What Are America’s Dirtiest Surfaces?

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Your mom always said, be careful what you touch, and always wash your hands.

Well, mom was right.

A new survey has exposed the dirtiest surfaces that Americans touch and, unfortunately for the average person, they are some of the most frequent and most necessary things we touch on a daily basis.

The top offenders on the list include gas pumps, handles on public mailboxes, escalator rails and ATM buttons.  Following closely were items like vending machine buttons, parking meters and buttons on crosswalks.

The survey was released today by Kimberly-Clark Professional, a unit of the personal hygiene giant Kimberly-Clark Corp.

The news comes just as the annual cold and flu season, which runs from September through April, gets underway.

Testers drew more than 350 swabs from surfaces in U.S. cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia, and analyzed them for levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which signals the presence of animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast or mold cells.

Everyday objects with an ATP reading of 300 or higher are considered to have a high risk for illness transmission, researchers said.

So how many of the germiest surfaces contained an ATP reading of 300 or more?

  • 71 percent of Gas Pump Handles
  • 68 percent of Mailbox Handles
  • 43 percent of Escalator Rails
  • 41 percent of ATM Buttons
  • 40 percent of Parking Meters/Kiosks
  • 35 percent of Crosswalk Buttons
  • 35 percent of Vending Machine Buttons

The fact that the top offenders were all in public places and items that people touch on their way to work, in the mall or on the street came down to one simple fact, the survey’s leaders said.

“Nobody cleans the things that you’re going to touch on a daily basis,” said Dr. Kelly Arehart, program leader of Kimberly-Clark’s Healthy Workplace Project.

Arehart’s colleague at the project, Brad Reynolds, said the solution is nearly as simple as the problem.

Germs from people’s hands can transfer seven times before leaving the skin, so people should wash their hands as soon as they get to work and swab their desks frequently with a cleaning product, he said.