Houses can get quite dirty, inside and out. Messes are unsightly, clutter invites stress and dirty surfaces can harbor germs.

Some parts of the home are relatively easy to clean, such as modern tilt-in windows. And, some of the places you might think are bio-hazard zones are not as germy as you’d think, such as the toilet.

We’ve assembled the 20 parts of a typical home that get covered in dirt, are hard to keep clean and attract germs and other nasty bits that keep you from having cleanliness in your life. Here’s our list, along with tips to keep the mess at bay.

1. Carpets and Rugs

carpet cleaning

Carpets and rugs act like Velcro when it comes to dirt. Heavy foot traffic helps disperse dirt and pushes it deep into the porous fabric. Like any responsible home dweller, you usually vacuum the rug. But rarely do you go for the deep clean, therefore allowing masses of bacteria to grow in the unreachable depths of your carpet or rug.

Here’s a mind-blowing stat: It’s estimated that a clean square yard of carpet may contain one pound of dirt. And here’s another scary stat: 32,000 dust mites can live in one pound of rug dust.

Cleaning tip: Especially if you live with children or pets, the people over at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend deep-cleaning your carpets and rugs at least once every six months.

2. Sponges

Despite being the primary cleaning tool for many households, sponges are rather disgusting. Sponges absorb indiscriminately, meaning various debris and bacteria get pulled in from filthy surfaces during a good scrub-down.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Studies indicate that bacteria begin growing in roughly 70 percent of all sponges after their initial three weeks of use.

Cleaning tip: Simply throw your sponge into the microwave oven or a boiling pot of water for a few minutes to kill any lurking germs.

3. Kitchen Sink

The kitchen is home to a lot of action in your house, and the kitchen sink might be ground zero. Not only does your kitchen sink probably have a germ-ridden sponge sitting in it right now, but it also hosts food scraps from dirty plates and is the first thing people touch after the are done chopping up raw meat, or cracking eggs.

Cleaning tip: To stay on top of those germs, make sure to wipe the sink and faucet handles daily with a disinfectant cleaner.

4. Under the Kitchen Sink

While you are cleaning up the germs and dirt in and around your kitchen sink, take a look in the cabinet underneath. This area can become a dumping ground for cleaners and miscellaneous kitchen odds and ends, become less of a germ factory, but more of a clutter fest.

Cleaning tip: Keep it organized with only the minimal items necessary. When overcrowded, this area can mask pooled water from leaky sinks and develop mildew and mold.

5. Cutting Boards

Of course, you wipe down and wash your cutting boards after you’ve deboned a chicken, but what about after you slice fruits and vegetables? We often think only of meat when it comes to food-borne illnesses such as e. coli, but dirty produce can also contain some bad stuff, especially when allowed to rot in the tiny cracks and crevices carved by your kitchen knives.

Cleaning tip: To combat kitchen prep germs, follow restaurant food safety practices:

  • Keep separate boards for meat, seafood and veggies.
  • Clean wooden boards by hand with a touch of bleach in the wash water
  • Scrub with a mixture of dish detergent and kosher salt.
  • Acrylic boards, which are best for raw meat, can go right in the dishwasher.

6. Kitchen Counters 

Another kitchen germ nightmare can be found on the large work surfaces. Your kitchen counters are household equivalents of freeways; they’re teeming with activity. You’re constantly putting things on them and taking things off them: bags, food, cutting boards and so forth. Now, think about all the grime from those different sources.

Cleaning tip: To combat the germs, you should frequently wipe these down with (preferably) environmentally friendly cleaners, and be mindful of how you prep raw ingredients to avoid cross-contamination.

7. Stove Knobs

When is the last time you gave your stove knobs a good washing? Sure, you probably wipe them down when they are greasy, but what about the germs that your hands spread to these knobs?

Cleaning tip: To keep these kitchen items clean and germ-free, give them a weekly soak in hot soapy water and clean with a disinfectant wipe during the week after use.

8. Under and Behind Kitchen Appliances

While you are crawling under your sink and soaking stove knobs, think about the terrors behind your stove, or under your refrigerator. Food scraps get accidentally tossed in the space between the counter, and sometimes your floor sweep just pushes dirt and dust under and out of the way.

Cleaning tip: Once a month, pull these kitchen workhouses out of their normal resting spot and give them and the areas behind a good cleaning.

9. Coffee Maker

If you are a coffee drinker, you are dependent on your coffee maker to deliver the goods every morning. But, are you getting some unwanted side orders with your cup of joe? If you use an automatic drip-style maker or a Keurig single-cup brewer, the water reservoir can become home to stagnant water. The problem here is less about germs and potential illness, and more about sub-par coffee. As the water sits in the brewer over time, mineral deposits form which can negatively affect performance and flavor.

Cleaning tip: The remedy? Descaling. Use a product recommended by your machine’s manufacturer, or make a solution of 1/3 white vinegar, and 2/3 water, and run through the brewing cycle until depleted. Then, flush the system with clean water to get rid

10. Furniture (Sofas and Chairs)

We spend countless hours lounging in the soft comfort of our sofas, recliners and chairs. But when you think about it, aren’t those cushy surfaces just like giant sponges? A disturbing thought? Yes. A fact? Absolutely.

