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.
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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 can be breeding grounds for bacteria, yet these frequently touched surfaces are rarely cleaned, according to a survey by job-search site Joblist. The average respondent reported cleaning their computer mouse and keyboard fewer than two times a month and their desk 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 workspace, whether in the office or at home, that's crawling with germs.

woman cleaning laptop with a cloth
Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

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 average toilet seat in an office building 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.

Coming in contact with these bacteria-ridden office surfaces can lead to serious illnesses and infections. One study on workplace germs 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 in to the office while sick, which is particularly concerning amid the current coronavirus pandemic. And when one of your co-workers is ill, your risk of infection from certain viruses can be up to 90%, research from the University of Arizona shows. (Note: This study took place before the COVID-19 pandemic.) The researchers 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 your most frequently touched office surfaces every evening before you log off.

Mobile phone and pen on notebook by black coffee at shelf
Credit: 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 from the office each night after work to run it through the dishwasher. Use disinfectant wipes to clean frequently-used 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, 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.

How to Clean a Home Office Desk

The utilitarian desks in most office buildings are easy to clean with disinfectant wipes, but your work-from-home desk might be made of a different material. Be sure to only use cleaning products that are safe for the surface to avoid discoloration or other damage, and check the manufacturer's instructions for specific cleaning directions.

To clean a wood desk, you should typically only use cleaners designed for wood surfaces or a diluted solution of mild soap and water. Take care not to soak the surface, and wipe away any excess moisture immediately. For other desktop materials, including laminate or engineered wood, use a gentle, non-abrasive cleaner (or a soap-and-water solution) and a microfiber cloth to wipe away grime and germs.

small office area with rolling doors
Credit: 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. Then follow 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 ($5, The Home Depot) between the keys to clear any 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 might want to squeeze out extra liquid from the wipe before cleaning to avoid dripping moisture into the openings, which can damage the keyboard.
  • Let dry completely before using.

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.
  • Let dry completely before using.

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. Aim to clean your office phone daily and immediately after someone else has used your phone. To help keep your phone germ-free, make sure your hands are clean before using it.

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