The 17 Grossest Places in Your Kids' School

You might want to start packing hand sanitizer in their lunch boxes.

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To say that children throw caution to the wind when it comes to hygiene would be a gross understatement (pun intended). They wash their hands without soap (if at all), and they pick their noses and eat what they find. Given how unsanitary school-aged children are, it only makes sense that schools themselves are teeming with germs. However, some areas are dirtier than others. Keep reading to discover the surfaces in your kids' schools that are the most germ-infested.

1
Pencil Sharpeners

Pencil Sharpener Old Classroom Objects
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If your kid's classroom still has a manual pencil sharpener, you might want to invest in a small, portable one that they can keep to themselves. A 2010 study in The Journal of School Nursing found that manual pencil sharpener handles were one of the germiest school surfaces tested, second only to…

2
Water Fountains

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Hundreds of kids put their mouths dangerously close to the water fountain every day at school—and alarmingly, they are far from cleanly. The 2010 Journal of School Nursing study found that water fountain toggles carried the most bacteria of any school surface.

On top of that, when researchers from NSF International took samples from two Michigan elementary schools' classroom water fountain spigots, they found that they contained an average of 2.7 million colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch (CFU/sq. in.). For comparison, the average toilet seat sampled only had 3,200 CFU/sq. in. Yikes!

3
Cafeteria Trays

Healthy Cafeteria Food Ways Going Back to School is Different
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Make sure to remind your kids not to eat directly off of their cafeteria trays! The NSF International researchers found that the average tray contained 33,800 CFU/sq. in. That's more than 10 times the amount of bacteria on a school toilet seat. Considering students are bound to drop an apple slice or two on their tray, that's a hard pill for any parent to swallow.

4
Keyboards

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Given the fact that students tend to share the computers at school, it stands to reason that the average classroom keyboard is a cesspool. And that's precisely what the researchers from NSF International discovered: Per their study, the average classroom keyboard contains 3,300 CFU/sq. in., which again, is more than a toilet seat!

5
Computer Mice

Man clicking on a mouse by the computer.
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Computer mice aren't much better than computer keyboards when it comes to cleanliness. In fact, in January 2008, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about a norovirus outbreak at a Washington, D.C., elementary school caused by—you guessed it—contaminated computer mice and keyboards. Of the 314 students and 66 staff members at the school, 103 came down with the illness during the outbreak.

"This is the first time that we have demonstrated that keyboards and computer mice can be a source of transmission of norovirus," Dr. Shua Chai, a CDC epidemiologist, said in a press release.

6
Bathroom Counters

An empty school bathroom classroom surfaces germs
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Given what kids do in the bathroom, it makes sense that bathroom counters aren't the cleanest. When the researchers behind the 2010 Journal of School Nursing study tested 12 school sink countertops, they determined that there was enough bacteria present to potentially make kids sick.

7
Paper Towel Dispensers

Person using a paper towel dispenser classroom surfaces germs
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Those fancy paper towel dispensers that respond to the wave of your hand are hardly a concern when it comes to germs. Paper towel dispensers with manual levers on the other hand? Well, in the Journal of School Nursing study, these were one of the most germ-infested school surfaces.

8
Faucets

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Ironically enough, the faucets that students and educators use every day to stay clean are covered in germs. The NSF International researchers found that the average cold water faucet handle contained 32,000 CFU/sq. in.

9
Bathroom floors

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You'd imagine toilet flush handles are one of the dirtiest school surfaces, but they've got nothing on bathroom floors. In a 2018 study published in the journal PLOS One, scientists analyzed samples taken from various school surfaces for methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), a strain of bacteria that can lead to a skin infection that's not treatable with penicillin, according to the CDC.

When the researchers tested bathroom floors, 12.5 percent of the samples turned up positive for MSSA. By comparison, only 2.5 percent of the toilet handles tested positive for the same bacteria strain.

10
Desks

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Desktops were one of the most virus-contaminated surfaces in the average school setting, according to the Journal of School Nursing study. Specifically, the researchers found that five of the 27 desktops swabbed tested positive for Influenza A.

11
Chairs

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Even though it's just their clothes-covered behinds that sit in them, those chairs that your children spend all day in are far from germ-free. In the 2018 PLOS One study, researchers took samples from 200 classroom chairs and found that 3.5 percent tested positive for MSSA.

12
Stairway Railings

Student walking up a school stairwell classroom surfaces germs
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School stairway railings are constantly caressed by children's grimy hands and yet seldom cleaned properly. Therefore, it's hardly surprising that the PLOS One study tested 80 stair handles and found that nearly 9 percent of them came back positive for MSSA.

13
Light Switches

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In the same 2018 study, researchers took 80 samples from various school light switches and found that approximately 2.5 percent tested positive for MSSA. This might not seem like much, but try to imagine how many students and teachers touch a classroom light switch on any given day. Even if every single one of those people were to clean their hands before and after touching the light switch, odds are that at least one of them would either deposit germs on the switch or pick them up and further spread them throughout the school.

14
Door Handles

Little girl peeking through a classroom door Classroom Surfaces Germs
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Students can't help but touch door handles whenever they enter and exit a classroom. The problem? The researchers behind the PLOS One study found that, of 40 door handle samples, 5 percent tested positive for MSSA.

15
Classroom Floors

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In the 2018 study in PLOS One, researchers took 40 samples from classroom floors and found that 12.5 percent tested positive for MSSA, which is especially problematic for younger students, as they spend quite a bit of time sitting in circles on the floor and rarely wash their hands properly.

16
Animal Cages

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Do you remember being in elementary school and having a class pet? Yes, getting to take Hammy home for the weekend was certainly fun, but he and his cage were even filthier than you might've thought. When the NSF International researchers swabbed and analyzed animal cages, they found that they contained approximately 1,200 CFU/sq. in. So, if your child or grandchild has a class pet, make sure that they know to wash their hands both before and after they play with them.

17
Kids' Hands

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The bad news? When NSF International swabbed and tested students' hands, they found that they contained an average of 1,200 CFU/sq. in. The good news? This is a minimal amount of bacteria compared to some of the worst and most germ-infested classroom surfaces—and if you remind your children of the importance of washing their hands, you can easily bring this number down. And for more health tips that will keep your children safe at school, check out these 17 Things School Nurses Wish You Knew.

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