There is no getting around it: babies and little kids are messy. As a parent of a preschooler, I don’t think I truly understood what “messy” meant until we brought a baby into our home. From newborn diapers and baby spit-up to mud-filled toddler shoes and pee-soaked sheets, being a parent is a dirty job.
But do you know how many germs your little ones are exposed to every day? The ASecureLife staff wanted to find out. We swabbed and analyzed 10 common objects in nine homes with children ranging in age from newborn to four years. Below are what we found to be the germiest items our little ones interact with every day. Some of the results may surprise you!
Top 10 germiest kids’ items: Video overview
Check out the video summarizing our research methods and findings below.
What we found
We pulled out some of the most interesting findings from our research and analyzed the germs from multiple angles: by room, by item, and by various other factors like whether the home had pets living in it.
Germiest items compared to participants’ predictions
First, we polled all the participants to get their best guesses on how the items would rank from most to least germ-ridden.
It turned out that although the participants expected their cellphones to have the most germs, the gadgets were surprisingly germ-free. However, the following table might make you question when you last cleaned your stroller.
Check out the full results below to see how accurate the participants’ guesses were.
|3||Diaper bag||Plush toy|
|4||Pacifier/sippy cup||Diaper bag|
|5||Car keys||TV remote|
|6||Plastic toy||Plastic toy|
|7||Plush toy||Board book|
|10||Board book||Car keys|
|Diaper bag||Plush toy|
|Pacifier/sippy cup||Diaper bag|
|Car keys||TV remote|
|Plastic toy||Plastic toy|
|Plush toy||Board book|
|Board book||Car keys|
Top germiest items
After analyzing our data, we identified the germiest items of the 10 we tested. People’s strollers had the dubious honor of being in first place.
The data below may help explain why strollers have so many germs: most people store their strollers in garages, which experience more temperature and humidity variation than most other places in the house. The garage also traps in dust, exhaust fumes, and germ-carrying pests. This creates the ideal breeding ground for large amounts of bacteria, yeast, and mold.
Below you can see at a glance which age groups, rooms of the house, and household items harbored the most germs. We know by now that strollers carry a lot of germs, but pacifiers weren’t far behind in second place. So you might consider tossing your kid’s pacifier in the dishwasher every now and then.
Germiest items by age group
One of the things that surprised us most in our study was that, of all the age groups we tested, homes with babies younger than one year were the least germy. In the toddler age group (one to three years), the pacifier reigned as the germiest item, but our research found that the stroller was the most germ-infested in the baby (newborn to one year) and presechooler (three to four years) age groups.
Germs by household residents
Next, we wanted to find out whether the households’ germ levels were affected by having one stay-at-home parent or by having pets.
Our research showed a correlation between households with one stay-at-home parent and those homes’ overall cleanliness. There are a number of possible reasons for this correlation. For one thing, the stay-at-home parents we surveyed were less likely to take their children to public places like day care, so the children had less exposure to certain germ sources. These parents also cleaned their homes more often than households with two working parents.
Another notable finding was that the homes with pets did not show a significant difference in germ levels than homes without pets.
Germs by gender
We questioned whether the biological sex of the children affected germ levels in their homes. We found that homes with more boys in them were slightly more likely to have a higher number of germs than homes with mostly girls. Of the homes we tested, 44% had more boys than girls, but had 51% of the overall germs.
Germs by room
We found that items kept in bedrooms harbored the highest concentration of harmful germs. Even more surprising was that kids’ board books were hotbeds of germ strains that can cause such unpleasant illnesses as sinusitis, ear infections, and even pneumonia.
Data: Taking a closer look
Not all germs are harmful to our well-being—in fact, many contribute to our bodies’ overall health. So what’s the difference between all these different types of germs, and what do they all do? We’ve collected some facts about the basic types of germs and listed a few examples of each to give you a better idea.
Types of germs on each item
Now that we know the difference between the various germ classifications, we can take a closer look at which germs were present on which items. You’ll notice all the objects had gram-positive germs—that’s to be expected. But take note of the high concentration of nastier bugs living on strollers, pacifiers, plush toys, and diaper bags.
Top five items with the most harmful germs
Most harmful germ present: Streptococcus
The stroller grew streptococci bacteria, which can cause illnesses like strep throat, pink eye, and meningitis.
Most harmful germ present: E. coli
The pacifier grew gram-negative enteric bacteria, which belong to a class of coliform-containing bacteria that include E. coli and salmonella.
3. Plush toy
Most harmful germ present: Listeria
The plush toy grew listeria, which can cause listeriosis, a rare but potentially lethal foodborne illness that can affect people with weakened immune systems.
4. Diaper bag
Most harmful germ present: Pertussis
The diaper bag grew coccobacilli, which can lead to pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
5. Board book
Most harmful germ present: Moraxella
The board book grew Moraxella, a class of gram-negative bacteria that can cause sinusitis, ear infections, or pneumonia.
