Worried about pollution? Stay away from home, where moving around?and even vacuuming?can kick up enough dust particles to be hazardous to your health. Maybe this will reassure you: the toilet seat is the most germ free place in your house.
Michael Bernstein writes for the American Chemical Society that that ordinary household activities can increase your exposure to particulate pollution. When small particles lodge in your lungs and get into your bloodstream, they can cause everything from asthma to heart disease. Particulates in your home come from outdoor, cooking, smoking, heating equipment and ordinary human activities?like moving around.
"I measured concentrations of airborne particles continuously while performing a variety of normal human activities that resuspend house dust in the home," says researcher Andrea Ferro (it's no accident that a woman investigated this). She placed particle detectors in a house in Redwood City, California, then folded clothes, dusted, made beds, vacuumed and did other everyday activities.
Dusting created a significant amount of particles, but "The highest source was from two people just walking around and sitting on furniture," says Ferro. This released half as many particles as smoking a cigarette. She says, "The result that was most surprising to me was that just walking around can resuspend almost as much dust as vacuuming.
"The source strengths depended on the number of persons performing the activity, the vigor of the activity, the type of activity and the type of flooring," Ferro says. Moving around on a wooden floor releases fewer particles than the same activities done on a carpet.
Vacuuming not only didn't remove the particles, it actually created many more, because vacuum brushes release deeply embedded particles from the carpet. Also, the motor produces particles; and the bags don't collect 100% of them.
These particles are smaller than those emitted from older power plants, for instance; however, "Smaller particles tend to deposit deeper in the lungs than the larger particles, potentially causing more harm," Ferro says.
The solution? "One study estimates that about two-thirds of house dust is tracked in from outdoors," Ferro says. "Therefore, leaving shoes at the door can make a big difference in reducing the particle reservoir on the floor."
A recent study showed that the cleaner your kitchen looks, the dirtier it actually is, since sponges harbor germs and wiping down surfaces spreads these germs around. But escaping to the office won't help, since scientists have found that keyboards, computer mice and telephone dials contain 400 times as many germs as toilet seats.
According to the study, telephones had up to 25,127 germs per square inch, keyboards 3,295 and computer mice 1,676. The average office contains 20,961 germs per square inch. "Desks are really bacteria cafeterias," says microbiologist Charles Gerba. "They are breakfast bars, lunch tables and everything else, as we spend more hours at the office. When someone is infected with a cold or flu bug, the surfaces they touch during the day become germ transfer points because some cold and flu viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. An office can become an incubator."
New Scientist Magazine regularly does germ surveys in typical homes, and always finds that the toilet seat is the most germ-free surface in the house. They think this could be because we actually "scrape off" the germs when sliding off it.
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