Office ick: Study locates nastiest workplace spaces

This news should send you running back to your home office. A study from Kimberly-Clark Professional found out that the workplace is even grosser than you thought. And if the office restrooms creep you out, go check out your office breakroom and kitchen — or rather, maybe you shouldn’t.


According to the study, the places where workers eat and prepare their food were at the top of office germ “hot spots.” Sink and microwave door handles were the dirtiest surfaces touched daily.

Hygienists from Kimberly-Clark Professional The Healthy Workplace Project collected about 5,000 individual swabs from office buildings housing more than 3,000 employees. The office buildings included manufacturing facilities, law firms, insurance companies, call centers and — gasp — healthcare companies.

The study, which was carried out in consultation with Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, found that the percentage of the office surfaces tested had high levels of contamination (an ATP* count of 300 or higher):

• 75% of breakroom sink faucet handles
• 48% of microwave door handles
• 27% of keyboards
• 26% of refrigerator door handles
• 23% of water fountain buttons
• 21% of vending machine buttons


When it comes to your personal desk, half of all computer mice and desk phones were found to have ATP levels above 100. Not quite as bad, but clearly there’s room for improvement here as well.

“People are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like breakrooms have not received the same degree of attention,” Dr. Gerba said. “This study demonstrates that contamination can be spread throughout the workplace when office workers heat up lunch, make coffee or simply type on their keyboards.”

Researchers recommend using contract cleaners at offices. In addition, it’s important to have easy access to hand sanitizers and to keep sanitizing wipes in kitchens and at desks. Click here for more office-cleaning tips.

For more information on The Healthy Workplace Project, visit

*Researchers used a Hygiena SystemSURE II ATP Meter, commonly used to monitor sanitary conditions. Gygienists swabbed the objects to measure levels of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is present in all animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast and mold cells. Detection of ATP indicates the presence of contamination by any of these sources. Objects with an ATP reading of 300 or higher are considered to have a high risk for illness transmission. Objects with an ATP reading between 100 and 300 suggest room for improvement.