The UK's most unhygienic habits, from sharing towels to not washing hands

Woman in a towel. (Getty Images)
Brits germy habits have been revealed, including sharing towels. (Getty Images)

We know we take our phones places we shouldn't (hands up who is reading this article on their phone on the loo?), but turns out us Brits have some other germy habits that are opening us up to all sorts of nasties.

A new poll has shed some light on the nation's most grim behaviours and as well as being pretty unsavoury, our poor hygiene habits could be exposing us to some pretty unpleasant health risks, including yeast infections and stomach bugs.

It will likely come as no surprise that 60% of smartphone users take their device with them to the toilet, the problem is around half don’t always clean it afterwards.

Worse still, 57% then place it on the kitchen counter or the dining table (47%) and a whopping 43% are leaving their phone in their bed - potentially spreading germs.

Other grimy habits include never disinfecting their TV remotes, which three in 10 are guilty of, despite the fact it is touched 5,475 times-a-year per person.

Incredibly, 13% even admit to preparing food without washing their hands before, while other Brits are sharing towels with other family members - grim!

Almost half (49%) admit they have never thought about how germs are able to spread between people sharing household items.

The study, commissioned by Dettol, also found 69% would be more inclined to disinfect items in their homes if they could physically see germs or bacteria on the items people are sharing.

Commenting on the research David Shillcock, from Dettol, says: “It’s clear from the survey findings that the people we love, love spreading germs - perhaps more than we realise.

“The results show that germs don't spread by themselves, people spread them, so when it comes to sharing lives together, our homes can be germier than we think."

With that in mind, we spoke to a germ expert about the potential health consequences of some of our grimiest hygiene habits.

Dishcloth by a sink. (Getty Images)
Research has revealed your dishcloth could be dirtier than a toilet seat. (Getty Images)

Not regularly washing your dishcloth

Come on fess up, when was the last time you gave your dishcloth a good clean? But did you realise it could actually harbour more bacteria than a toilet seat.

“90% of UK dishcloths were considered heavily contaminated with bacteria compared with 20% of toilet flush handles," Dr Gareth Nye, programme lead for medical science, told Magnet Trade.

“Around 70% of UK dishcloths are infected with over one billion bacteria per 100cm2 area. Or, around half a billion for your average sized dish cloth.”

According to Georgios Efthimiou, lecturer in microbiology, University of Hull, towels and dishcloths have to be washed regularly, at least once a week.

"Even if they are used to dry something that has been already washed, bacteria and fungi can still grow on them over time, enjoying the moist and nutritious environment," he explains.

Sharing towels between family members

It might seem innocent enough, but actually using the same towel as your kids and significant other could expose you to all sorts of nasties.

"Sharing towels between family members can be dangerous as certain skin pathogens can be introduced into the friendly skin microflora and trigger infections and conditions such as skin candidiasis (yeast infection), acne (by Cutibacterium acnes), atopic dermatitis and psoriasis (by S. aureus)," warns Efthimiou.

"You have to remember that by washing your hands, face or body with soap and warm water, you simply reduce the germ numbers on your skin (and the chances of infection), but it is hardly sterilising anything (total germ killing)."

Woman prepping food. (Getty Images)
Many Brits are prepping food without washing their hands first. (Getty Images)

Not washing your hands before prepping food

Our hand-washing practices certainly improved during the pandemic, but you'd be surprised how many of us are still skipping a good scrub before hitting up the kitchen.

"Washing hands before prepping food is essential in order to remove potential pathogens picked up from the environment (the loo, bus handles, door handles, etc.)," advises Efthimiou. "If ingested, bacteria like E. coli and S. aureus or viruses like the norovirus can lead to serious food poisoning with nasty symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps." Yikes!

Sleeping with your phone under your pillow

Not such a hygiene crime unless you consider you've likely taken your phone to the loo earlier in the day. Bleugh!

"Dust accumulation and contact with dirty skin can turn your electronic devices into a hive of microbial activity, potentially leading to skin infections and food poisoning by the bugs mentioned above," warns Efthimiou.

"Fungal spores and dust mites can lead to allergies and respiratory infections (dyspnoea, runny nose, cough), so sleeping near your laptop or your phone is not a good idea (unless you clean them weekly with an ethanol wipe).

And Efthimiou has one final word of advice when it comes to our germy habits.

"Our world and the microbial world already co-exist, so resistance is futile and panic is pointless," he says. "Just calmly follow these basic hygiene rules at a regular basis and everything will be fine!"

Woman with her phone in bed. (Getty Images)
There are some health risks of taking your phone to bed with you. (Getty Images)

1. Regularly touched shared household items like TV remotes without disinfecting them regularly

2. Not disinfected electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, and keyboards regularly

3. Got home and used my TV remote without washing my hands first

4. Seen family members/housemates come in from outside the home without washing their hands

5. Used and shared the same hand towel for multiple uses

6. Not washed hands after I come in from outside the home

7. Not disinfected frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and light switches

8. Not washed hands after coming home after travelling on public transport

9. Shared towels with multiple family members

10. Allowed pets to roam freely on furniture and bedding without disinfecting these surfaces

11. Used the same dishcloth or sponge for an extended period without washing or replacing it

12. Used a games console controller for an extended period without sanitising it

13. Not regularly cleaned or disinfected bathroom fixtures, including taps, toilet handles, and shower heads

14. Shared toys between multiple children

15. Taken my mobile phone to the toilet then put it on the dinner table

16. Not washed my hands before preparing food

17. Taken toys to a shared space like soft play and not disinfected them afterwards

Additional reporting SWNS.

Watch: Cleaning expert reveals dirt-plagued items she'd never have including a dishwasher