Whether or not you drink coffee, odds are you have a coffee mug on hand at your place of work that you use daily — if not for coffee, then for tea, juice, water, or anything in between. Over time, it feels like all those sips in between work meetings would create the perfect environment for germs — but according to one expert, there's no need to clean your office coffee mug as often as you might think. Or at all, in fact — depending on what you drink out of it.
Yep, you heard me right: It turns out that washing your coffee mug may actually do more harm than good. The first thing to consider is that there are germs on literally every surface you can think of, so they're hard to avoid on a day-to-day basis. For coffee drinkers, a sip here and a sip there will inevitably leave germs on the rim. But the germs found on a regular old coffee mug are mostly from our own bodies, not foreign substances, according to an interview by The Wall Street Journal with Jeffrey Starke, a Texas-based expert on infectious diseases. He also pointed out that most viruses die after hanging out on an inanimate object since there's no host.
So while you can get sick from breathing the same air as someone who's got the flu, it's unlikely that you'll fall ill from a dirty coffee mug as long as you aren't sharing it with other people. (In this situation, folks, sharing is not caring.) The exception is if the mug harbors leftover cream or sugar from last week, because then you're at the risk of drinking some delicious mold during your next java fix, Starke said. So: If you take your coffee black, you're A-OK to skip the washing; however, if you put anything else in your cup of joe — anything at all — you might want to go ahead and soap up.
I'm sighing with relief over here. I'm kind of a lazy person and washing dishes definitely isn't my favorite chore. Also, if your work day is anything like mine, it's probably filled with endless assignments, meetings, and, well, more assignments. With so much that needs to be done within eight hours (or however long your workday is), there's literally no time to think about washing coffee mugs anyway. And for people who prefer to drink their morning coffee at home without other people around, they probably have even less to worry about.
What office workers should be wary of instead is that soapy, wet sponge by the kitchen sink, which is apparently home to a lot more bacteria. I'm guessing that means we especially need to avoid washing our coffee mugs with community sponges. I mean, just imagine everyone's grimy hands on that thing, wiping dirty water off of the counter and peanut butter from the bottom of their lunch bowls. The thought makes my stomach turn.
While Starke said that office mugs aren't a huge concern, other researchers have said that around 90 percent of office mugs carry dangerous germs, including — brace yourselves — fecal matter. The primary cause for this is those disgusting sponges and other washing tools that coworkers have used. So again, keep your mugs to yourselves and don't make washing them a group activity!
The other thing to keep in mind is that Starke's advice doesn't apply to water bottles and other beverage holders with lids. I can speak from experience about this, having used a water bottle for weeks and then finally washing it, only to discover that the entire lid felt slimy and just...gross. Not pleasant at all. Wash your water bottles, people. I mean it.
So the next time you're done using that coffee mug at work (hopefully it's your own), use your best judgment. You can just leave it as is if nothing's left or, if those coffee rings around the edges and the dregs at the bottom of the cup really, really bother you, give it a swirl in the sink. Rinsing the mug with water is good enough.