Germiest items by part of item, location in home, and material
|Item||Germiest part of item||Location in house||Type of surface|
|Stroller||Handles & cup holders||Garage||Plastic|
|Pacifier/sippy cup||Nipple or spout||Kitchen||Latex/silicone or plastic|
|Diaper bag||Zippers & strap||Kitchen||Woven fabric & metal|
|TV remote||Buttons||Living room||Plastic|
|Cellphone/tablet||Screen||Living room||Glass & metal|
|Germiest part of item||Location in house||Type of surface|
|Handles & cup holders||Garage||Plastic|
|Nipple or spout||Kitchen||Latex/silicone or plastic|
|Zippers & strap||Kitchen||Woven fabric & metal|
|Screen||Living room||Glass & metal|
How to combat germs
Now that you know where germs are hiding, the next step is to get rid of them. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do by cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting—and by doing those things more often than you think you should. The National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a helpful chart to remind you what to clean, how often to clean, and what level of cleaning to do on certain items.
When we say clean, we mean removing dirt and debris by scrubbing and washing with soap and water. This method won’t kill germs completely, but it will reduce their numbers by getting rid of where they live and what they eat.
What to clean: Everything—all toys, surfaces, bottles, pacifiers, etc.
To sanitize is to reduce germs on surfaces to decrease the risk of infection. This won’t kill all viruses, but it will get rid of many of the more harmful germs.
What to sanitize: High chairs, toys, pacifiers
Disinfecting means destroying or deactivating almost all germs on any inanimate object to eliminate disease-causing microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses.
What to disinfect: Diaper tables, door and cabinet handles, toilets, potty chairs, bathroom surfaces
Do I need to use bleach to get rid of germs?
Keep in mind that some germs are actually helpful for our bodies, so don’t go overboard with the antibacterial wipes or bleach, or you might kill the good germs as well. This is especially true for items that tend to grow gram-negative bacteria, which are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.
If you do choose to use chemicals to disinfect or sanitize, make sure you follow safety precautions for mixing and storage. Many green alternatives are just as effective as bleach at killing germs but are biodegradable and less toxic.
In addition to cleaning and sanitizing on a regular basis, you can implement prevention measures, like regular handwashing, which will go a long way toward protecting your family from infectious diseases. A regular cleaning with good ol’ soap and water will do wonders to keep your home and everyone in it happy and healthy.
The families were divided into three age groups: 0–1, 1–3, and 3–4, with three families per group. Samples were taken using sterile swabs, including two samples for each of the 10 items per household, for a total of 180 samples. The swab samples were taken to the lab within 12 hours of collection and cultured on fresh pre-poured LB (Luria broth) agar plates for five days at the University of Utah.
After the incubation period, ASL staff worked with a lab technician to quantify the number of CFUs (colony-forming units) per plate and performed Gram-stain tests to determine which bacteria, mold, and yeast cultures grew. Parent participants completed a survey to determine behavioral and environmental factors that could have contributed to their results.
Items and areas that were swabbed
|Item swabbed||Area 1||Area 2|
|Child’s favorite plush toy||Top of toy||Bottom of toy|
|Child’s favorite plastic toy||Top of toy||Bottom of toy|
|TV remote||Buttons||Plastic casing|
|Pacifier/sippy cup||Hard plastic area||Nipple/spout|
|Stroller||Handle/cup holder||Seat/buckles/side pole|
|Child’s bedroom door||Knob||Door on either side of knob|
|Board book||Cover||Middle page|
|Area 1||Area 2|
|Top of toy||Bottom of toy|
|Top of toy||Bottom of toy|
|Hard plastic area||Nipple/spout|
|Handle/cup holder||Seat/buckles/side pole|
|Knob||Door on either side of knob|
Parent survey questions
- Rank these items 1–10 based on which ones you think will have the most germs
(1 being the most germs and 10 being the fewest germs).
- Number of adults in household?
- Average age range of adults?
- What is your household work arrangement?
- Number of children?
- Age of children?
- Biological sex of children?
- How often do you take your child to public places (e.g., school, library, grocery store, doctor’s visits, park, etc.)?
- Does your child go to school, attend day care, or stay home?
- Does your child have siblings living with them who go to school or day care?
- When was the last time your child was sick?
- Do you wash your hands before every meal?
- Do you stress handwashing to your children?
- How often do you use hand sanitizers?
- If you have pets, do they reside indoors or outdoors the majority of the time?
- How often does your house get cleaned?
- Do you and/or your spouse clean your house?
- Do you have a cleaning service?
- Do you use bleach when cleaning your house?
- Do you use bleach when doing laundry?
Disclaimer: While we presented the findings from our research as accurately as possible, please note that this research includes a small sample size that does not necessarily represent the general population. Keep in mind that a similar study with a larger sample size may produce different results.