Riley has his 5th grade science project coming up, and he decided he wanted to do a bacteria study. (Well, let’s be honest: I surfed pages and pages of science project ideas and suggested it to him as an alternative to solving the never-before-explored mystery of what happens when you mix Diet Coke and Mentos.) I found an inexpensive bacteria kit on Amazon, and we took samples of various surfaces in the house: a dollar bill, a toilet seat, a bathroom door handle, my cellphone, and the kitchen counter.

His hypothesis was that the cash would be the dirtiest, since it’s been touched by so many people. I suspected my phone would actually be the worst, since I’ve cleaned it … never? I mean, I’ve rubbed it on my shirt a few times when the screen is too smudged to properly view whatever animated GIF I’m trying to snicker at, but that’s it.

The samples, swabbed across agar plates, have been “incubating” in the oven for the past few days, which I agree is a non-ideal place to store growing bacteria, but YOU try and come up with a less unappealing system for subjecting the plates to a precise 85-100 degree temperature range during the gloomiest April on record. Turns out a closed oven with the light on works like a (admittedly not-so-spring-fresh-smelling) charm.

The results are now in, unless there’s some sort of microbial M. Night twist still in the works, and it turns out the dollar produced virtually no bacteria whatsoever. The toilet, unsurprisingly, has quite a bit of growth, as does the door handle. The cellphone only has a few spots, and the blue-ribbon winner … the kitchen counter.

Would you believe I had thoroughly cleaned that counter just before we swabbed it? In fact, I almost told him to pick something else because I figured it was so clean. But no! Now I have to rethink those pretty Method sprays I always use. Apparently I’ve just been wiping away visible dirt, leaving behind both the beguiling scent of honey-ginger-persimmon-pomegranate-whateverthefuck AND innumerable teeming throngs of non-fastidious bacteria. Hey kids, who wants E. coli for dinner?

I can’t lie, though. The worst part of this is that the evidence from his findings will be documented in eye-catching graphic format on that trifold science fair thingie, which will basically amount to a large sign trumpeting MY MOM’S KITCHEN IS MORE FILTHY THAN THE PLACE WHERE WE POOP.


22 Responses to “An inconvenient truth”

  1. Kristi on April 20th, 2017 10:41 am

    That surprised me until I read Method…aka…scented water. Not even distilled I bet…..nothing like amazon to highlight our cleaning choices.

  2. Pete on April 20th, 2017 10:47 am

    That which does not kill us makes us stronger. I would hate to see what’s on my counter and since the granite has such a wild pattern there could be a rotting cat there and I couldn’t see it.

  3. Jen on April 20th, 2017 11:01 am

    My kitchen counter is cleaned with…a soapy washcloth. Mine would probably do the same. Now I’m curious.

  4. Kelly on April 20th, 2017 11:28 am

    Oh my. Now I feel the need to Lysol the crap out of the counter. I have a feeling mine would be trying to escape the petri dish.

  5. Jessica on April 20th, 2017 11:30 am

    Oh my god, I love Method. This is terrible news.

  6. Beth on April 20th, 2017 12:20 pm

    Well, on the bright side, you’ve probably just gotten out of ever having to bring food to a school function.

  7. Kim on April 20th, 2017 12:58 pm

    Related – sort of – just read the statistic yesterday that 90% of U.S. currency contains cocaine residue. Not appropriate for a school project, but I found it disturbingly fascinating.

  8. Liz on April 20th, 2017 1:46 pm

    We did this project this year, too! Except it was about apples and if they get cleaner with just water or vinegar + water. You know what is the grossest? Unwashed apples apparently! They grew so much stuff. One tip in case anyone else wants to try this: we used a Styrofoam cooler and a light bulb on an extension cord for our incubator and that worked fine.

  9. Kristin on April 20th, 2017 3:37 pm

    I once heard that the kitchen counter is dirtiest because people put their purses on them after they have had them on the floor of other things–like putting a purse on the floor in a public restroom, then you get home and put it on the counter. Not that you do that, but just to make you feel better. And that that is what I would thing if I were viewing your results. Plus, you said you had just cleaned it, so it probably IS those Method wipes.

  10. Andrea on April 20th, 2017 5:58 pm

    Gaaaaah! Racing off to bleach the entire kitchen! If it smells bleach-y it will be clean, right?

