The 20 Grossest Places in Your Office

Health insurance, anyone?

The sad truth is that most of us spend more time at our offices than at any other locale in our lives. In fact, according to May 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends approximately 1,789 hours per year at their workplace. And while that statistic is enough of a bummer on its own, it's even more upsetting when you consider that your office space is teeming with more than pressure and stress—it's also filled with germs.

From your computer mouse to the communal coffee pot in the break room, pretty much every item in your workplace is a breeding ground for illness-inducing bacteria. Keep reading to discover where exactly the germs in your office are hiding out (i.e. which items you should focus on when you next give your desk a deep clean).

Your coffee mug

A coffee mug and a laptop sitting on a desk office germs

We hate to be the ones to tell you this, but that coffee cup you keep at your desk is basically a magnet for bacteria. In a landmark 1997 study from the University of Arizona—which continues to make headlines today—researchers tested coffee cups in an office setting and found that coliform bacteria, found in fecal matter, was present on 20 percent of them. What's worse, after being wiped down with either a dishcloth or a sponge, every single cup tested positive for coliform bacteria. Ew!

Your desk

Stressed business woman standing and thinking in front of the office window office germs
baona / iStock

Whether you're eating lunch or hacking away at an Excel spreadsheet, you probably spend more time at your desk than on your couch or at your kitchen table on any given week. So it may come as an unwelcome surprise to learn that your desk is one of the most germ-infested places in your entire office. In fact, the average desk harbors up to 10 million bacteria, according to 2004 research from Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, cited by BBC News.

Your phone

Businessman dialing his office phone office germs

Several career paths require spending ample amount of time on the phone. The problem? Given how much the average office phone is used (and touched), it's covered with bacteria.

Specifically, Gerba found that the average office phone contained 25,127 germs per square inch, making it one of the filthiest items on your desk. "Without cleaning, a small area on your desk [or] phone can sustain millions of bacteria that could potentially cause illness," Gerba told BBC News.

Your chair

black woman talking on the phone in her office in front of laptop, hings not to say to customer service rep

That chair that you sit in all day is almost as germ-infested as your office phone, if not more so. In one 2012 study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers swabbed offices all over the country and found that chairs were generally more contaminated with germs than the phones, computer mice, computer keyboards, and desktops tested in the research. This includes both the seat and arms of your chair, so make sure that you're wiping down every part of your desk chair at least once a week.

Your keyboard

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During Gerba's research, he found that the average keyboard contained 3,295 germs per square inch. And you should be especially wary of shared keyboards: When researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia swabbed keyboards around the university in 2009, they concluded that shared keyboards had a significantly greater bacterial presence.

Your mouse

Man clicking on a mouse by the computer.

Though not as dirty as your keyboard, your computer mouse is also an office hotspot for germs. Gerba's study found that the typical mouse had 1,676 germs per square inch.

The elevator button

elevator etiquette hodor

If you're worried about getting sick at work, you might want to take the stairs over the elevator. One 2014 study published in the journal Open Medicine swabbed 120 elevator buttons in three hospitals and found that 61 percent showed microbiological growth. The bacterial strains found on the elevator buttons included coliform bacteria, along with Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, which lead to staph infections and strep throat, respectively.

Your pens

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Though many employees rely on their computers nowadays—hence the filthy keyboards and mice—there are occasionally assignments that require a good old-fashioned notebook and pen. And when those tasks come along, make sure to use some hand sanitizer immediately jotting something down. Why? In one 2011 study from NSF International, 23 percent of pens tested positive for yeast and mold and 5 percent tested positive for coliform bacteria.

The photocopier

Person using the photocopy machine office germs

You might want to put on some gloves before making that photocopy at work. When career service website Hloom swabbed common surfaces in various workplaces, they found that the average photocopier start button had more than 1.2 million colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch (CFU/sq. in.). Comparatively, the average pet bowl has 306,000 CFU/sq. in.

The office entrance handle or doorknob

Person opening a door office germs

Each and every employee opens the door to their office building at least twice a day, leaving behind germs and bacteria in the process. With that in mind, it probably comes as no surprise that Hloom found that the average office entrance doorknob contained 545 CFU/sq. in., 2.5 times more bacteria than the average home bathroom doorknob.

Conference room handle or doorknob

Woman entering a conference room office germs

And that's not the only door you have to worry about. Make sure you wash your hands after every meeting you have, seeing as, per the Hloom study, the average conference room doorknob or handle contains 6 CFU/sq. in, approximately 3.5 times more than the typical car steering wheel. Though this is minimal in comparison to some of the other surfaces in your office, any amount of bacteria is enough to get you sick under the right circumstances.

The coffee pot handle

Man pouring from a coffee pot in the office office germs

The communal coffee pot at your office is one of many kitchen items teeming with bacteria. Hloom found that the average coffee pot handle contained 108,592 CFU/sq. in.—34 times more bacteria than the average school toilet seat.

The break room faucet

Kitchen sink home problems

Pretty much every surface in your office break room is covered in bacteria—the sink included. When Kimberly-Clark Professional analyzed various office areas for bacteria and collected nearly 5,000 samples in 2012, they found that 75 percent of all break room sink faucet handles tested had high levels of contamination. Actually, out of all the surfaces swabbed, the break room sink was the most consistently contaminated.

The microwave handle

Man opening his microwave oven office germs

That communal microwave is another item that you need to watch out for. The Kimberly-Clark study concluded that 48 percent of microwave door handles tested had significant levels of bacterial contamination.

The fridge door handle

woman opening fridge office germs

The place where you store your lunch and perishable snacks is the last thing you'd want to be covered in germs. And yet, the Kimberly-Clark study found that 26 percent of office kitchen refrigerator door handles had alarmingly high levels of bacterial contamination. Eek!

The water fountain button

water fountain

Yep, there's a pretty good chance that the water fountain in your office is covered in germs, too. In the Kimberly-Clark study, 23 percent of water fountain buttons—nearly 1 in every 4—contained high levels of bacteria.

The water cooler button

An office water cooler office germs

Sure, the office water cooler is a great place to chat with coworkers, or refill your water bottle, of course. But it's also unfortunately a hotspot for bacteria. According to the Hloom research, the average water dispenser button contained 185 CFU/sq. in, which is 4 times more bacteria than what's on the average cutting board.

Your headphones

Office man working at his desk with headphones

One item on your desk that you likely aren't cleaning but should be is your headphones. For a 2008 study published in the Online Journal of Health and Allied Sciences, researchers swabbed 50 sets of headphones and they found bacteria on approximately 62 percent of them. They concluded that "frequent and constant use of earphones increases the bacterial growth in the ear." Yuck! And if you need another reason to limit how often you're wearing your headphones, find out why ear buds are one of the 23 Surprising Ways You're Damaging Your Body.

Your cell phone

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Turns out, what you attach your headphones to is just as filthy. According to one 2012 University of Arizona study, cell phones carry 10 times more germs than most toilet seats. And in a 2017 study published in the Iranian Journal of Microbiology, scientists tested the phones of both health care workers and non-health care workers. They identified highly infectious bacteria on the cell phones of both groups, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (which can cause skin infections) and A. baumannii (which can lead to pneumonia, meningitis, and urinary tract infections).

Your coworkers' hands

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Well, how else did you think everything got so dirty in your office? The truth is, very few of your coworkers practice proper hygiene. According to The Cleaning Services Group, 30 percent of workers admitted to only using water to wash up, and that's part of the reason why a staggering 26 percent of people have fecal bacteria on their hands at any given time. You'll never look at Bob in accounting the same way. And for more workplace tips, check out these 25 Genius Ways to Conquer Office Burnout.

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