Kill the Bacteria Lurking in Your Bathroom and Kitchen
By Fritz Lenneman
October 13, 2009
A morning shower and a cup of coffee may be integral parts of your wake-up routine, but you could be getting more than soapsuds and a caffeine jolt.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Colorado—published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—revealed that showerheads can act as incubators for biofilm, a bacteria-saturated goop that builds up over time and contaminates shower water with thousands of germs. As the water passes through a showerhead, it picks up the bacteria—as much as 100 times more bacteria than in water that has not touched biofilm—and sprays it directly on your body or sends it flying into the air to be ingested into your lungs.
The good news is that, for people with normal immune systems, biofilm poses little health risk. However, it's hard to not to have your shower ruined by thoughts of microscopic bacteria all around. To cut down on the bacteria in your bathroom, try switching from a plastic to a metal showerhead. Plastic can serve as a bacteria breeding ground.
Meanwhile, research has long suggested that the dirtiest place in your house isn't even in your bathroom—it's your kitchen sink. If your coffee mug has been sitting in your sink, it could be swarmed with hundreds of thousands of bacteria.
Unlike a showerhead, a dirty sink actually could make you sick. Cut down on the thriving bacteria in your sink by replacing the sponge frequently—or permanently. Dish rags dry faster than sponges and harbor less bacteria. Also, a rag can be machine washed in hot water to kill even more germs.
Consider making a switch to green cleaners.
With all this extra cleaning to do, it is a perfect time to reconsider your choice of cleaning products. Josh Dorfman, author and host of the Sundance channel's The Lazy Environmentalist, says using cleaning products made with nontoxic ingredients is common sense. "The [Environmental Protection Agency] has routinely said indoor air quality is usually two to five times worse than outdoor air quality," he says. "There is research just starting to come out that is just starting to show the dangers that may be involved [with chemical cleaners]. But my feeling is: Why mess around with that stuff? The logic says to me if you could clean with the stuff that's natural and without harsh chemicals, do it."
One option is to go retro—using cleaners made out of vinegar, baking soda and water. These products are inexpensive, and they drastically reduce wasteful packaging, but that's only if people spend the time needed to mix them. "I don't think most Americans will take the time to make their own products," Dorfman says.
Instead, he encourages people to fight grime with the newest lines of ecologically friendly products. "When you're talking about natural cleaners, compared to the overall cleaning market, it's still just a very small piece of it. Most people aren't using these cleaners yet," he says. "It's a big step. People are set in their ways, and if they have a cleaning product that they think works, it's a big step for people to say, 'Well, I'll try something else.'"
The inherent difficulty in getting people to change their consumption habits is why Dorfman says his favorite ecologically friendly cleaning products are those that you can find in just about any supermarket. "As the Lazy Environmentalist, my feeling is you really have to make green products affordable and available in places people already go to shop," he says. "Most people still are unwilling to go out of their way or be inconvenienced to make what I would call a greener choice."
Are you willing to make a change to get rid of sink and showerhead bacteria? Share you opinion in the comments section below.