Bacteria in the Office: Discovering Just How Clean Our Offices Really Are

As offices around the world closed in March 2020, it’s unlikely that many of us would have predicted just how employees would feel the next time they set foot into an office. In the time between closing and reopening, the mindset of many people towards cleanliness and bacteria has changed completely. Where we’d once walk into any setting without so much as a second thought about what bacteria or germs we could exposed to, these days it’s a very different story. 

As offices prepare to reopen in the second half of 2021, we decided to carry out an experiment in a normal (already reopened) office to see which areas carried the most bacteria. From this, employers can work to ensure their offices are thoroughly cleaned and employees can be cautious of where they might want to exercise a little extra caution. 

How to Test for Bacteria

To run our tests, we used a Hygiena ATP Monitoring System. This system is used throughout many hospital and healthcare settings and is designed to quickly determine the cleaning efficiency and hygienic status of surfaces and liquid samples by collecting an RLU reading, this reading directly correlates to the amount of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is present in all organic material and is the universal unit of energy used in all living cells, so higher ATP readings means more organic material is living on a surface.  

To put this in relatively simple terms, a perfectly clean and sterilised surface should have a reading of 0. The higher the RLU reading is, the more organic material (bacteria) are present on that surface. 

We chose to test several areas around the office, including many of the highest contact areas, such as door handles and kitchen appliances. To carry out the test, we simply swabbed a 10cm² area on the surface using an UltraSnap swab. 

Dirty Door Handles and Unclean Kitchens

Kitchen showing how much bacteria is on different appliances

When it comes to cleanliness in the office, it seems fairly obvious that you’d be more likely to wash your hands after touching a toilet seat than after opening a door. Well, you might want to have a rethink. Our study found that the office door handle had over 30 times more bacteria than the toilet seat! The office door handle registered 648 RLU during testing, this can be compared to just 21 for the toilet seat.  

One of the biggest hot spots for RLU and potentially bacteria was the staff kitchen. The place where we’re likely to make hot drinks and consume food was found to have three of the top five highest RLU counts in the whole office. The sink (487), microwave door (408) and kettle (288) all registered in the top five, with the fridge (195) coming eighth. 

Office desk showing how much bacteria in on different devices

When it came to workstations, the office chair (222) was another area we might not think of as being unclean that is potentially harbouring a lot of bacteria. The desk phone (193), keyboard (176) and mouse (150) all came in with readings over 100 RLU, whereas the surface of the desk measured (90). 

The top office bacteria hotspots are listed below: 

Top 10 Office Bacteria Hotspots 

Area Measurement (RLU) 
Office Door Handle 648 
Office Sink 487 
Microwave Door 408 
Mobile Phone 345 
Kettle 288 
Toilet Tap 239 
Office Chair 222 
Kitchen Fridge 195 
Desk Phone 193 
Keyboard 176 

It’s Not All Bad News

The results of our bacteria testing may look shocking and even slightly worrying, but there is good news. Certain areas that tested a lot lower than others can actually help paint a bigger picture when it comes to office cleanliness and inform our behaviours and the way we keep office spaces clean. 

For example, the kitchen table only measured 2 RLU in testing, the lowest of any area tested. This type of surface is one that’d we’d perhaps be most likely to consider first when cleaning, going to show the difference that following cleaning procedures can make to a surface. The same can be said for the toilet seat, an area where you might expect high levels of bacteria, but also a common target when it comes to general cleaning. 

This all goes to show that frequent and proper cleaning of high-contact areas within the office is almost certain to make a big difference in reducing RLU presence and the likelihood of infection or illness being passed around the office. 

How to Keep Things Clean

Every time we touch something in the office, we leave behind tiny microcolonies of bacteria and therefore any illnesses we may have are much more likely to be transmitted. Keeping on top of cleaning in the office is an important way to keep that RLU number down and improve general cleanliness in the office. So, even if you don’t have an ATP monitoring system to hand, here are some key tips to help you keep things clean in the office. 

  • Regular cleaning 

It might seem obvious but keeping on top of your office cleaning and ensuring that it’s regularly carried out is an important first step. If you hire a cleaning team, ensure that they’re given the time to clean the office at least twice a day and high-traffic areas are regularly cleaned. 

  • Use antibacterial products 

A simple wipe down with a wet cloth isn’t going to suffice. Ensure you’re using antibacterial products that are designed specifically to remove bacteria and germs. There are lots of disinfectant cleaning products currently available that will do the job. 

  • Don’t forget the less obvious areas 

As our research highlighted, those areas that might not jump to mind so quickly are easily left uncared for. Make sure that there’s regular cleaning of surfaces such as door handles, where staff will be coming and going all day. 

Keeping your office clean is something that has always been a concern but has become even more important since the Covid-19 pandemic began. As your staff prepare to leave their home offices and return to the workplace, it’s important to address concerns about cleanliness and safety, meaning they can return with confidence. 

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