The average desk is contaminated with a shocking amount of bacteria (even more than a public toilet). Use these office cleaning tips to banish germs from your workspace.

By Jessica Bennett
March 10, 2020
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As you sit at your desk, typing on your keyboard and sipping from your coffee cup, you're surrounded by thousands (perhaps millions) of germs. In fact, the surfaces around your workplace are some of the worst bacteria hotspots you come in contact with each day. Office items such as keyboards and desks are breeding grounds for bacteria, yet these frequently touched surfaces are rarely cleaned, according to a survey by job-search site Joblist. Respondents reported cleaning their computer mouse and keyboard an average of fewer than two times a month and their desks about three times a month. Nearly a quarter of the 1,000 respondents also admitted to going at least one entire workday without washing their hands over a one-month period. These unhealthy habits can lead to a workplace crawling with germs.

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According to research from Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, the average desk is teeming with about 800 bacteria per square inch. The unwashed coffee cup sitting at your desk and your work phone are even grosser, with 2,200 and 1,600 bacteria per square inch, respectively. To compare, the office toilet seat harbors about 59 bacteria per square inch, a small fraction of the germs you make contact with at your own desk. Think about that the next time you're eating lunch while taking calls or typing emails.

Related: Your Phone Is Crawling with Bacteria: Here's How to Clean it

Coming in contact with these bacteria-ridden office surfaces can lead to serious illnesses and infections. One study found that 96% of the 25 keyboards tested were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, including disease-causing microorganisms such as E. coli, which comes from fecal matter, and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes infections.

To make matters worse, almost three-quarters of the Joblist survey respondents said they've gone to work while sick. And when someone in your office is ill, your risk of infection can be up to 90%, research from the University of Arizona shows. The study found that more than half of workplace surfaces, including the office coffee pot handle, doorknobs, phones, and desks, can become infected with a virus with just one sick person in the office. However, simple sanitation steps, such as washing your hands before you eat and regular cleaning with disinfectant wipes, dropped the risk of infection to less than 10%.

Although frequently touched desk items, such as your keyboard, phone, and computer mouse, can be difficult to keep completely germ-free, proper cleaning habits can seriously help. First and foremost, to prevent the spread of germs, wash your hands well and often, especially after using the restroom and before eating. Then follow these cleaning practices to regularly disinfect your desk and other office items. To keep your workspace sparkling, consider wiping down these office surfaces every evening before you leave work.

Ann VanderWiel Wilde

How to Clean Your Desk and Office Accessories

To clean and disinfect your desk area, start with the items on top.

  • If you use a coffee cup or reusable water bottle at work, wash it daily with liquid dish soap and hot water or take it home each night after work to run it through the dishwasher.
  • Use disinfectant wipes to clean items such as your stapler, tape dispenser, scissors, and most-used pens, making sure to wipe down all sides.
  • Consider washing other desktop accessories like pen holders with soap and water.

Next, you can disinfect the surface of your desk.

  • Remove all items, including your computer (if possible), phone, pen holder, stapler, and other accessories, from the desktop (or move them to the side while you clean).
  • Use disinfectant wipes to thoroughly wipe down the entire surface.
  • Wait for the cleaning solution to dry before moving the desk items back into place.
Kritsada Panichgul

How to Clean Your Keyboard, Mouse, and Screen

Before cleaning computer accessories and screens, power down your device and unplug the keyboard and mouse. Use these steps to clean your keyboard.

  • Clear any loose crumbs and dust from the keyboard by gently shaking it upside-down over a trash can.
  • Spray compressed air between the keys to clear remaining debris.
  • Clean the keyboard with a disinfectant wipe, paying extra attention to often-used keys such as the space bar and Enter key.
  • You may want to squeeze out extra liquid from the wipe before cleaning to avoid dripping moisture into the openings, which can damage the keyboard.

Follow similar instructions for cleaning your computer mouse.

  • Unplug the mouse and remove batteries if needed, then clean all sides and the scroll with a disinfectant wipe.
  • For laptops, swipe the disinfectant wipe across the touchpad, taking care not to get excess moisture into the openings.

To clean your computer screen, avoid using paper towels, cleaning rags, glass cleaners, and other harsh chemicals, as these can damage the LCD screen.

  • Wipe the display with a microfiber cloth dampened with a diluted solution of mild dish soap and warm water.
  • Rinse the cloth with clean water, squeeze out excess moisture, then wipe again to remove any soapy residue.

How to Clean Your Desk Phone

Disinfectant wipes also work well for cleaning your desk phone.

  • Unplug the device and wipe down all surfaces, including the ear and mouthpieces, cords, and buttons.
  • To help keep your phone germ-free, make sure your hands are clean before using it.
  • Aim to clean your office phone daily and immediately after someone else has used your phone.
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