When I was a kid, I had a bad habit of rubbing my eyes a lot — so much so that my mom was always telling me, "Keep your hands away from your face!" As I got older, I learned about all sorts of common habits you didn't realize are kind of gross, which may explain her concern: She was probably worried that my almost certainly filthy hands would spread some nasty kind of bacteria and I'd end up sick.
Now, I'll admit: I'm a self-proclaimed germaphobe. But obviously, we all can't live in a bubble. There's only so much you can reasonably do to avoid germs. You've got a life to live; and you can't put it on hold because you're hesitant to touch doorknobs (guilty! — I use my sleeve) or ride the subway because the germ-fest grosses you out.
That being said, there are still a bunch of common, everyday habits many of us engage in that are more germy than we realize — and they are also things that can be pretty simply avoided or improved. They don't take much time, money, or energy; and they don't demand enormous changes in your lifestyle.
So, what are these common bad habits? Some of them might surprise you.
1Reusing Your Mug
One study out of the University of Arizona found that 20 percent of office mugs were carrying fecal bacteria (poop!), while 90 percent carry other kinds of germs. Even worse, they can survive for up to three days! Bring a clean mug from home, or wash that office mug before you use it. And on a similar note...
2Forgetting To Change That Dirty Sponge
We already know that old sponges are the worst. But just how bad does it get? Some research has found that a dirty sponge can be 200,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat, and can have as many as 10 million bacteria per square inch. Sponges touch your hands, sink, dishes, silverware... Let's just all promise to use clean sponges, OK?
3Not Being Mindful Of Your Phone, AKA Germ World
You don't want to make contact with a bathroom door handle or toilet seat; but did you know that our cell phones can carry just as many germs? These types of germs can lead to pinkeye, diarrhea, and the flu. Luckily, there's an easy fix: Just find yourself an alcohol-based phone cleaner. And honestly, we should all stop bringing our phones to the bathroom (even though we like having some entertainment).
4Biting Your Nails
It's seems harmless enough; but biting your nails can introduce all sorts of bacteria into your mouth and increase your likelihood of getting a cold or some other illness.
5Sleeping On The Same Pillowcase
A study from North Carolina State University had participants gather swabs from different areas of the home — and they made a startling discovery: It was nearly impossible to distinguish between the swab from the pillowcase and that of the toilet seat. So, if you needed motivation to wash your sheets more often, there you go.
6Taking Your Earbuds Everywhere
Your ears are full of wax, bacteria and dead skin cells. Every time you use your earbuds, they pick some of that up. But that's not even the worst of it: You put your earbuds in your purse, pocket, bag, wherever, and now you're introducing even more bacteria — which then goes into your ears when you plug those earbuds back in. Plus, when your earbuds are in, they create a warm, moist environment that bacteria love to grow in. Some studies say that if you're not careful, earbuds can lead to an 11-fold increase of bacteria inside your ears!
7Rubbing Your Eyes
Ah, yes. That thing my mother always told me to stop doing. As it turns out, she was right. (I hate when that happens.) The instant your hands make contact with your eyes, you introduce all kinds of dangerous viruses and bacteria. These can lead to anything from pesky itching to serious infections. Make it a goal never to touch your eyes.
8Forgetting To Wipe Down Your Yoga Mat
Yoga is good for the mind, body, and soul; but your yoga mat is a different story. Strep, flesh-eating strep, staph (including MRSA), and fungi (like ringworm and athlete's foot) can all camp out on a yoga mat that hasn't been cleaned properly. Use some kind of antibacterial wipe, or even bleach diluted in water.
9Letting Your Dog Lick Your Hands (And Not Washing Them After It's Done)
I know — this is a major pain in the can. My dogs love to give me kisses nonstop, which equates to tons of hand-washing. But here's why we need to do it: We need to forget that bit about a dog's mouth being cleaner than a human's, because they can pass along all kinds of dangerous bacteria, like MRSA. Enjoy the love; but wash up afterward.
10Neglecting Your Purse Or Handbag
I've never really thought of my purse as a hangout spot for bacteria; but it makes sense, considering we take them everywhere. One study found traces of E. coli in 25 percent of purses tested. Another study found that our purses are as dirty as toilet seats. (Again with the toilet seat comparison!)
11Coughing And Sneezing Into Your Hand — Or Not Covering Your Mouth At All
Science has found that when we cough and sneeze, the particles that we release travel much further than we initially thought. If you don't cover your mouth, all that gross stuff is released to the people and things around you. If you cover your mouth with your hand, well, at least you've stopped this germy cloud of bacteria — but what if you can't wash your hands immediately after? Instead, cough and sneeze into your arm.