Some people think I’m a bit neurotic when it comes to my aversion to germs.
I say I’m just being realistic.
Let me share what motivated this post, and then I’ll describe some of my preferred germ-protection methods, particularly the ones people notice (read: mock) the most — yet which make total sense to me.
I was a witness to a crime against cleanliness
I was inspired to write about this after something I witnessed on the subway in Manhattan yesterday.
While waiting for the train, a man took out his earbud headphones and started to uncoil them. As he did, they hung down in a straight line, approaching the floor of the train platform with each movement he made to lengthen them.
Surely he won’t let them touch the dirty floor, I thought to myself.
But he did — and he definitely saw it happen because he even looked down at them. Yet he didn’t seem to think much of it because as they rested there, he took a few extra seconds to undo a knot towards the top of the wire.
Once he finished, he then pulled the earphones up towards him and then put them inside his ears. Without even wiping them first! I’m not sure how much that would have done anyway, but the lack of any attempt was even more shocking to me. Especially considering how well-dressed he was — he had on a crisp pair of slacks and a button-down shirt, both of which looked spotless and impeccably ironed. So his relaxed attitude towards his now-sullied earbuds was all the more jarring to me.
To be clear, it wasn’t that I was judging him — it’s that I was worried on his behalf! To me, that’s a massive ear infection just waiting to happen! I wouldn’t even do that with large, external headphones once they’d touched the subway platform — but with those tiny earbuds that actually go into your ears?! NEVER!
I mean, even if I dropped my earbuds on the floor in my own home, I’d still use a wipe to clean them off. And if I didn’t have a wipe, then I wouldn’t use the earbuds until I could clean them properly. Germs are germs; I don’t need to listen to my music that badly!
Seriously, do you know how dirty the floors of the train platforms must be considering how many people walk over them daily in a high-traffic area like midtown Manhattan, with some of them littering along the way? And don’t forget the rat populations that live in the subways, either (wow, I’m really selling New York here, huh?).
Overall, judging by their mysterious stains, frequent leaks, old gum spots and the…odors present (especially on a hot and humid summer day), subways and their floors are not what I’d call sanitary. In fact, I’d bet they are one of the dirtiest of all public spaces.
Anyway, that’s what prompted this post. Now I’ll go over a few of my most common self-protection methods, and you can be the judge as to the level of my paranoia:
Let’s start with those New York City subways: I will not let any bags I’m carrying touch the floor of the train car. I got this idea from a friend who started doing this years ago, and I’ve been doing it myself ever since.
While seated, I either hold my bags on my lap if I can, or if they’re large, I rest them on the tops of my shoes. If I’m standing, I continue holding them as I would if I were walking; I don’t set them down in front of me or to the side. I do this because I know when I get home, the bags will sit in various places in my humble abode — and I don’t want the subway germs coming along for the ride. (I should add that despite this protective measure, I still never put the bags on my bed. They rest on a floor or an easily-cleaned table or chair until I get to them.)
I wash any fruit with skin I eat (apples, tomatoes, plums, etc.) with dish soap and a sponge. I can’t bring myself to just bite into an apple as so many people do.
One time at a working lunch, people were amused that I took an apple from the fruit bowl but wouldn’t eat it until I could go wash it on a break. A co-worker said I should just do what she does in a situation like that — she rubs it against her shirt quickly.
Um, sorry, but what good does that do? I mean, would we say we’d taken a shower if all we did was rub ourselves down with a towel? To me, her approach was based on the same (lack of) logic. That is just not clean — still present are the germs of anyone who handled the apple at the supermarket, any pesticides, or chemicals used to make the apple shiny (many stores do wax them)!
Oh and for the record, to me it’s not adequate to just rinse it with water, either — to use the shower analogy again, would you ever bathe without soap? I didn’t think so.
I will not sit on most of my furniture — especially my bed — in the clothing I wore outside in trains, buses, restaurants and other public places. I think a major reason why I enjoy watching The Big Bang Theory when I can is because of the character named Sheldon who has what he calls “bus pants.” He wears them over his regular pants to protect himself from the germs on the bus seats. Thankfully, I won’t go that far, but I do change as soon as I get home; or, if for some reason I have to sit right away when I get in, I do so on an easily-wipeable surface like a wood chair.
The soles of my shoes can never touch any piece of furniture — especially my bed. I can’t get over how often I’ve see people I know or on TV lie on their beds or sofas with their street shoes on. That is disgusting to me. I wouldn’t want to throw my blanket onto the sidewalk outside and then put it back on my bed; so why would I want my shoes, with the same dirt and germs as the sidewalk, to rest on my bed either? Same goes for the sofa — resting my face on one of its cushions that my shoes have touched just doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Money cannot be placed on any surface I ordinarily assume to be “clean” — like my kitchen counters and table, or my bed. Come on; money is dirty. We all know that. It passes through many people’s hands and gets stored in weird places, like someone’s socks — as they’re wearing them! So I definitely don’t want money leaving its germs where I sleep or eat.
I have to clean the tops of any cans before I open them and eat their contents. This is especially true with cans that don’t have a flip-top lid; if I have to use a can opener on it, then I really feel the need to clean it first. Otherwise, I picture the opener pushing the germs and dust that is on the outside of the can right into it and the food. I’ve done this for years, even with pet food cans. (I also wash the can opener after, too, which now also has little bits of food on it.)
Why? Cans are dirty after being stored in warehouses and stores for long periods on end. The proof lies in the fact that many a can that appears to be clean enough on its own will often leave a gray residue on a paper towel when I clean it. There’s no way I want that mystery substance in the food that will be eaten by me or anyone else.
I’m less strict in other areas, though
I’m not this uptight with everything, however; I’m relaxed in some situations despite my awareness that they are probably not as sanitary as they could be. Here are some examples:
- Any pet I’ve ever had has always been allowed on the furniture, including my bed. Well, actually, this is how I operate with a cat since I thinks all cats should be indoor-only. If I got a dog I’d also allow him on the furniture, but I’d probably put a sheet or slipcover on each area he sits on the most, then change and wash it regularly — or I’d wipe his paws down after walks. Otherwise, I’d view his paws like my shoes; they walk on the city streets, so I wouldn’t want them on the furniture. But I could never ban my dog from sitting there!
- I don’t take off my shoes immediately upon entering my home, nor do I ask anyone else to do so.
- I do not, and have never, covered my furniture, TV remotes and so on in plastic to protect them longterm. I’m just careful with them.
- I won’t wipe every surface down before using it; for instance, I don’t feel the need to sanitize my counter before I cook there, especially since I know I never contaminate it with things like shopping bags from the subway floor! In other words, I’m not obsessed with cleaning all the things. My preventive measures make that unnecessary.
- I don’t use antibacterial handsoaps, wipes, or sprays. They kill both your bad and good bacteria, which then exposes you to infection since your body can’t fight germs with its natural defenses. Regular soap and water or (or gentle hand wipes for when you’re in transit) are just fine.
I mean, you gotta live!
But that doesn’t mean I’ll be relaxing any of my other rules…