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7 Smart Ways Germ Experts Boost Their Immune System

They’re less paranoid than you might expect, but what they worry about (airplanes, laundry!) will surprise you.


71% Don’t Clean Hands After Touching Public Surfaces

I’m [just] careful to wash my hands before eating. I didn’t get a respiratory infection because I touched a door handle after a sick person touched it; I got it because I then touched my hand to my eye or nose. —Michael Pentella, PhD, clinical associate professor, University of Iowa College of Public Health

I press buttons with my knuckle—especially the ground-floor elevator button, because everyone touches that—or I use my middle finger because I’m less likely to then touch my face with it. —Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of microbiology, University of Arizona Here are other everyday items dirtier than a toilet seat.

istock/Ashok Rodrigues

29% Carry Hand Sanitizer

I prefer soap and water. If that’s not available, I’ll use sanitizer—but I’m not religious about carrying it. —Rima Khabbaz, MD, director for infectious diseases at the CDC


86% Don’t Disinfect Shopping Carts

You’ll find germs on shopping cart handles, but you’ll also find them on meat and other food as well. After I leave the grocery store, I use an alcoholic wipe or gel on my hands. Then I wash them after I unload the groceries at home. Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of micro-biology and pathology, Langone Medical Center, NYU


50% Have Special Laundry Hygiene Habits

I do an underwear load last because an average pair contains about a hundred thousand fecal bacteria, and I don’t want that transferring to other loads. About once a week, I put a half cup or a cup of bleach into the empty machine and run it with only water to kill any germs. Don’t miss the germs probably lurking on your clothes right now. — Charles Gerba, PhD

I did a study on the ability to kill germs on fabric. I washed in hot water, washed in cold, and used standard detergents, and while the bacteria were decreased by washing, to get rid of them all, a hot dryer worked best. Dry your clothes well, and you’ll kill germs. Michael Pentella, PhD

istock/Troels Graugaard

86% Protect Themselves on Planes

I cover the tray with a napkin so I don’t set food directly on it. I avoid putting things in the seat pocket, because it may contain items from prior passengers. —Michael Pentella, PhD

I never use water from the plane restroom’s sink because those water tanks form biofilms, which are replete with germs. So I use an alcoholic gel or towelette (I do this before eating too). I don’t use headrest covers or blankets that aren’t sealed. — Philip Tierno, PhD

istock/Heidi van der Westhui

67% Steer Clear of Sick People

I stay at least three feet away. Most germs are spread by droplets; talking and sneezing produce droplets that fall within a six-foot range. — Michael Pentella, PhD

istock/Sharon Barnes

86% Sneeze into Their Elbow

Don’t sneeze into your hands and then touch somebody; that transfers those viral particles. Even worse is when I see people just sneeze right out into the air—the spray can hit dozens of people. Here are the cleaning mistakes that leave your house germy— Philip Tierno, PhD

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest