Fact: Everyone poops, so everything's covered in poop

By Maxine Builder
February 07, 2018
Illustration by Maxine Builder

You've probably heard the disgusting news that there's a good chance your office coffee cup is covered in poop. A one-in-five chance, in fact. That's according to a researcher from the University of Arizona who found that 20 percent of mugs in office kitchens "carry fecal matter," according to a report from the New York Post. But this isn't news. Charles Gerba, who works at the University of Arizona, published that research back in 1997, and the fact that your office coffee cup is gross has been circulating on the internet for years now.

And here's the slightly upsetting thing about these findings: They're not unique. Everything is covered in bacteria and traces of fecal matter, from rock climbing gyms to men's beards. Even the New York City subway has traces of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and even anthrax all over it (but maybe that's less of a surprise because, you know, New York City). 

Offices are particularly disease-prone places, regardless of their location, because any time you have a lot of people in a relatively small space for a relatively long amount of time, you're bound to have some mixing of germs—though bacteria spreads in offices upsettingly fast. Gerba conducted a study in 2013 in which he placed a safe, sample virus on one or two random locations throughout an office at the beginning of the day and found that within "2 to 4 hours, 40 to 60 percent of sampled surfaces in the buildings were contaminated with the virus," according to LiveScience.

The first place that was contaminated was the office kitchen, specifically the coffee pot, which really doesn't bode well for keeping poop out of your mug. In general, your kitchen is arguably the most bacteria-ridden part of your home. Sponges and dishcloths are generally dripping with bacteria that have the potential to make you sick, according to a guide to "Reducing Transmission of Infectious Agents in the Home," published in the journal of Dairy, Food and Environmental Sanitation

The authors of this guide do note that, "The actual likelihood of illness after exposure to household pathogens varies considerably," but in general, you're probably not washing your office coffee cup well or often enough. So if you're still freaking out about this coffee mug-poop thing, Gerba talked with Men's Health in 2015 and offered some advice about how to office coffee mug as bacteria-free as possible. The first thing? Don't let your coffee sit for longer than an hour; otherwise, it'll become a breeding ground for potentially dangerous bacteria. 

The best way to clean your mug in the office is to take your mug out of the office. As Gerba explained to Men's Health, "Bring your mug home daily to be washed in the dishwasher, and make sure it goes through the dry cycle, which uses the hottest temperatures and zaps every last germ." If you don't have a dishwasher, "At the very least, wash it with hot water, soap, and a paper towel," not the bacteria-infested sponge.