate again. However, regular cleaning out and a monthly cleaning with vinegar water can contain the unwelcome "lodgers".

Just like the dishwashing sponge, the second utensil in our kitchens that is often used to clean dishes can also become a little germ-haven - the dishwasher. Food residues and grease do not dissolve in the dishwasher. They are rinsed off, but find their way back into the rinse water and accumulate inside the dishwasher arms, joints and on rollers, despite rinsing tabs with everything in them and a hot rinse cycle. That's why you should definitely include this household appliance in your spring cleaning. The baskets can all be removed and the rollers cleaned with dishwashing liquid and, if necessary, an old toothbrush. The spray arms can also be easily removed and cleaned under running water. If the small nozzles are a bit clogged, you can also use a toothpick to free the small holes from dirt. The seals also benefit from intensive cleaning with a little dishwasher detergent.

Cutting boards - an underestimated germ trap
Cutting boards - an underestimated germ trap

Another germ-hater in the household can be chopping boards, and that hits the stomach directly. There are a lot of germs lurking in the cracks from cutting, which can be transferred to other foods. If, for example, you have cut meat or fish and then use the same board for vegetables or salad that are not necessarily cooked through, germs have quickly migrated. For this reason, special care should be taken to clean the boards thoroughly with soap and hot water and, above all, to use a different board with a smooth surface for different ingredients. Then germs in the food have a very hard time making us sick.

Hygiene in the office - more necessary than you think

If your own household is already full of hygiene traps, what does it look like at work? Here, many people come together every day and use the same rooms. A lack of hygiene then quickly becomes noticeable. A cold or a flu virus can put an entire department out of action. This makes it all the more essential that employees adhere to hygiene standards. Keeping one's own workplace clean and not coming to work sick is elementary for infection protection in working life.

The main carriers of germs are still our own hands. According to a survey by Statista GmbH, however, hand washing is not a matter of course everywhere. With 50 percent, the Dutch are the absolute slackers and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with only 4 percent of respondents who do not wash their hands, is the absolute hygiene leader in Europe. Germany is in the middle of the pack with 22 per cent. Therefore, in the office, the desk and work materials such as the keyboard, mouse or telephone are true breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, because we touch them the most. These should therefore be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Map of Europe showing percentage of people washing their hands after using the toilet.
Respondents who automatically wash their hands with soap and water after using the toilet. * Survey was conducted in 2015. Source: WIN/Gallup International

The biggest source of germs for keyboards and co. are meals eaten at the desk. Crumbs fall down, grease or jam spill onto the table and are only half-heartedly wiped away. Drinks also tend to spill over or put the entire desk under water or coffee. Germs love this and multiply at lightning speed. Anyone who has ever turned over their keyboard and shaken it a bit knows what we are talking about here.

Person cleaning a keybord at the office
The germ trap of the keyboard - disinfect it if you have to

Not to be underestimated are colleagues with colds. They should actually stay at home, but at least observe sneezing etiquette and keep enough distance if their presence in the office is unavoidable. At meetings, it is a good idea to leave the room briefly to blow your nose and then wash your hands.

What applies to the home can also be applied to the office kitchen. Very high levels of germs can be found in the office kitchen, especially coliform germs, which are an indicator of the quality of food and water. In correspondingly high concentrations, they can cause severe gastrointestinal infections. Draining surfaces, handles, microwaves and refrigerators are most heavily contaminated with the germs. Here, too, regular cleaning with detergent and vinegar cleaner helps to prevent infections.

When employees are ill, even the toilet can become a germ trap. In this case, washing hands is even more important and door handles should not be opened with the hands, but with the elbow technique if possible. Thorough rinsing and removal of dirt are also part of toilet etiquette at the workplace.

And then there is one place in public buildings or offices that is not immediately on your radar when it comes to hygiene traps - the lift. Many viruses and bacteria spread through the air in the form of aerosols or droplet infection. With a speed of up to 160 kilometres per hour, the particles are distributed in the room when you sneeze and, in the case of the lift, they cannot escape either. If you are standing in the lift, you cannot escape the germ cloud. The particles are in the air and sink sometimes more sometimes less quickly to the floor and onto all surfaces, such as handles or operating elements in the lift and onto us. Only with special air purification devices, such as the ELEVATAIR [], can the germs be quickly and permanently eliminated from the air thanks to plasma technology.

Man sneezing on the elevator
160 km/h - that's how fast germs spread when you sneeze

Hygiene on the road - Travelling the world and the germs travel with you

Only this summer, the travel wave has reached pre-pandemic levels again and germs are also looking forward to an extended world tour. They go along for the ride and are dragged from country to country on planes. But it is not the air in the aircraft that is the problem, as is often suspected, but once again our hands, which are constantly touching the many objects in the aircraft. The armrest, the fold-out table, the dining tray or the remote control for the in-flight programme are touched by countless hands every day. In a study by the travel portal Travelmath, laboratory analyses showed that most germs in the aircraft were found on the fold-out tables. On average, 2,155 colony-forming units (CFU) were found per square inch. By comparison, in a public toilet there are only 51 cfu per square inch. But even the flush buttons on the toilets had a bacterial load of 265 cfu per square inch.

