Inside Scoop On The Dirtiest Place In Office

It's the sink faucet handles in the break room, according to a down-and-dirty study by Kimberly-Clark Professional. They offer a program to "help companies provide their employees with a healthier and more productive office environment."

The study researchers swabbed some 4,800 surfaces in office buildings housing some 3,000 employees. Office types included manufacturing facilities, law firms, insurance companies, health care companies, and call centers.

The swabs were run through a device that measures ATP, the energy molecule found in all animal, plant, bacteria, yeast, and mold cells. Food residues -- or residues of "other organic materials" -- contain large amounts of ATP, according to the device maker.

When the device reads 100 or more, the surface could stand to be cleaned. When the device reads 300 or more, the surface is officially dirty and in need of a good cleaning. The device does not specifically detect germs, although dirty surfaces do provide a breeding ground for bacteria.

The study got the "officially dirty" readings of 300 or more on:

  1. 75% of break room sink-faucet handles
  2. 48% of microwave door handles
  3. 27% of keyboards
  4. 26% of refrigerator door handles
  5. 23% of water fountain buttons
  6. 21% of vending machine buttons

Overall, the study got "could-be-cleaner" readings of over 100 on:

  • 91% of break room sink-faucet handles
  • 80% of microwave door handles
  • 69% of keyboards
  • 69% of refrigerator door handles
  • 53% of water fountain buttons
  • 51% of computer mice
  • 51% of desk phones
  • 48% of coffee pots and dispensers
  • 43% of vending machine buttons


“A lot of people are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention,” study consultant Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University ofArizona, said in a statement. “This study demonstrates that contamination can be spread throughout the workplace when office workers heat up lunch, make coffee or simply type on their keyboards.”

It’s impossible to avoid germs entirely, but according to Brad Reynolds of Kimberly-Clark Professional’s Healthy Workplace Project, diligent washing, wiping and sanitizing can help office workers reduce their rates of cold, flu and stomach illness by up to 80%.

Here are some of Gerba’s tips for protecting yourself from catching your co-workers’ coughs, sniffles or other germs:

  • Keep hand sanitizer at your desk and use it immediately after every meeting or conference
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you get to work, especially after riding mass transit, such as trains or buses
  • Use disinfectant wipes to clean your desk at least once a day, particularly if you eat at your desk
  • Use disinfectant wipes to sanitize high-touch areas in a break room, or use paper towels to touch them
  • Keep hand sanitizer in the break room to reinforce healthy hand hygiene behaviors