Even if you clean the kitchen sink regularly with soap and water, the dampness, warmth and darkness of the sink drain makes this fixture the most contaminated part of the average home, according to microbiologist Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona. Ordinary soap and water won't kill dangerous pathogens, and cleaning with old sponges spreads the bacteria to whatever surfaces the sponge touches, including faucet handles and counter tops.
Salmonella, one of the major causes of food poisoning, often enters the kitchen on contaminated meat and poultry. From 31 to 41 percent of the chicken used in an English sanitation study in 2001 tested positive for salmonella, according to an article by Beth Layton in the Saint Martin's University Biology Journal. Poor sanitation practices easily spread the bacteria to fixtures, sinks and sink drains, where the salmonella bacteria multiplies.
Campylobacter -- found in dairy, meat and poultry products -- causes diarrhea and could kill young children, the elderly, or those weakened by chronic disease. Dirty sink drains provide good growing conditions for this common pathogen and common cleaning procedures could spread the bacteria rather than kill it. The best treatment for campylobacter and other pathogens involves frequent washing of fixtures and surfaces with a solution of 3 tbsp. chlorine bleach mixed in 1 quart of water, says Susan Ferraro of the New York Daily News.
Bathroom sinks host more E-coli and other fecal bacteria than the toilet seats, according to a University of Arizona study. Not all strains of E-coli cause serious illness, but some strains could cause severe or even fatal illness. The study showed that even though women's restrooms appear cleaner than men's restrooms, bathroom sinks in the women's facilities contained twice the bacterial count.
Staphylococcus Aureus causes skin infections and could cause more serious problems such as blood poisoning. Methycillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus or MRSA showed up on sinks, countertops and hand towels in a test study funded by HSPH-NIOSH Education and Research Center. Five families with pets and children young enough to wear diapers participated in the study, which the American Public Health Association says also revealed other pathogens including streptococci, enterococci and pseudomonas.
- NY Daily News: Invisible Critters on Your Counters; Susan Ferraro; November 1st, 1998
- Arizona Daily Wildcat: Bathroom Research Reveals Surprising Data; Amanda Riddle; June 11th, 1997
- American Public Health Association: A Pilot Study to Identify the Distribution and Determinants of Indicator and Pathogenic Target Bacteria in Homes with Healthcare Workers, Young Children and Pets
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