10 Germ Magnets That Need Spring Cleaning Now

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WHERE BACTERIA LIVE

Spring is a time to emerge from hibernation and rethink cleaning habits with an eye toward health. Some germ factories are obvious -- cutting boards, carpets, shoes, hands -- but there many seemingly innocuous sources of germs that can make you sick. And, of course, fewer trips to the doctor mean fewer medications, which in turn mean more money in your pocket. Here are 10 safe havens for germs that belong on your spring-cleaning list. (No need to go overboard, though. Some germs are good -- they build up immunity to certain bacteria. There is a happy medium between obsessive hand sanitizing and skipping the sink after using the restroom.)

Related: 15 Simple Ways to Fend Off Colds and Flu

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DISHWASHER

Something with the word "washer" in its name sounds like it should be clean as a whistle. Nope. The dishwasher is one of the dirtiest spots in the kitchen. Food particles that remain on the dishes after loading create a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Molly Maid's Cleaning Institute recommends multiple methods for keeping your dishwasher safe from troublesome germs, including one technique that involves Tang drink mix.

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DOORKNOBS AND LIGHT SWITCHES

It's hard to go anywhere without touching a door handle, switch plate, or knob. And think of the hordes who have been there before you. Light switch plates are especially troublesome because of all the nooks and crannies. Do everyone in the household a favor by routinely using a safe disinfectant on these surfaces. If out in public, consider using the paper towel from drying your hands to open the restroom door before throwing it away -- or carry wipes.

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TOWELS AND SHEETS

We get up close and personal with sheets and towels at least once a day, allowing them to pick up germs, allergens, dirt, and other nasty bits. Hygiene experts recommend changing sheets and towels every seven to 10 days. Getting into a routine (maybe designating one day of the week "linens day") can help reduce the spread of germs and the likelihood of anyone getting sick. If you are under the weather, make sure your towel is yours only for the week and wash it as soon as you feel better.

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BED PILLOWS AND MATTRESSES

Pillows and mattresses accumulate dust, dead skin, sweat, drool, and germs. Replacing sheets and pillowcases takes care of only part of the problem. The accumulation of these particles in the place where you rest your head every night can cause repeated allergy flare-ups, which can lead to prolonged medication and doctors' visits. Most bed pillows can be cleaned fairly easily. A Bowl Full of Lemons provides a tutorial for keeping pillows fresh and germ-free. Prevention recommends replacing pillows every year and a mattress every five to 10 years (more often if you aren't sleeping well).

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PANTRY

Spring is a good time to go through the pantry and refrigerator in search of foodstuffs that were shoved to the back an untold number of months ago. Check the dates to help determine what's still good and what's not. Food is often safe to eat past its "sell by" date, and many dry and canned products (rice, pasta, spices, tomato sauce, beans, and the like) and refrigerated standbys (salad dressings and condiments) have lengthy shelf lives, but eating expired food can put you at risk for gastrointestinal distress and other uncomfortable illnesses. If you can't read the date or just aren't sure, abide by the old maxim: "When in doubt, throw it out."

Related: 50 Food Storage Tips to Help Save Money and Cut Waste

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PHONES

We're all guilty of taking a cellphone into the kitchen, the bathroom, the grocery store, and sometimes even (gasp) public restrooms. In the many miles this mobile device traverses daily, it picks up more germs than a toilet seat. And do you ever clean your phone after you've been sick? Popsugar offers tips for thoroughly cleaning a smartphone.

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PURSES AND WALLETS

Much like cellphones, purses and wallets travel with us everywhere. When set on the floor and elsewhere, the bottom of a purse picks up bacteria that can cause a variety of illnesses, from colds to diarrhea. Experts suggest wiping down the contents of your purse with antibacterial wipes and not bringing it farther than the entryway to avoid exposing other areas of your home (especially the kitchen).

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COFFEE MAKER

Because bacteria thrive in damp places, your morning cup o' joe may be at risk for contamination. Keeping the coffee maker clean means doing more than running water over the components. In The Huffington Post, an expert from the Good Housekeeping Research Institute recommends daily cleaning with soap and water, along with a run-through using a vinegar solution for sanitizing and decalcifying every one to three months.

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TOOTHBRUSHES

For something that goes in your mouth at least twice a day, a toothbrush is not all that clean. Bacteria can float around the bathroom in up to a 6-foot radius after the toilet is flushed, a periodontist tells Mental Floss. To prevent germs from settling on your toothbrush, flush the toilet with the lid down, keep toothbrushes away from the toilet, and replace them often. 

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KEYBOARD AND MOUSE

Those of us with desk jobs are constantly going from car to computer, bathroom to computer, lunch to computer, and so on. By the time your hands hit the keyboard and grab the mouse again, you've likely accumulated quite a few germs. Never mind all the crumbs dropped in between the keys while scarfing down lunch or a snack. Hand washing is the No. 1 protection against transferring bacteria to and from computer components. Also make sure to clean the keyboard and mouse frequently.