Germs have a bigger impact on our daily lives than you may realize.
Jason Tetro, a Canadian microbiologist and author of The Germ Code, reveals all kinds of interesting tidbits in his latest book: The Germ Files, out Saturday, Feb. 6.
For instance, did you know the germiest places in your home are the bathroom and kitchen? The smallest surfaces crawling with bacteria, however, are your cellphone and tablet.
But no need to panic. Only 0.01 per cent of the microbial species can cause infection. Over the course of your lifetime, you might be exposed to about a dozen of those.
Don’t think that antibacterial soap will save you either. Tetro says research has shown the antibacterial chemical triclosan does little to help and can actually be an environmental toxin.
READ MORE: Report calls for ban on antibacterial chemicals in consumer products
Even when you’re handling something like raw chicken, which can spread salmonella, he insists washing your hands with hot water and soap is enough to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
Just make sure you scrub for 20 seconds (that’s roughly the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs, in case you don’t want to count).
If you’re in need of a quick germ-killing fix on the go, Tetro recommends reaching for hand sanitizer, which contains up to 70 per cent alcohol.
Here are five other fun facts he shared with us that you should know:
1. No deodorant? Try hand sanitizer
Hand sanitizer doesn’t have to be just for your hands. Tetro also uses it for his underarms.
“Deodorants will only have a short-term effect. Anti-perspirants actually affect your skin, not the microbes. So the best thing to do is wash with soap and water, but if you don’t have a sink and you don’t have soap and water — then use your hand sanitizer.”
“It actually helps to lower the number of bacteria that happen to be there.”
And bacteria, he explains, is what causes the smell.
2. Germs can make you gain weight
If you think using artificial sweetener will help you lose weight, think again.
“Basically, bacteria like food,” Tetro explains. “You’re giving something that’s not food. They get upset. And when they get upset, they release toxins.”
This triggers a feedback system that puts your body on alert, since it doesn’t know when it’s going to get food again. So to protect itself, it stores energy in the form of fat as a reserve.
“As the sugar starvation continues, the fat increases, leading to additional weight,” Tetro writes in his book.
3. Washing your clothes in cold water doesn’t kill germs
Washing certain fabrics in hot water can be a recipe for shrinkage. But using the cold-water setting when doing laundry won’t necessarily kill bacteria.
That’s because “most microbes can survive cold weather, turning dormant until the environment becomes more hospitable,” according to Tetro.
So how do you kill stinky bacteria without killing your clothes? Put them in your freezer.
Tetro says bacteria have a hard time surviving when temperatures dip below -10°C, which is the standard temperature of a residential freezer.
This trick works for smelly shoes as well.
His other laundry tip? Run an empty load with just hot water and bleach once a month to get rid of any built-up bacteria in your washing machine.
4. You could be brushing your teeth with bits of feces
You may have heard that if you don’t close your toilet lid before you flush, little particles of feces float up into the air and land on your bathroom surfaces — like your toothbrush.
Unfortunately, this is not a myth.
So cover that toothbrush up or put it away in your medicine cabinet. Or just put down that toilet cover.
It helps to run your toothbrush under hot water for five seconds before you put it in your mouth, as well.
READ MORE: How fast can germs spread? You’d be surprised
It’s good practice to replace it every couple months, especially once the bristles start to fray.
“As the bristles are breaking down,” Tetro says, “they will eventually have higher surface area and more bugs will be able to get in there and you won’t be able to get rid of them fast.”
5. No puppy love for your newborn
A dog’s mouth has less microbes than a baby’s mouth, research has shown. That still doesn’t mean a dog should be allowed to lick an infant under the age of six months.
Newborns don’t have an immune system that’s strong enough to handle all that bacteria, he says.
Until they hit about six months, they should ideally only be kept around their parents and people who aren’t sick.