Did you know that your arm candy could be crawling with illness-causing germs? A recent study by Initial Washroom Hygiene in the United Kingdom found that one in five handbag handles—that’s 20 per cent—were contaminated with enough bacteria to make their owners sick.
According to Jason Tetro, a Toronto-based microbiologist, and author of the upcoming book The Germ Code (Random House/Doubleday Canada), the study results weren’t surprising. “A purse acts just like a laboratory incubator,” he says. “Purses are dark, moist and humid—bacteria grow quite well in that environment.” Add in a some germ-friendly food such as crumbs, microscopic specks of skin and a spill from a bottled drink and you’ve got a bacterial feeding frenzy at your fingertips.
The study also disclosed that leather purses attract the most germs. “The spongey texture is extremely friendly to bacteria; they adhere better to leather than synthetic fabrics,” says Tetro. Inside the purses, lotion bottles, lipsticks and mascara tubes all earned top marks for being coated in the highest concentration of bacteria. “[These products] have a stickiness that the bacteria adhere to.” While the bulk of bacteria uncovered were harmless, strains of Staphylococcus were detected during similar lab tests conducted by The Today Show. Certain types of Staphylococcus can cause serious illness such as blood poisoning, skin infections, and food poisoning in people with compromised immune systems.
Tetro says that handbags collect germs because they’re constantly in contact with our hands, as well as many public surfaces. Plus, purses are rarely cleaned, so bacteria procreate without interruption. But before you ditch your treasured carryall, Tetro shares tips for a less germy co-existence.
Five Ways To Keep Your Handbag Clean
1. Unzip your purse at home to let it dry out. If the internal environment isn’t moist or humid, bacteria can’t really grow.
2. Dump out the contents once a week, and shake out crumbs, and debris. Tetro says that women who use more than one purse each week are already ahead of the game. “Emptying out one purse in order to use another creates this turnover that keeps your stuff clean.”
3. Wipe out your purse weekly with a paper towel moistened with water or rubbing alcohol. Leave your bag open afterwards so it can air dry.
4. Keep germy things like shoes out of your purse. And if you carry around food—even fruit—make sure it’s wrapped or in a container.
5. Never (and we mean never) leave your purse on the floor of a public bathroom stall.