You Won’t Believe What the Germiest Items In Your Kitchen Actually Are

You’ve likely scrubbed down your bathroom lately — at least, we hope you have. But when was the last time you deep-cleaned the kitchen? Germs love to hang out in dark, wet places. An NSF International study found the kitchen to be the germiest place in the home.

Bacteria turn up in places you never think to sanitize. In fact, one unlikely item is dirtier than a toilet seat (page 10).

1. Microwave plate

The microwave plate is surprisingly dirty. | Vudhikul Ocharoen/iStock/Getty Images

Why it’s gross: Your microwave’s turntable is covered in 120 times the germs of a pet toy, reports Some think the heat kills all of the bacteria, but it’s almost never fully clean. In fact, the strongest bacteria survive, which lets them multiply and grow resistant to heat over time.

How to clean it: Wipe down your microwave every few days to control food buildup. For a deeper clean, wipe the inside with a non-toxic, all-purpose cleaner. Allow it to fully dry before using. If you worry about the cleaner drying inside the microwave, you can boil water with lemon; the steam kill the bacteria.

Next: Cleaning inside it won’t actually clean it.

2. Kitchen sink

kitchen sink
Kitchen sink |

Why it’s gross: You may run your sponge around the sink to wash away food remnants, but it’s still one of the germiest places in your kitchen. With the fifth-highest amount of microorganisms in the house, the sink has a presence of coliform bacteria and yeast or mold.

How to clean it: WebMD suggests cleaning the sink with a solution of bleach and water daily and allowing the mixture to filter down the drain. NSF says to scrub the sides and bottom of the sink once or twice per week with a disinfecting cleaner and pour 1 tablespoon of bleach mixed with one quart of water down the drains and disposals. Additionally, you can put your kitchen sink strainers through the dishwasher once per week.

Next: Rinsing off this utensil isn’t enough. 

3. Rubber spatula

colourful kitchen utensils
Rubber spatula and other utensils |

Why it’s gross: Many rubber spatulas have two parts, the paddle and handle. If you don’t separate them each time you clean it, bacteria can build up around the edges, which could spread to food. NSF’s tests revealed traces of E. coli and yeast or mold on some of the sampled spatulas.

How to clean it: Some spatulas are easier to separate. Either wash them by hand in hot, soapy water or put them in the dishwasher. Allow the parts to dry before reassembling. Or, if you’re due for a new spatula, consider buying the silicone version that’s all one piece. No nooks and crannies.

Next: This is 100 times dirtier than eating straight from the sink. 

4. Fruit bowl

Bowl of Fresh fruits
Beware of your fruit bowl — if it hasn’t been cleaned. | Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

Why it’s gross: The fruit bowl is 163 times dirtier than eating straight from the kitchen sink, reports Yes, you read that right. When fruits aren’t clean, or they rot in the bowl, bacteria spread onto new fruit.

How to clean it: Clean the bowl with soap and water, or put it in the dishwasher. Do this prior to every time you restock the bowl.

Next: Taking food on the go is easy — but how clean are these? 

5. Food storage containers

Leftovers in plastic containers |

Why they’re gross: If you store leftovers in containers with rubber lids, food particles and other bacteria can get stuck in the seal. The 2013 NSF study found these containers to have traces of salmonella, yeast, and mold.

How to clean them: If the containers smell or are stained, Good Housekeeping advises soaking them in baking soda and water for 30 minutes — or even using a bit of chlorine bleach before washing. Food52 explains you can store them with a pinch of salt or crumpled newspaper.

Next: These may give your food more than a little seasoning.

6. Salt and pepper shakers

salt shaker and pepper mill
Salt shaker and pepper mill |© Todd Taulman

Why they’re gross: Salt and pepper are a common place to find cold virus germs, According to WebMD.

How to clean them: As you finish washing dishes, it doesn’t hurt to run the same cloth over your salt and pepper shakers, too. Washing your hands before and after dinner is also a good way to prevent unwanted germs.

Next: This wooden item stores more than sharp objects.

7. Knife block

bunch of knives with a cutting board
Knife block |

Why it’s gross: Your knife block likely doesn’t contain food buildup, but trace bacteria, like mold and yeast, can grow in the dark recesses.

How to clean it: Remove knives, then wash the entire block in hot, soapy water. To clean the slots, use a small brush, like one used to clean baby bottles. To further sanitize, dilute 1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 gallon of lukewarm water. Submerge the block, or fill each slot with the liquid and allow it to sit for 1 minute. Rinse thoroughly and turn upside down on a clean surface to dry. If used frequently, you should do this process monthly.

Next: If you enjoy juices and smoothies, you must check this item.

8. Blender gasket

blade of blender closeup
What germs are lurking in your blender? |

Why it’s gross: If you have a blender with a blade that unscrews, make sure to clean the rubber gasket, which fits under the blade to stop leaks. NSF data found the gasket to contain E. coli, salmonella, yeast, and mold. Fully disassemble appliances that come into contact with food.

How to clean it: Consult your manual for cleaning instructions. You may be able to put that rubber ring in your dishwasher, Good Housekeeping reports. Otherwise, clean it after every use with hot soapy water.

Next: You’d be lost in the kitchen with this tool.

9. Can opener

Stainless steel can opener
Stainless steel can opener |

Why it’s gross: You may wipe off the can opener every now and then, but invisible food particles can stick there. NSF found yeast and mold bacteria, along with traces of E. coli and salmonella in some samples.

