7 Places Where Germs Are Hiding in Your Office

With the rise in coworking spaces and open floor plans, there is more movement within the office and thus transferring of germs. And staying health can be more of a challenge if you don’t know where the germs are lurking.

According to Unique Support Services the biggest cause of illness in the workplace is simply dirty hands. “Recent research found that levels of bacteria were significantly higher in shared workspaces than on single occupancy desks.”

If you are starting to look around and wonder where the germs are hiding, keep reading.

In a historic study by the University of Arizona (UA), in consultation with Charles Gerba, a professor of soil, water and environmental science at the UA, hygienists from Kimberly-Clark Professional conducted The Healthy Workplace Project collected nearly 5,000 individual swabs from office buildings housing more than 3,000 employees.

According to the study, they found a percentage of the office surfaces with high levels of contamination (an adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, count of 300 or higher) where people work or consume food.

In a study by The Office Cleanliness Monitor, 85 percent of U.S. workers eat in their office space, and more than 1:3 workers admit to clipping nails at work (please don’t).

Of those surveyed, 22 percent say that they’ve seen a coworker sneeze, cough or yawn nearly every day without covering their mouth. Also, 33 percent of workers “sometimes” or “very often” retrieve things from the trashcans in their office. And for the kicker… nearly 1:2 workers (45 percent) have seen coworkers leave the restroom without washing their hands (EW).

Now that I’ve completely elevated the yuck factor, here are 7 of the dirtiest surfaces and where they are hiding in your office.

Microwave Door Handle


Taking your lunch to work is awesome and can be a healthier choice, but if you have to heat anything up in the microwave, make sure to clean your hands before digging in. The UA researchers found that 48 percent of microwave door handles contain a high levels of germs.


No surprise here, but you need to clean your keys more often, especially if you are sharing devices. The UA study found that 27 percent of keyboards had high levels of contamination.

Refrigerator Doors

Grabbing your lunch or some milk for your coffee? Yup, germs are waiting on the door handles. Researchers found 26 percent of refrigerator door handles have yuck on them.

Coffee Maker Handle

While I don’t have data from the research to back this up, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this too will house germs if employees are pounding coffee during the day.

Vending Machines

Whether you have one in the office or lobby of your building, clean your hands after grabbing that candy because researchers found 21 percent of vending machine buttons have high levels of germs.

Office Desk

In another study by Master Cleaners, office desks are more than 400 times dirtier than a toilet seat. So if you are going to eat lunch at your desk, you might want to wipe it off first.

Water Cooler

The Office Wiki

When you go to refill your glass or Hydro-Flask, make sure to stop by the sink and wash your hands. Researchers found that, “Nearly one quarter of water cooler buttons are considered a serious risk for illness transmission.”

Now that you’re completely grossed out by your office, what can you do?

  • Most importantly, wash your hands.
  • Place hand sanitizer bottles around the office and in strategic places.
  • Have a weekly “clean your desk” session
  • Instruct your office cleaning company to disinfect all main table surfaces

Read more healthy tips for the office on TechCo


Photos courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr Dirtt and Business Interiors &  tkraska

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Written by:
Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.
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