Everything about babies seems so delicate: their tiny fingers and toes, their tufted heads, their soft, porcelain skin. It’s no wonder new parents so often slip into the habit of treating their babies like they’re made of glass. And what’s the most overwhelming threat of all to a new parent?
Germs. Germs everywhere.
While it’s true common illnesses can hit infants harder than adults, germs aren’t all bad. In fact, they can help toughen up a baby’s immune system, helping them fight future viruses with gusto. While it’s unwise to expose a baby to bacteria with the express purpose of turning them into a disease-fighting superhuman, the simple reality is that we all come into contact with a ton of bacteria every single day.
We decided to conduct 16 swab tests in four households to find out which baby-related items packed the biggest bacterial punch, what types of microscopic crawlers coat their surfaces, and how they compare to other items commonly perceived as “icky.”
The Germiest Baby Item
When it comes to germy locales, you know you can trust your home and the personal belongings inside of it to be safe and squeaky-clean. It’s those pesky public spaces you need to worry about, right?
Not so much. As it turns out, your child’s rubber duck could be the biggest threat: Bath toys had the most bacteria-infested surfaces by a landslide, with over 4.3 million colony-forming units – or CFU – per square inch. For the uninitiated, CFU simply refers to bacteria cells in a given sample that can multiply. In comparison, a public diaper-changing station only turned up 22,352 CFU or 0.005 percent as many germs.
Bacteria grow particularly well in moist places (in part due to their reliance on outside sources of water for ingestion, which allows them to reproduce), making frequently moistened bath toys prime real estate for a bacterial invasion.
Teething toys and stroller handles hovered around 1.5 million CFU each, making them significantly germier than diaper stations but bastions of cleanliness compared to bath toys.
Not all bacteria are created equal. Some are almost universally harmful to humans, while in other cases, there are only a few specific strains of said bacteria that can make you sick.
The various items that we tested for our study exhibited varying presences of gram-negative rods, gram-positive rods, gram-positive cocci, and bacillus. Nearly 86 percent of the notoriously germy bath toys’ surfaces were covered in gram-negative rods, the occasionally antibiotic-resistant bacteria behind hard-hitting illnesses like meningitis and pneumonia. The remaining 14 percent were gram-positive rods, which are largely harmless microscopic creatures.
In the case of the other three surface samples, the most prevalent bacteria were gram-positive cocci, the crawlers behind staphylococcus and streptococcus (better known as a staph infection and strep throat).
The stroller handles had the most diverse collection of bacteria aside from the majority presence of gram-positive cocci, with nearly 14 percent being bacillus (some strains promote gut health, while others can give you food poisoning), nearly 11 percent being gram-negative rods, and 4 percent being gram-positive rods.
Germs Around the Baby
Aside from items that frequently come into contact with babies, we wanted to know how germy the rest of the world was in comparison.
Bath toys reigned supreme when compared with an extended range of items, followed by toothbrush holders, which turned up approximately half the number of CFU (2.1 million). Teething toys came in third, followed by stroller handles, with the pet’s water bowl distantly trailing behind at just 306,000 CFU. Once again, the public changing station bottomed out the list.
To put that into perspective, bath toys are 14 times dirtier than Fido’s water dish, although the myth that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s has been debunked – so that’s one point for Team Humans. When you push your stroller, you’re touching something 63 times germier than a public diaper-changing station, so make sure to wash your hands after taking your baby for a spin.
If there’s one thing parents should be doing, it’s cleaning their babies’ bath toys with more than just the bubbles in the tub! More than any other item swabbed for our study, these bath-time items were covered in bacteria ... potentially harmful bacteria, at that. Especially with a new baby, it’s easy to understand the importance of making sure that their vaccines are up to date!
While many would probably list having their toddler lick a public diaper-changing table as one of their worst nightmares, our swabs discovered teething toys were over 71 times germier than diaper stations – and many, many times more likely to make it into your baby’s mouth!
It may be next to impossible to shield your young one from every single germ out there, but you can protect your family’s well-being in the event of unexpected life changes. Visit insuranceQuotes.com for pricing, frequently asked questions, and helpful resources when it’s time to look into life insurance, health insurance, and more.
We conducted 16 total gram and stain culture swab tests on four items or surfaces across four households. Each surface type was sampled four times and only included items owned or played with by babies, which we determined to be children 4 years old and younger. Colony-forming units (CFU) per swab were averaged for each surface type. Surfaces were chosen based on items we determined were most touched by parents and their babies.
It is possible that with a larger sample size of surfaces, we could have gained more insight into CFU levels. No statistical testing was performed, and claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is exploratory.
Fair Use Statement
Want to share our germy study with parents before they buy that teething ring? Feel free to link to our work for noncommercial purposes, and give us credit for our swab project!