Where Do Germs Hide?

March 17, 2020 - Katie McCallum

When we think of germs and where they may be hiding, some obvious places probably come to mind — like a toilet seat. But what about where viruses, specifically, may be living and hiding?

Viruses are the most common cause of the infectious illnesses we catch and spread while at home, work or school. Most the time, we spread viruses from person-to-person through infectious respiratory droplets, but indirect spread from surface-to-person is also common.

This means that it's possible to get sick by touching a surface contaminated with a virus and then touching your face. This also means that, if you're sick, practicing proper cough etiquette can help reduce the chance that you contaminate surfaces around you.

Your best defense against viruses that can live on surfaces is to:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces
  • Avoid directly touching surfaces commonly touched by many different people


The most common places to find infectious, virus-filled respiratory droplets are on the surfaces that are most frequently touched, as well as on the items and surfaces in high-traffic areas and spaces.

The places viruses hide in your home or office

Frequently touched surfaces and items around your home or office that viruses can live on include:

  • Cabinet handles
  • Computer keyboard
  • Computer mouse
  • Countertops
  • Doorknobs and door handles
  • Handheld electronics
  • Light switches
  • Keyboard
  • Phones (including your smartphone)
  • Toilets
  • Towels
  • Toys
  • TV remotes


This means you should frequently clean and disinfect these surfaces, especially if you're sharing your home with someone who is sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces can be accomplished using common EPA-registered household disinfectants — as long as you're following the label's instructions and using a disinfectant appropriate for the surface you're cleaning. Other options include making your own diluted bleach solution or an alcohol solution that's at least 70% alcohol.

Your goal is to prevent the spread of germs that can occur via high-touch surfaces and items, which may differ from family to family. To help keep your family healthy, you may need to spend some time observing which specific surfaces and items are frequently touched in your home.

Where viruses can hide in public spaces

It's not always feasible to clean and disinfect the surfaces you touch when you're in a public space. Instead, avoid directly touching commonly touched surfaces by using a tissue as a barrier between your hand and the surface.

Frequently touched surfaces and items in public spaces that viruses can live on include:

  • Doorknobs and door handles
  • Elevator buttons
  • Faucets
  • Point-of-sale keypads at stores, gas stations and restaurants*
  • Shopping carts*


*Since it can be hard to avoid directly touching these surfaces, you may consider carrying and using your own disinfectant wipes before touching them.

How to clean your smartphone

Our smartphones go everywhere with us and we touch them a lot. The CDC considers your smartphone a commonly touched surface, and recommends disinfecting your phone every single day. Since you spent a lot of money on that phone, make sure you're disinfecting it according to your manufacturers recommendations.


A quick word on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have you scrubbing every surface imaginable, know that the primary way the virus spreads is from person-to-person — particularly through close, prolonged contact.

However, experts are still learning the full picture of how this particular coronavirus spreads, and surface-to-person spread may be possible as well.

Find out what this means for the things you touch throughout the day, including your:


Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.


This article was updated on May 29, 2020 to reflect the rapidly evolving manner of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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