How to clean it: Whether you have a manual or electric opener, you can use vinegar and a toothbrush to clean it, according to Home Ec 101. If it’s been years since your can opener was cleaned, The Huffington Post says to soak the full tool in a bowl of vinegar for a few hours.

Next: This contains more bacteria than your toilet seat — and you’re ingesting the germs.

10. Coffee reservoir

female hand pulling out used coffee filter
Changing coffee filter |

Why it’s gross: When was the last time you cleaned the coffeemaker reservoir? NSF tests found where the water sits before brewing to contain more bacteria than a toilet seat, notably mold and yeast microorganisms.

How to clean it: Follow manufacturer’s directions for cleaning the entire coffee maker — not just the pot — every 40 to 80 brew cycles or monthly. Directions vary but often include adding up to four cups of undiluted vinegar to the reservoir and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then run vinegar through the unit, followed by a few cycles of fresh water, or until the vinegar odor is gone.

Next: You may as well eat with the handle of your toilet. 

11. Cutlery drawer

The cutlery drawer is crawling with bacteria. | Hanohiki/iStock/Getty Images

Why it’s gross: The cutlery drawer was covered in four times more bacteria than a toilet handle (about 117 culture-forming units per inch), reports We often rinse, not sanitize, our utensils, which doesn’t get rid of all bacteria. And since cutlery drawers are dark, bacteria love them.

How to clean it: Sanitize utensils after every use. To clean the drawer, empty it out and wipe it clean with all-purpose cleaner or white vinegar. (Dilute the vinegar with water.) Use a toothbrush to get into crevices. Leave the drawer open to dry completely before returning utensils.

Next: You need a clean place to store your food. 

12. The refrigerator — all of it

water dispenser on the refrigerator
Your refrigerator is harvesting bacteria. |

Why it’s gross: In its second study, NSF found that the water dispenser on your refrigerator is one of the most germ-laden areas in your kitchen. NSF also found that E. coli and salmonella were present in most refrigerator’s meat compartments, and listeria and mold were growing in the vegetable drawers. Besides that, the door seals were found to be crawling with listeria, and coliform was present on most door handles. Bottom line: Refrigerators are gross unless they’re frequently (and properly) cleaned.

How to clean it: Check the manufacturer’s directions first. But, both the Huffington Post and Do It Yourself suggest cycling vinegar through the water dispenser. The same can be done for the door seal. Wash the inside compartments with warm, soapy water. Clean door handles with either soap and water or a non-toxic, all-purpose cleaner — just make sure that your cleaner won’t ruin the finish on the handles.

Next: Have you ever thought about how often you touch these? 

13. Stove knobs

kitchen oven
Kitchen oven knobs |

Why they’re gross: You probably run an antibacterial wipe or sponge over your stovetop frequently, but do you take the time to clean the knobs of your stove and oven as well? You’re constantly touching them, often as you’re preparing food, which means there’s ample time for bacteria to build up. Those knobs made the Top 10 list of germiest places in the entire house, ranking above the remote control, refrigerator handle, and toilet seat.

How to clean them: Once you figure out how to remove and reinstall the knobs on your stove, this is a pretty simple one to resolve. All you have to do is remove them once a week to wash them in hot soapy water, and then allow them to dry properly before reinstalling them.

Next: The most germ-ridden item in your kitchen

14. Dish sponges and rags

Sponge |

Why it’s gross: You likely already know your sponge is a germ breeding ground. But just how much can be shocking. In NSF’s 2011 study, 75% of sponges sampled contained at least one form of coliform bacteria, which includes salmonella and E. coli. Most samples also contained yeast or mold, and a small percentage even contained bacteria that can cause staph infections. This was by far the most germ-ridden item in the house, containing more than 321 million microorganisms per gram.

How to clean it: Keep in mind that not all of those microorganisms were harmful, and not all bacteria will cause you to get sick. However, sponges are inherently damp, and thus more likely to also breed the nastier bacteria as well. Real Simple suggests rinsing your sponge after each use with hot water, and then allowing it to dry in a ventilated soap dish. At the end of each day, pop the wet sponge in the microwave for 1 minute, which should zap most of the bacteria that has stuck around. Cloths should be hung on the towel rack between uses, and then tossed in the laundry and washed with hot water after 1 day of use.

Next: You use this every day, but how often do you sanitize it? 

15. Counter top

cleaning kitchen counter
Cleaning kitchen counter |

Why it’s gross: The counter top is ground zero for food preparation, and it probably isn’t surprising that you need to clean it more often than you think. (And no, wiping it with a paper towel to dry it off doesn’t count here.) You likely prepare fresh produce, raw meat, and a host of other foods on the counter tops — not to mention contaminate it with germs from everyday life. The good news: Counter tops are flat surfaces, which means it’s harder for germs to grow. They’re also typically well-lit, another strike against bacteria. However, the original NSF study found the presence of coliform bacteria on the surfaces, along with yeast and mold.

How to clean it: Better Homes & Gardens suggests cleaning with a germ-killing cleaner of your choice regularly, and drying with a microfiber cloth to dry thoroughly and prevent streaking. The site also provides guidance on the best tips for each type of counter top surface. How Stuff Works provides similar guidance, adding that seamless materials, such as common plastic laminate, make it the easiest to get rid of germs completely. At the very least, wipe down the work surfaces once a day with your cleaner of choice — hot soapy water at a minimum.