The 6 Germiest Places at the Office

Find out which surfaces are the most common hot spots for germs and how to protect your health

Find out which surfaces are the most common hot spots for germs and how to protect your health

Heating up lunch in the microwave or grabbing a snack from the vending machine at the office is more harmful to your health than you might think. Microwave handles and vending machine buttons are two of the dirtiest spots in the workplace, according to recent research.


The 2012 study delved into the dirty secrets of workplace surfaces to reveal germy hot-spots that you and your colleagues touch every day. Hygienists from Kimberly-Clark’s Healthy Workplace Project swabbed about 5,000 surfaces from a variety of office locations within varying professions, including law offices, manufacturing facilities, insurance companies, call centers and health care institutions.


The researchers analyzed the swabs for levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule found in all animal, vegetable, bacterial, yeast and mold cells. The more ATP found, the higher the chance that surface is crawling with viruses and germs. 


Surfaces with readings of more than 100 could use some disinfectant, and those with more than 300 are officially dirty and at a high risk for causing you and your coworkers to get sick. The winners of the dirtiest office spots are:


1. 75 percent of breakroom sink faucet handles

2. 48 percent of microwave door handles

3. 27 percent of keyboards

4. 26 percent of refrigerator door handles

5. 23 percent of water fountain buttons

6. 21 percent of vending machine buttons

Tips to stay healthy and avoid spreading germs

While it’s inevitable that you will touch these surfaces, there are some easy solutions to prevent spreading germs and getting ill. Michael Lee, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo, offers the following tips:


Wash your hands 

“It is very important to thoroughly wash your hands when you arrive at work, after using the restroom and before and after eating,” says Dr. Lee. “Washing your hands the proper way takes about 20 to 30 seconds. An adequate washing of your hands should take about the same amount of time as it takes to sing the happy birthday song.”


Disinfect work surfaces

Disinfecting commonly touched areas at work such as desks, keyboards, computer mice, conference room tables, phones and water fountain buttons will help to prevent the build-up of potentially harmful germs on surfaces. Keep disposable disinfectant wipes at your desk and develop the habit of wiping your desktop, keyboard, mouse and phone at least once a day.


Use hand sanitizer

Keep hand sanitizers in the break room and at your desk. Use it after every meeting or conference. 


Get a flu vaccine

“Getting an annual flu shot is always a good preventive measure to avoid contracting and spreading the flu,” recommends Dr. Lee. The annual flu shot is adjusted every year to protect against the most common strains of the flu for the season.


If you are able to have a flu shot, you will not only be protecting yourself, but you’ll also help prevent passing the flu virus on to people who are unable to get flu shots, such as those with egg allergies or have had Guillain-Barré syndrome.


Take care of your body

“The best and simplest advice to staying healthy is to make sure you get enough rest, sleep and exercise,” notes Dr. Lee. “It is also important to eat a balanced diet and to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use.”