Hidden Germs in Your Home and What You Can Do about Them

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You do everything you can to keep your family healthy, but fighting germs in your own home is a never-ending battle. UnityPoint Health infectious disease provider, Rossana Rosa, M.D., shares where germs are hiding in your household and what to do about them.

Top 4 Dirtiest Places in Your Home

Here are the four things you should add to your regular cleaning checklist, if they aren’t on there already.

  • Doorknobs
  • Digital devices (including cell phones, tablets and computer keyboards). Check manufacture settings on how best to clean devices, as some are sensitive to harsh chemicals.
  • Bathroom sink faucet handle
  • Toilet flush handle

What makes these areas and objects so filthy? Dr. Rosa says it’s because they’re high-contact surfaces.

“Germs can survive for a longer period of time on non-porous surfaces (like, stainless steel and plastics), than porous surfaces (such as, fabrics and tissues),” Dr. Rosa says. “It's estimated viruses can live anywhere from one to seven days on non-porous surfaces, but they quickly lose their ability to cause infection.”

Dr. Rosa groups common household germs into viruses or bacteria and lists how long these invisible threats can stick around.


  • Cold virus: up to one hour on human hands
  • RSV (respiratory syncytial virus): up to six hours on door handles
  • Flu (influenza) virus: up to 24 hours on hard surfaces
  • Parainfluenza (respiratory): up to 10 hours on hard surfaces
  • COVID-19: a few hours to days, especially in cold and dry environments


  • Salmonella and campylobacter (foodborne illness): one to four hours on hard surfaces
  • Norovirus (stomach/digestive illness): several days on hard surfaces
  • Clostridium difficile (diarrhea): five months on hard surfaces
  • MRSA (staph bacteria): days to weeks in hard surfaces

Knowing where germs are is one thing, getting rid of them is another. Dr. Rosa says the most effective way almost seems too simple: soap and water. Any plain soap will do, with no need for any type of “antibacterial soap."

“While killing some germs requires bleach-based products, most germs are easily eliminated with soap and water. Keeping your home clean is important, but hand hygiene is even more so. The most important thing people can do is to wash their hands, especially after using the restroom, before preparing meals and before eating,” Dr. Rosa says.

If a member of your family gets sick, Dr. Rosa recommends keeping household surfaces clean, washing hands and calling your UnityPoint Health primary care provider, if necessary.

“For cleaning high-touch surfaces, consider using a disinfectant (such as bleach-based products) for cleaning. More importantly, have all family members wash hands often,” Dr. Rosa says.