Picture of seating rows in an airplane
Germs in the plane, mostly on objects

So while an aircraft is in the air, it is rather the surfaces that we should avoid when it is stationary and not in operation, but then the air can also quickly become the distributor for germs. Because when the engines are off and the auxiliary power units are not in operation, there is no exchange of air. As soon as the aircraft takes off, the problem is not the ventilation system, but the person sitting next to you. During operation, the air exchange does not take place through the entire aircraft, but in segments, with fresh air flowing in from above and being exhausted again below the seats. The entire air is renewed about 15 to 20 times per hour; in an office building this hardly happens more than twelve times. Hepa filters trap dust, bacteria, fungi and other particles down to a size of 0.3 micrometres - and thus also virus-laden droplets.

Hygiene in the hotel room - Unpleasant souvenirs

Once you have arrived at your travel destination, hygiene traps lurk again, namely in the hotel room. Here, too, there may be another guest in the room every day who touches many things and leaves his or her mark. In this case, the chambermaids need to take special care to ensure that the next guest does not take home an unpleasant souvenir. Germs can also be found on objects that are frequently used and touched with the hands, such as the telephone, light switch or remote control. An indication of good hygiene in the hotel are protective covers on pillows, blankets and mattresses, because these can be changed regularly alongside the bed covers and washed at high temperatures. This way, sweat and dander cannot collect in the bedding, but can be removed in the washing machine.

If it smells unpleasant, this can be a first indication of a lack of hygiene in the hotel room. If it smells musty, then curtains and bedspreads have probably not been washed for a while and the carpet has not been properly vacuumed or cleaned. The carpet is a special reservoir for germs. Especially athlete's foot feels very much at home here and can attach itself to your own foot when you walk barefoot through the room, and then the fungus also finds optimal conditions for multiplication in the warm, damp environment of the shoe. The same applies to smooth floors, even if they are theoretically easier to clean. Therefore, it is better to use hotel slippers or put on socks if slippers are not available.

Woman sitting on a bed with one shoe fallen of her foot
Fungi lurk everywhere

Hotel bathrooms also provide ideal conditions for germs to multiply. After some time, mould is often found in the joints or on the edges of showers and washbasins, because the wet rooms are usually indoors and there is not enough ventilation. Only regular cleaning with appropriate agents can prevent infestation. Dander from the previous user on the floor is also a breeding ground for skin fungi. Hoovers cannot be strong enough to remove the spores. The only thing that helps here is wiping with appropriate cleaning agents.

Hygiene in hospitals - the never-ending battle with germs

Let's move on to another area where we actually think of health and recovery, but where you can catch the really nasty germs - the hospital. Here, but also in old people's and nursing homes, hygiene deficiencies are even more noticeable, because they can have fatal consequences.

Hand hygiene is also the be-all and end-all in everyday hospital life. Everyone who works in this field knows about the importance and yet this is exactly what is often neglected or not carried out properly. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which issues the guidelines for hospital hygiene and infection prevention, writes in its recommendation on hand hygiene: "The hands of the staff are the most important vehicle for the transmission of pathogens. Therefore, hand hygiene is one of the most important measures to prevent hospital infections."

Although a large number of German hospitals as well as old people's and nursing homes participate in the worldwide campaign "The five indications for hand disinfection", individual aspects probably still lead to discussions, such as the wearing of jewellery. Actually, no jewellery of any kind may be worn on hands and forearms, no bracelets or even rings, not even a wedding ring. In health circles, people like to talk their way out of it: 'After all, they have no contact with patients' or 'They already know about hand hygiene'.

Necklaces are even officially prohibited in certain areas, because potential pathogens can also adhere to them and demented or confused patients could tear them off. Nail polish and artificial fingernails in particular, however, have been shown to promote colonisation with potentially pathogenic pathogens and fungi.

Transmissions of pathogens with subsequent infections in patients have been reported. Therefore, according to the German Society for Hospital Hygiene (DGKH): "Nail varnish and artificial fingernails should generally be prohibited when staff have direct patient contact. Natural fingernails are to be worn short and clean." In some situations, staff put their own needs above those of the patients, often due to lack of time, for example when it comes to the correct handling of area and protective clothing. They are not always taken off and put back on when you want to have a quick smoke.

However, the battle in hospitals and in old people's homes and nursing homes is particularly focused on the so-called hospital germs or MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains). Due to decades of generous administration of antibiotics, many bacterial strains have become resistant to the drugs and can almost no longer be eliminated in the event of an infection. Strict adherence to hygiene guidelines plays a fundamental role not only in the care of patients, but already in the operating theatre. So-called nosocomial infections, i.e. infections that can clearly be traced back to a medical procedure, are unfortunately not uncommon. However, they are unfortunately very difficult to get under control.

Eliminate hygiene traps - prevention is better than cure

Germs lurk everywhere, and that's okay, because our immune system wants to be challenged a little. Only when it gets out of hand is it overtaxed and you get sick. Washing your hands is still the best way to get rid of uninvited "guests" and, above all, to prevent them from spreading everywhere. If one additionally carries out regular cleaning of one's own everyday objects at home and at work, and in some situations also disinfects objects, one is well protected. In the case of older or sick people, hygiene must of course be carried out even more thoroughly in order to avoid additional infections.

Various technologies are now available for reducing germs and disinfecting surfaces and air. Antimicrobial coatings, disinfection with UV light or plasma technology can be helpful in everyday life to reduce the flood of germs to a level that our immune system can cope with. If you are interested, please contact our UVIS hygiene experts.


Photo credit:

"Clean Hands Campaign"

Adobe Stock

Statista GmbH

Published: 9. October 2023


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