May 30, 2013 at 8:50 AM ET
If you carry a purse, you are essentially toting a big bag of bacteria around with you everywhere you go. That's the finding of a new UK study, which claims that women's handbags hosted more bacteria than the average toilet flush.
We should note that the research was conducted by a cleaning and "hygiene services" company called Initial, which sells hand sanitizers and surface wipes and has a pretty clear financial incentive here. (The press release helpfully suggests that you purchase their sanitizers and wipes to keep your nasty handbag clean.) But your purse is still coated in germs, microbiologists not connected to the UK study confirm.
"About a third of them have fecal bacteria on them," confirms Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona microbiologist who has studied bacteria living on handbags, plus all sorts of delightfully disgusting things like E. coli on shopping carts and germy office break rooms. Gerba's research found that the bottoms of handbags were the nastiest, likely because women placed them on the bathroom floor (that is what the little hooks on the back of the doors are there for, people!).
The UK study found that the handle was a bacteria hotspot, and the stuff in the inside of the bag like makeup or hand cream had the toilet-flush levels of bacteria.
Bacteria, of course, are all around us all of the time, and most of the germs are helpful for us in keeping our immune systems strong and warding off dangerous diseases. But there is a chance that your bag could be picking up something nastier, like norovirus -- such was the case last year, when an entire youth soccer team came down with norovirus, and the bug was traced back to reusable grocery bags.
To keep your bags clean, you can always use a disinfectant wipe if it's plastic, leather or a hard surface, Gerba says. Cloth bags are tougher, so be sure to practice good hand hygiene -- and don't put your bag on the bathroom floor!