    I remember doing a similar project in high school biology, and the drinking fountains were the biggest culprits of growth, even worse than the locker rooms.

  11. Evelynne on April 20th, 2017 6:29 pm

    I always tell myself that just because there are bacteria growing there, that doesn’t mean the bacteria are BAD. Our intestines are FILLED with good bacteria and we call them “probiotics” when we ingest them on purpose (my MIL calls them “friendlies”). Until those bacteria studies can show which ones are bad and which one are neutral or beneficial, I’m going to assume they’re 99% benign.

  12. Alison on April 20th, 2017 9:27 pm

    I doubt my Mrs. Meyer’s rosemary spray is much more effective. Off to Lysol wipe the entire kitchen!

  13. Meg on April 21st, 2017 12:32 am

    I always figure as long as I’m not licking the kitchen counter, enhhh, it’s good enough!

  14. Shawna on April 21st, 2017 8:14 am

    I am not concerned about the bacteria on your kitchen counter (I have an M.Sc. in biology, and was raised on a hobby farm, so I’m pretty chill about bacteria; bacteria are not automatically bad and we have an immune system for a reason), but I totally feel for you about Riley’s display. There are a lot of people out there that freak out needlessly about all bacteria and don’t distinguish between harmful, helpful, or benign.

    I should probably confess though, lest you think I’m totally laissez-faire about bacteria: Kristin mentioned people putting their purses down on the ground and bathroom floors? The bacteria on bathroom floors is generally the bad kind and my backpacks/purses NEVER touch the floor in bathrooms. Ew! I also don’t put them down on the floors of buses or the ground outside, though that’s because I don’t like them getting dirty and having to clean them.

  15. Lori on April 21st, 2017 8:48 am

    I would be curious if you followed up with a contact time study – if you spray and immediately wipe you are probably not giving the spray a long enough time to actually kill the bacteria.

    Please present your results on colored poster board with a 2 inch border, title letters at least 4 inches.

    I hate these projects for my kids.

  16. Cara on April 21st, 2017 6:12 pm

    Oh man… Maybe insist he also include one of those articles about how we’re all using too much antibacterial stuff and creating super germs, increasing allergies, etc etc? Your counters aren’t dirty. You’re just up to date!

  17. Jennifer on April 22nd, 2017 4:11 am

    I had read an article some time ago that talked about this very thing: that people would be surprised that the kitchen harbors more bacteria than the bathroom.

    I found the article:

  18. Donna Brubach on April 22nd, 2017 1:20 pm

    I love Beth! Way to look at the bright side!!

  19. Shawna on April 24th, 2017 6:08 am

    So I went to Jennifer’s link and in the first paragraph it said “People disinfect their toilet seats all the time, but they don’t realize that they really need to pay attention in the kitchen too.” And then I thought “wait, people disinfect their toilet seats ALL THE TIME?” I mean sure, I give seats a quick wipe to clean up any splashes, etc. with whatever cleaning product I’m using when I clean the bathrooms, but I don’t think I’ve ever set out to deliberately “disinfect” a toilet seat in my life. And for the last 2 years my kids (now 8 and 11) have been the ones assigned to clean their bathroom, so I only do a cleaning back-up about once a month since they’re not great about the deeper cleaning stuff. I’m guessing a similar bacteria-finding experiment at our house might have yielded different results…

  20. claire on April 25th, 2017 6:18 am

    I started using Young Living essential oils and they’ve got a cleaner called Thieves. They did that same test and found that their cleaner got rid of more bacteria than Lysol. It was shocking! Also, I’m pretty grossed out by my counters now. EW.

  21. F. Wikman on May 31st, 2017 2:38 pm

    How are you, I need your suggestions for this. I highly recommend you email me straight away:

  22. Cheri on July 6th, 2017 1:19 pm

    Ok so.. I used to work for SC Johnson and we had to go thru an extensive product training, where I learned that in order for the anti-bacterial products to actually work in killing bacteria- you have to follow a pretty specific instruction with regards to how long the product sits on the counter tops first to kill the bacteria… and if I remember correctly, this information wasn’t like – on the bottle of product but rather in the more details product information (like in the MSDS sheet about it maybe?) Additionally, you had to wipe the counters down after whatever the time period was, for like 2 consecutive minutes. Everyone in the class was like “Yeah we pretty much have never cleaned this way.” LOL!

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