The 9 Germiest Places In An Office

It’s a routine by now: You head into the office. You scan your keycard and reach for the door, fill a mug with coffee in the communal kitchen and take a quick-before-work bathroom break. Then, you head over to your desk and settle in for hours of typing away at your keyboard. As your day progresses, there are meetings, lunch, visits to your colleagues’ desks and so on.

But have you ever taken a moment to think about all the surfaces you’re touching in the midst of all of this?

Between doorknobs, coffee pots, water coolers, communal tables and more, office workers are coming into contact with endless germs throughout the day. And encountering these microbes can expose you to everything from RSV to the common cold, E. coli, salmonella, and more, said Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, an infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center.

So which parts of the office are the worst? We tapped some germ experts to expose the most contaminated things you’ll encounter around the office, plus advice on how to keep them from getting you sick.

Your Desk

You may think of common tables like those in the break room or meeting rooms are dirty since others touch them, but your desk is also gathering germs.

“The desk is an open surface that is frequently touched, usually with some pressure to hold up a portion of an individual’s weight,” said Jason Tetro, host of the Super Awesome Science Show and author of ”The Germ Code.”

Even if a desk is personal, he explained, there is a likelihood others will touch it at some point and spread microbes along the way, like the cleaning crew, someone dropping off a file or your boss.

Your desk may also be open to airborne and droplet microbes that you could encounter and get infected by (hello unwanted cubicle visitors popping by to spread the latest office gossip), made worse by the fact that it’s rarely cleaned. Those germs can add up.

“The best way to minimize germs is to avoid contact,” said Tetro. But being a surface that you work on day in and day out, that is clearly unrealistic. Therefore, you want to occasionally give your desk a good wipe down with disinfectant spray every now and then.

Your Keyboard

You spend your Monday to Friday typing away, but have you ever stopped to think about the keys you’re constantly typing on?

“Over 3,000 organisms can be found per square inch on a keyboard,” said Dr. Ron Brown, a 20-year emergency medical physician, former EMS medical director for Seminole County Florida, and founder of decontamination technology AeroClave.

“More and more of us are now working jobs where we are placed in front of computer screens and keyboards for up to eight hours a day, almost 2,000 hours each year,” said Brown. “If you think of workers who bring lunch to their desks without washing their hands, that bacteria is being transferred directly to their mouths.”

So next time you wipe down your desk, it’s a good idea to also give your keyboard a little wipe down as well.

Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

A medical physician said “over 3,000 organisms can be found per square inch on a keyboard.”

Door Handles

You grab the door handle and twist it to enter the bathroom. You do the same to go into the break room, your boss’ office, the supply closet, the company gym … see the pattern here? Now think about all the other people who do the same thing all day long.

“Doorknobs, by far, are the germiest places in an office because of the sheer number of hands touching them daily,” said Dr. Dhaval Desai, a primary care/hospitalist physician at Emory Hospital. The best way to head off the sickness they could expose you to is with hand hygiene.

You don’t have to do it to the extent where “you use hand sanitizer immediately after touching a doorknob ― but it’s a great idea to sanitize your hands once you get settled at your workstation or equivalent, and again especially right before eating,” said Desai.

Make sure to wash your hands with soap and hot water, or use hand sanitizer, and to scrub in between your fingers, too. Also sanitize when you get to your car: One study said the door push bar on the main exit of the building is one of the germiest spots in the office.

The Shared Microwave Or Refrigerator

The lunch room is a high-traffic area, with co-workers coming and going throughout the day. Think about all the people who pop in to grab something from the company fridge or heat up their leftovers.

“These are the most vulnerable places because we touch these areas right before we eat,” Desai said.

If you have doubts that your office is being cleaned vigorously, you can wipe these areas down with Clorox wipes, Desai added. He also recommended that you wash your hands immediately upon taking your food out of the microwave.

The Water Fountain

You visit your workplace’s water cooler on a near hourly basis ― to stay hydrated, gossip with co-workers and give your legs a stretch. But is all this filtered water you’re drinking keeping you healthy or actually harming you?

Some studies suggest that these water coolers can be bacteria hot spots. How to get around this? Consider investing in a home filtration system and bringing your own reusable bottle. Or maybe campaign for some regular water cool maintenance.

The Bathroom

For public bathrooms and office bathrooms, many will spend more time and work than they do at their homes at times, which means that restrooms get a lot of use, and most times employers do not clean them as often as they should,” said Shanina C Knighton, a research associate professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University.

Therefore, she said, it is important for you to minimize using your phones in the restrooms. And yes, wash your hands afterwards.

Elevator buttons can be a dirty surface, but it's nothing some hand sanitizer can't handle.

Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

Elevator buttons can be a dirty surface, but it’s nothing some hand sanitizer can’t handle.

Elevator Buttons

Research on elevator buttons in hospitals has found that the number of bacteria present on an elevator button is higher than that of a public toilet seat.

“Elevators are often found in offices, airports, hotels, apartment buildings and more, where hundreds of people every day touch the same elevator buttons after they’ve come into contact with different types and levels of bacteria,” Brown said. If not cleaned regularly, these high-traffic touch points can easily become breeding grounds for the spread of bacteria and illnesses.

“You can try to touch it with something that is not your bare hands,” said Vazquez. “I kind of do it every now and then.”

You can also purchase a touchless elevator tool that you can pop on your keychain or store in your purse. Keep in mind that you’ll want to occasionally sanitize that as well.

Vending Machines

In the mood for a granola bar, a soda or a bag of chips? So are a lot of your co-workers. The germs on a vending machine’s buttons will verify this.

“Vending machines are one of the germiest places in offices because they see high traffic and touch with little to no cleaning,” Brown explained. “To take it a step further, vending machines have several nooks and crevices, like buttons and food slots, that are difficult to clean and retain a significant amount of spreadable bacteria.”

Wash your hands after touching vending machine buttons and doors, and definitely before eating the food item you just retrieved from your company’s vending machine.

Your Phone

Studies have shown that smartphones can be quite dirty. You set your phone next to you at your desk and check it whenever you hear a ding. You take it into the bathroom with you and catch up on social media messages while on the toilet. And you sit down to eat your lunch with a sandwich in one hand and your phone in the other.

In one study, researchers deemed smartphones “as ‘Trojan horse’ devices which bypass gold standard hand hygiene practices, are likely linked to pathogen movement via cross-contamination transmission pathways during epidemics and pandemics, and contribute to global population infections and hospitalizations due to nosocomial infections.”

Bottom line? Sanitize these often ― especially before handling them while eating. And maybe just don’t check your texts on the toilet.