5 Surprisingly Germy Kitchen Items—and the Right Way to Disinfect Them

Hint: Can openers are no laughing matter in the germ department.


Anastasiia Tretiak

Sure, we all aim for a house that's free of dirt and grime and one that generally looks clean, the coronavirus outbreak has us wondering if our homes are actually clean. But it turns out, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, that there are certain kitchen items most people don't wash properly and these are most likely to be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, which can cause foodborne diseases.

Luckily, cleaning these items correctly isn't too difficult—most just require a spray or wipe with a diluted bleach solution (1 tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water). Here are five of the most commonly contaminated things in your kitchen, plus the right way to wash them.

Safety note: If you decide to disinfect with a diluted bleach mixture, be careful not to combine bleach with any other cleaners, including dish soap, as it can produce a toxic gas. Store bleach where it can't be found by children or pets.

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Can Openers

That's right, the humble can opener landed at the top of the University of Rochester's list for contaminated kitchen items. Be honest, how many of us have ever opened a can and thrown the opener right back into the drawer? Or given it a quick perfunctory rinse? Perhaps it's not surprising this kitchen tool is so germy.

How to clean a can opener: After each use, clean the can opener with dish soap and water. For extra disinfecting power, wipe the can opener with the bleach solution (1 tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water) or a store-bought disinfectant, then let air dry.

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Cutting Boards

If you use a cutting board to prepare raw meat or fish, there's a good chance it is covered in germs. And since most of us know we shouldn't clean wood cutting boards in the dishwasher (where the heat could cause them to warp or crack), it's important to wash them properly by hand.

First, invest in at least two cutting boards: one for meat and fish, and another for fruits and vegetables. Keeping these boards separate will help cut down on potential cross-contamination.

How to clean a cutting board: Consult our complete cleaning guide. For the board used to prepare meat, either spray or wipe it down with a diluted bleach mixture (see above) and then rinse thoroughly with water and let air dry. For the other board, wash thoroughly with dish soap and hot water.

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There's a difference between cleaning (wiping visible crumbs and grime away) and disinfecting (destroying microorganisms on a surface). To wash a countertop properly, first start with cleaning and then disinfect—otherwise, the disinfectant won't be able to work on the countertop because of the crumbs and gunk coating the surface.

How to clean a countertop: Start by wiping down the countertop and cleaning it as you normally would to remove debris and spills. Once the surface looks visibly clean, it's time to disinfect. Spray or wipe down the surface with the diluted bleach mixture above or a store-bought disinfectant for kitchen surfaces. Note: Follow the "contact time" (how long the product has to sit on the surface) specified on the label before wiping away.

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Dish Towels and Sponges

"These are often highly contaminated," warns the University of Rochester Medical Center. Yikes! In fact, they go so far as to recommend not using a sponge in the kitchen—at all. In its place, opt for a dish scrubber or hard plastic scraper that can be cleaned in the dishwasher. If you simply can't part with your kitchen sponge, replace it often, at least once per week.

How to wash dish towels: Ideally, use a clean dishcloth daily. After each use, rinse it thoroughly and let air dry. If you use the cloth to wipe the floor or another unclean surface, run it through the laundry before using it to dry dishes again.

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Kitchen Sink

The kitchen sink and drain is a hotspot for germs, especially if you cook meat or fish. Clean the sink basin regularly, spritzing with the bleach mixture or a specialized disinfectant before rinsing thoroughly.

How to clean the drain: Every week, try this: Pour 1 cup of hot water down the drain, followed by 1 cup of undiluted bleach. Let stand overnight. This will sanitize the drain and keep unpleasant odors at bay.

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