Who doesn’t want a bathroom that not only looks spic and span but also is hygienic? But while you may regularly clean the toilet bowl and tub, you may overlook some bathroom objects that appear to be clean but are teeming with microbes, which love the high temperatures and humidity. That doesn’t mean that the microbes will actually make you sick, but it still makes sense to scrub or launder these objects regularly—especially if you have young kids or someone who is immunocompromised in your household.
Bath toys may be a repository for bacteria and fungi, some potentially pathogenic, according to a Swiss study in 2018. For instance, 80 percent of rubber ducks were found to be contaminated with bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause ear, eye, and other infections. Microbes can thrive on these toys because they feed on the carbon leached from their material as well as on nutrients (from urine and sweat) in bathwater trapped inside them.
Remedy: Wash bath toys with hot water and soap. Even better, avoid squeeze toys that have a hole that allows water to enter.
Showerheads may contain potentially pathogenic bacteria that can be aerosolized and inhaled, according to a 2018 study. Researchers examined showerheads and found that 20 percent of them contained significant levels of Mycobacterium avium, which can cause a lung infection in some people. Inner surfaces of showerheads and water sitting inside them can be a reservoir of bacteria. Showerheads can also harbor bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease, but this study found virtually no trace of them.
Remedy: If someone in your household is immunocompromised, remove and disinfect showerheads every few months.
These natural sponges can harbor a range of bacteria, according to a 1994 study. Bacteria can thrive on dead skin cells trapped in damp crevices of a loofah, especially in a warm bathroom. Could using a loofah cause an infection? A case study in 1993 found that a woman with an infection of the hair follicles (folliculitis) was probably infected by a contaminated loofah. If you have an open wound or a scab and you scrub the area with the contaminated loofah, it could increase your risk for infection.
Remedy: After using the loofah, allow it to fully dry out. And periodically disinfect it in a bleach solution. Or replace it periodically.
Towels can become contaminated with fecal bacteria when people wipe soiled hands on them, and the warm, moist bathroom environment can allow bacteria to multiply in the damp fabric. In a recent study from the University of Arizona, microbiologists collected more than 400 bathroom hand towels from households and found relatively high levels of bacteria on many of them. Almost 90 percent of the towels were contaminated with coliform bacteria (14 percent had E. coli).
Remedy: Frequently launder hand towels in hot water. Wash your hands thoroughly to reduce transferring bacteria to towels.
“Putting a carpet in the bathroom is the worst idea,” according to Dr. Philip Tierno, Jr., Professor of Microbiology and Pathology at New York University. Bathroom mats and rugs may contain high levels of bacteria and mold, transferred from bare feet and sometimes shoes. If the rug is close to the toilet, urine and fecal organisms can get onto it. If it stays damp, bacteria and mold can grow. Mold can exacerbate asthma or other allergic disorders and cause fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.
Remedy: Wash your bath rug or mat every couple of weeks in hot water. Consider putting it a dry room or in the dryer when it gets wet.
Even though you wipe down your bathroom sink, the drain area may harbor a wide range of bacteria. In a 1998 study, researchers found that drain areas had the highest concentrations of bacteria of all bathroom surfaces they tested. According to the nonprofit International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, bacteria from feces as well as the skin (such as Staphylococcus aureus) can thrive in the drain area and drain trap, and splashing from these areas can then contaminate other parts of the sink surface.
Remedy: Regularly wash the drain areas of sinks, possibly with bleach.