A germophobe’s air travel guide

If you care about personal sanitation, you’re probably aware that your kitchen sink is likely the germiest place in your home. But your kitchen sink is pretty clean compared to some things you’re going to touch when you travel.

The standard metric for germ presence is “colony forming units” (CFUs) per square inch of surface. And a new study from InsuranceQuotes.com demonstrates why you might want to wear sanitary gloves when you head to the airport. The organization swabbed the surfaces of six things at the airport and on airplanes at three big airports, and the results are a little scary.

Your dirty, germ-infested kitchen sink has an average of 21,000 CFUs per square inch. The rate for your kitchen countertop is 361 CFUs, your bathroom doorknob is 203 CFUs, and your toilet seat is 172, according to InsuranceQuotes.com. But what about similar places at airport or on the plane?

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Let’s take a look:

1 The horror of horrors for germophobes is the touch-screen of that self-check-in kiosk at the airport, which was found to have an average germ presence of 253,857 CFUs per square inch – or about 12 times as many as your dirty kitchen sink. (Perfect time to use that portable bottle of hand sanitizer!)

2 Ranking second in germ presence was the flush button that you press in an aircraft lavatory. With an average CFU per square inch count of 95,145, it’s almost 3,200 times more contaminated than your toilet flush handle at home – because it gets touched by thousands of passengers. (Only touch it with a tissue!)

Check out the slideshow at the top

3 When you go to the gate to wait for your flight departure, watch where you put your hands. Only a little germier than your kitchen sink, the armrests on those seats at the gate scored an average of 21,630 CFUs per square inch. (Use antibacterial wipes on these… on plane armrests, too.)

4 Getting thirsty while you wait for your flight? There’s a public water fountain nearby, but you better press the button with your elbow, because it has a CFU count of 19,181 per square inch.

5 When you claim your seat on the plane and drop down the tray table, be aware that its surface carries an average of 11,595 germ CFUs per square inch– again, a great place for a good antibacterial wipe down. A similar study in 2014 found that inside the seatback pocket was a breeding ground for germs, too, so just stay away- don’t put anything in there.

6 The “cleanest” of the six surfaces tested, but still three times germier than your kitchen countertop, is the buckle on your seatbelt, with a count of 1,116 CFUs per square inch.

Before you cut up your frequent flyer cards, InsuranceQuotes.com advises that “not all germs and bacteria are harmful to humans.” The study found different kinds of germs on the surfaces it tested, some benign and some nasty. Overall, “self-check-in kiosks had the largest collection of bacteria most likely to make you sick,” the report said, recommending that travelers should carry some form of hand sanitizer with them, because “germs are everywhere and unavoidable.”

Or do like I do during cold and flu season and wash your hands every time you see a sink– several times a day during a trip.

–Chris McGinnis

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Chris McGinnis is the founder of TravelSkills.com. The author is solely responsible for the content above, and it is used here by permission.  You can reach Chris at [email protected] or on Twitter @cjmcginnis.