Our bodies carry dirt and bacteria. When we regularly deposit these bacteria into our furniture, they continue to multiply and disperse. Plus, because of the sponge-like consistency of cushions porous upholstery, unsavory materials can penetrate deep into the material. Like rugs and carpets, this makes vacuuming minimally effective.

Cleaning tip: To counteract this, consider steam cleaning on occasion, such as twice a year, to get rid of the funk.

11. Beds and Bedding

Just like upholstered furniture, beds collect dirt and grime. Think of the one place that you spend most of your day — if you get a healthy eight hours of sleep every night, you spend 1/3 of the day on your mattress, in your sheets, all cuddled up with … body oil and dead skin cells. This type of mess creates unsightly stains and unpleasant odors, but worse, they create an ideal breeding ground for microscopic life, such as dust mites, and fungal cultures.

Cleaning tip: Looking to keep your bedroom clean? Change your sheets once a week, or sooner if needed, and don’t stop there. Clean your pillows, and the surface of your mattress frequently to swipe away accumulated nastiness. Use an allergen-proof mattress cover as well to keep dust mites from accumulating in your mattress.

12. Door Handles

A good method of finding the dirtiest places in your home is to first think about the places we touch with our hands. Our hands touch a lot of things throughout the day, picking up germs and dirt along the way. And, microscopic pieces of dirt, germs, and bacteria get deposited on door handles in our home.

Cleaning tip: Weekly cleaning should include door handles, even if they look spotless. Simply wipe with a disinfectant cleaner to reduce germs. More importantly, be careful of touching surfaces unnecessarily in public, and of course, be sure to wash your hands often. Just kick the bathroom door open when you are done!

13. Cellphones

While we are talking about spreading dirt to the things in our life that we touch, consider your cellphone, which in today’s world is probably your most handled personal item. Your cellphone goes everywhere with you, picking up and carrying germs along the way. So it naturally accumulates a diverse array of germs from hands, pockets, tables, desks and so on. A 2011 study found that 1 in 6 cell phones are contaminated with fecal matter, so yeah, they are gross.

Cleaning tip: You should clean off your phone each day, using a mild alcohol cleaner, if possible and according to your phone manufacturer’s advice, and again you should wash your hands frequently.

14. TV Remotes

Another home item that gets handled often, but cleaned infrequently, is your television remote. Now, you might not use your remote as often as your cellphone, and the handling may be limited to a few keys, but the problem with the remote is that it is difficult to clean.

Cleaning tip: Give your TV remote, and those for your streaming device and any other remote-controlled device in your home, an occasional alcohol wipe rubdown.

15. Keyboards

Next to your cellphone, your laptop or desktop keyboard likely gets a lot of attention from your grimy fingers throughout the day. If you type often for work, you are just repeatedly tapping away at whatever germs are on your fingers.

Cleaning tip: Computer equipment is difficult to clean, so the best way to avoid dirt and germs is to wipe the keyboard frequently with a soft cloth, and use compressed air to remove food bits and other visible debris. Then, as always, keep those typing hands clean with frequent hand washing.

16. Light Switches

Just as your fingers often hit doorknobs, countertops and your phone, your hands brush against light switches frequently. This spreads germs and over time the dirt and oils on your fingers can add a visible film on the switches.

Cleaning tip: Wipe these down weekly to stay on top of the dirt and the germs.

17. HVAC Ducts

Many of the items on this list are dirty because you touch them, but one often neglected area is the ductwork in your home, which are out of reach. Over time dust, hair, dirt, human and animal dander, small bugs and all sorts of nasty stuff can get trapped in these spaces.

Cleaning tip: Consider an annual duct cleaning from a professional, or, use a DIY product to clear the works on your own.

18. Garages

In a perfect world, all of our garages would be neat and tidy, but in reality, garages often become a dumping zone for anything that you don’t want in the house but also do not want to leave lying on the front lawn. From kids toys to lawn equipment, garages can get cluttered with things and dirt.

Cleaning tip: Stay on top of your garage by organizing, but another helpful tip is to include the area in your weekly cleaning routine.

19. Pet Toys and Dishes

If you’ve ever washed your dog or cat’s bowl and found a slimy residue, you’re not alone. This is a normal occurrence based on how bacteria in your pet’s mouth reacts to water.

Cleaning tips: Wash anything your pet’s mouth touches frequently. This includes pet toys, especially those that have hidden spots for treats. Most bowls, and even some toys, can be placed in the dishwasher but you might want to make sure they are safe first!

20. Toothbrush Holders

While we’re on the subject of mouth bacteria, how does your toothbrush holder look? Is it a disgusting mess of dribbled toothpaste and unidentifiable residue?  This is not only gross looking, but it also is a germ pile.

Cleaning tip: Give it a good washing once a week in your dishwasher or by hand with hot soapy water, and remember to replace your toothbrushes per your dentist’s recommendation.

Make a Routine

Overall, the key to slaying the home cleaning beast is to make it part of a normal routine. Cleaning a little bit every day is much easier than once a month. So, think of these dirty spots next time you are sweeping the floor or washing dishes, and make cleaning a breeze.

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Kevin Wheatley