The 5 Filthiest Spots in Your Office

If you're feeling under the weather, you may be tempted to go to work anyway—after all, why get behind on your work and make your coworkers pick up the slack? But a recent University of Arizona study provides compelling evidence that an office worker who shows up sick may cause more problems for his colleagues than one who stays home in bed. The researchers created a "bacterial virus"—essentially, an artificial virus similar to one that would spread colds, flu, and stomach bugs (but that would not actually sicken anyone)—and planted it on the surface of a communal door. Within four hours, more than half of the 80 office workers had the virus on their hands, proving that germs multiply rapidly in the intimate environment of an office.

Here’s a list of the nastiest germ-gathering spots in your workplace, according to the researchers:

  1. Phone handset. "It's the number one spot--no one ever cleans it," asserts Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the lead author of the study. Even if you're the only one using your phone, your hands likely carry germs that you picked up in other office hot spots. And chances are you that you pick up that handset multiple times per day.
  2. Desktop. We don't mean your computer desktop, but the actual top of your desk—the one on which you drum your fingers and place your sticky, perhaps unwashed coffee cup. This area is likely festering with germs: In Gerba's study, within four hours of introducing the virus, half of the office workers not only had the planted viruses on their hands, but also on their desktops.
  3. Keyboard/mouse. It's probably no surprise that the keyboard and mouse, which are touched constantly throughout the day, harbor plenty of germs (not to mention crumbs).
  4. Photocopier and fax machine. These machines get plenty of use, and the buttons are touched frequently.
  5. Coffeepot handle. "You want to be the first one in the office to get a cup of coffee, I'll tell you that," Gerba says. Many workers enjoy a cup (or two) of java, and the coffeepot handle gets touched quite a bit as the day goes on. The pot itself also may be germy if no one washes it regularly (a likely scenario). Other hot spots in the break room: the microwave and the lunch table.

Fighting the Germ Invaders

Before you decide to work from home permanently, consider that reducing the spread of germs is mostly a matter of hygiene: "Sanitizer is probably the best defense," according to Gerba. That may be because "People just don't wash their hands enough." Other tips from Gerba:

  • Disinfect all workplace surfaces every two or three days during cold and flu season and at least weekly the rest of the year. A simple multi-surface cleaner does the trick.
  • Avoid public transportation if possible, as your risk of catching viruses and bacteria rise in those environments.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Don't store food in your desk.
  • If you're running a fever, just stay home.

Reviewed by Charles Gerba, PhD, reviewed this article.


Charles Gerba, PhD. University of Arizona, Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Phone call with source. December 22, 2015.

"Germs Spread Fast at Work, Study Finds." The University of Arizona. Published January 30, 2013. Accessed December 22, 2014.