You know that couple (or those besties)…the ones who share everything. And we mean everything. Not normal things like clothing, blankets, or coffee cups. But things you think shouldn’t be shared. Disgusting, potentially germ-growing, virus-breeding, fungus-festering things. Some people believe that routinely exposing yourself to bacteria and germs makes your immune system stronger. Others are so grossed out by germs that it causes them to be obsessively, maniacally clean. Most of us fall in the middle somewhere. We basically like things clean and keep stuff to ourselves, but sometimes we venture into “we know we shouldn’t borrow this, but how bad can it be?” zones. Did you ever find yourself wondering just how many germs you share with your boyfriend when you slurp out of his soda can? Or how gross it really is when you swipe your pits with your sister’s deodorant—even just once? Unfortunately, it’s worse than we thought. Grab your garbage can and bravely read below.
Your friend wants you to listen to her new song, so she pulls out her earbuds and jams them in your ears so you can listen. You would think that sharing them would be benign, but it’s not. The ears normally contain bacteria like pseudomonas, staphylococcus, and strep, which you’re used to and typically don’t cause any health problems. It’s when you start swapping bacteria with other people that you get in trouble. Add in the moist environment of sweating and working out, and you have the perfect breeding ground for an overload of bacteria that can cause infections, pimples, boils, ear fungus, or swimmer’s ear. Over-the-ear listening devices prove to be even more troublesome because they transmit not only germs and wax, but they can also transmit lice. The best thing to do is to tell your bestie to buy her own earbuds. If you must share, wipe the earbuds down with alcohol.
You jump out of the shower, see a towel, grab it, and use it. What you don’t realize is that towel may be covered in bacteria, fungi, and mildew. Towels are the perfect breeding ground for germs because they hang in dark, wet places and never really get a chance to dry out. Small amounts of bacteria are always present on a used towel, but if you notice a funky smell, you can be sure there are colonies of things you don’t want on there—things that can cause acne, pink eye, cold sores, bacterial infections, or even chlamydia. The best practice is to not share towels at all and to wash them after one use. If you have to reuse them, make sure that they hang in a well-ventilated, bright place and that they dry out completely. Having trouble figuring out whose towel is whose? Try color coding them so everyone has their own, or use a waterproof marker to label them.
3. Bar of Soap
Soap cleans your body, so it must clean itself after each use, right? Unfortunately it doesn’t. Each time someone uses a bar of soap, the “slime” on it gets covered in organisms from that person’s skin—everything from harmless germs to serious pathogens like norovirus (which causes the stomach “flu”) and staph (MRSA). You might think that antibacterial soap would be better and save you from the harmful stuff, but it won’t. Antibacterial properties don’t kill germs the way alcohol does. If you’re sharing the bar with just your family members, you really have little to worry about because you share many of the same microorganisms anyway. But if you’re out and about and there’s no liquid soap in sight, the best thing to do is rinse the bar off in running water to wash away the slime. It’s always good practice to store soap out of water and allow it to dry completely between uses.
You forgot your razor, so you’re just going to use your friend’s. Not so fast! It may not be worth it. When you shave, your skin’s dead cells mix with bacteria, which can cause a host of issues. Even if you don’t cut yourself, shaving can cause tiny nicks in the skin where viruses and bacteria can enter the blood quickly. It’s probably better to have a little stubble and wait until you get home to use your own razor.
5. Water Bottles
You’re dying because you forgot your water and your friend kindly offers hers. You take a swig, praying that she doesn’t have any germs that you can catch. Bad news! She does. We all do. Some can be as harmless as the common cold, or as menacing as strep, mono, herpes, mumps, and meningitis. You won’t always get sick if you share a beverage with someone, but in this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Your cubicle mate eats a ham sandwich and then jumps on your computer to look something up. Your friend comes back from a quick trip to the bathroom, then grabs your phone and heads to Instagram. You’re hoping that the germs you know they deposited aren’t that bad. The truth is that keyboards and cellphones can have more bacteria than a toilet. And the more people you share your things with, the worse it becomes. If you can’t insist that people wash their hands before they put them on your tech stuff, then make a regular practice of wiping down your screens with alcohol wipes.
Hopefully you know better about this, but just in case, we’ll come out very strongly against this one: you should NEVER, EVER wear someone else’s underclothes next to your private parts. Damp, dark places are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Even though the clothes may be washed before you wear them, studies have shown that washing them in even in the cleanest conditions doesn’t always get rid of the intruders.
We doubt anyone thinks it’s okay to share a product that’s intended to combat sweat and smell from under the armpits, but are you wondering (if, heaven forbid, you were in a pinch) just how bad it may be? Eh, it’s not great. The odor that comes from under your pits is from bacteria that breaks down the sweat on your skin. If you’re sharing deodorant it’s not too bad, because it normally has some antibacterial properties—unless it’s organic. Most organic deodorants just mask the smell and don’t contain powerful enough (or any) ingredients that can fight bacteria. If you’re using a roll-on antiperspirant, it’s even worse. Antiperspirants only decrease perspiration and don’t have any germ-killing stuff that deodorants have. You could be sharing someone else’s germs, bacteria, fungi, and yeast—or at the very least, their skin cells and hair. Switch to a spray, and you’re all good!
9. Pumice Stones
The job of pumice stones is to scrape dead skin from the heels and soles of feet. When you borrow someone else’s stone, you’re not only getting all of that gross personal debris, but you can also catch any foot fungus or plantar warts that they may have. HPV, the virus responsible for foot warts, is highly contagious, and unfortunately the warts are really hard to get rid of.
How harmful can borrowing someone’s tweezers be? You pluck a couple of hairs and everything is fine and dandy. It’s okay if you don’t dig around, but start prodding and puncturing your skin and things can get messy. As with sharing a razor, you can transfer blood-borne diseases. Soak tweezers in a jar of alcohol if you think they may have come in contact with blood.