Dr. Nesochi discusses washing your hands after touching things on Reader’s Digest.

Wash Your Hands Immediately After Touching These 10 Things

by: Emily DiNuzzo

Washing your hands is a given if you want to avoid germs—but it’s especially important after touching these microbe magnets.

Hand washing works

Washing your hands is essential to good hygiene, stopping germs in their tracks. Washing your hands limits the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other germs, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionrecommends using soap and clean water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands, as studies show both are effective ways of keeping germs at bay. Of course, it’s impossible to keep your hands 100 percent germ-free all the time, but but it’s absolutely essential after touching the following 10 things. And when cleaning, don’t overlook these 15 everyday items that are dirtier than a toilet seat.


The man gives a pack of money

These days you can use a debit or credit card for most purchases, but sometimes you just need to handle cash. When you do, be sure to wash your hands as soon as possible. Researchers tested $1 bills from a New York City bank and found hundreds of microorganisms, including oral and vaginal bacteria, and DNA from pets and viruses. Similar research has shown some cash and coins even contain pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. It doesn’t help that money circulates for a while—$100 bills can circulate for as long as 15 years, according to the Federal Reserve. You’ll never guess how many germs are hiding in your wallet right now.

Handrails, handles, or doorknobs

closeup woman hand holding handrail inside the train.

Hand washing is incredibly important to limit the spread of bacteria and viruses, says Katy Burris, MD, a dermatologist at Columbia University Medical Center. One of the critical times to remember to wash is after riding public transportation, where multiple people are continuously touching the same surfaces, Dr. Burris says. This includes everything from handrails on an escalator to poles on the subway to bathroom door handles.

Restaurant menus

Menu card in woman's hand

Restaurants can be germ-ridden places—but the menu is the worst carrier. Researchers from the University of Arizona found that menus had a whopping 185,000 bacterial organisms. It makes sense, as so many people handle restaurant menus. You can’t avoid touching it, but do wash your hands afterward. These are the next dirtiest things on restaurant tables.

Pens that aren’t yours

tablet, pen in businessman's hand, phone

Although many people use their phone or computer to take notes and write lists, sometimes you just need to borrow a pen. That’s fine, but wash your hands after using it. The average office pen has ten times the germs of the average office toilet seat, at about 200 bacteria per square inch, according to the Wall Street Journal. If that doesn’t gross you out consider that many people like to chew or gnaw on pen caps. Yuck! This is what can happen if you don’t wash your hands.

Any animals

Young beautiful woman having great time with her little sweet dog in a restaurant after their meal. Lifestyle and friendship concept.

Not everyone washes their hands after touching pets or animals, but they should, according to Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, a physician and health expert. “Animals may carry various diseases,” she says. “And because pets are generally thought of as family friendly, hand washing is sometimes overlooked.” Hand washing after touching animals or interacting with pets, whether yours or someone else’s, is absolutely essential. And don’t miss the scary reason you should stop letting your dog lick your face.


Hand with a smart phone in a dark. Female using her mobile phone, city skyline night light background. Girl pointing finger on screen smart phone on background illumination color light in night city

Now that technology replaces some paper goods, it’s key to wash your hands after touching any screens. One of the worst offenders are kiosk machines in airports or public transportation locations, Dr. Burris says. “Germs are everywhere, and some places may harbor more than you may realize,” she says. Cell phones count, too; especially as we may share them with others. In case you’re wondering, here’s exactly how filthy your phone screen is. The good news: “Simple washing with soap and water will reduce transmission of these pathogens,” Dr. Burris says.

Cutting boards and kitchen sponges

Women's hands cut beef for cooking dumplings

The kitchen is a germ-laden environment. You are not only bringing in raw or uncooked food but also cleaning food, utensils, and textiles, like kitchen towels and sponges. One study found as many as 326 different species of bacteria living on used kitchen sponges. Make sure to toss out the old ones and, as Dr. Burris suggests, always wash your hands before preparing a meal and after handling raw meats. Oh, and forget the microwave myth—there’s only one right way to clean a kitchen sponge.

Soap dispensers or pumps

men hand waiting for lotion in raining day, men skin care concept

Wait, are we saying you need to wash your soap? Well… sort of; soap dispenser pumps are a haven for bacteria. Researchers from the University of Arizona found refillable soap dispensers especially germ-laden. As you’re pressing the pump, any bacteria you’re hoping to wash off has an equal opportunity to get transferred onto the dispenser. Lead researcher Charles Gerba, PhD, says touching refillable soap containers can actually transfer more bacteria to your hands than if you stuck your hands in a toilet.

Almost anything in a doctor’s office

Hand of businessman in suit filling and signing with silver pen partnership agreement form clipped to pad closeup. Management training course, some important document, team leader ambition concept

Thanks to a parade of patients coming through all day, most things in a doctor’s office harbor germs or bacteria—especially the sign-in pen. In fact, there are 46,000 more germs on that pen than on an average toilet seat. Other gross things to avoid are the waiting room chair armrest and the door handle. So take a few minutes after your visit to stop by the rest room and thoroughly wash—and make sure you’re washing your hands the right way not the wrong way.

Pretty much anything in an airport

Woman playing smartphone at airport

Some 2.6 million airline passengers are traveling every day, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. More people means more germs, and more shared public surfaces where you’ll encounter them. Avoid touching doorknobs, water fountains, kiosk screens, and especially those plastic tubs and trays in the airport security line. People put their dirty shoes and bags in those trays, leading to contamination, according to research published in BMC Infectious Diseases. Once you’re through the line and you’ve boarded the aircraft, beware of the number-one germiest spot on the plane—and (hint) it’s not your tray table.

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