Understanding Germs

What Are Germs?

While good germs can help our bodies stay in balance and build our immune systems, bad germs can cause a breakdown in our bodies, leading to illness and infection.

Cartoon close-up of viruses on weave of fabric

Germs are everywhere. They live both inside and outside the human body, some living in your gut to help with healthy digestion while others exist on your skin – or transfer onto surfaces – and can pass around infection diseases. Good or bad, there are four main types of germs:1

Types of Germs

Image of germs stained yellow on microscope slide


What do germs look like?

You may be wondering ‘What do these germs look like?’. But, if you were thinking of trying to spot one, don’t forget that we can’t see them with the human eye. In fact, they are so miniscule that we’re unable to see them without a microscope! This is the reason that we often don’t know that we’ve come into contact with germs that make us sick until we actually are sick.


Where do germs come from?

It’s almost impossible to avoid germs because they’re all around us. You can find germs – or microbes as they’re sometimes known – in the air, on food, on plants and animals as well as in soil and water.2 In fact, they’re present on pretty much all surfaces (including on and inside our own bodies!).


How do germs spread?

Germs can spread in various ways, but mostly through direct or indirect contact – or by simply being in the air.3



How do germs spread?

Germs can spread in various ways, but mostly through direct or indirect contact – or by simply being in the air.3

Person in office in front of laptop blows nose into tissue


This can include anything from sneezes to coughs or even just breathing.

Child holds another child's hands close to their face


Germs can spread through direct contact with something contaminated (such as holding someone’s hand). They can also spread directly through sweat, saliva and blood.

Hand with finger pointing outward


Germs can spread indirectly, typically because of touching something that someone else has touched, like a surface or object.[4]

How long do germs live?

How long germs live depends on a variety of factors; from the type of germ to the nature of its environment, such as temperature, humidity and surface.5 All of these things make it extremely difficult to estimate how long it takes for germs to die as some germs die almost instantly while others can live for over 100 years!6

Where can germs be found?

As germs are invisible to the naked eye, it helps to know the most common places that they could be lurking. Here are some of the spaces that germs tend to hide, as well as what kills germs and how to avoid them.

Public places

Your office: Shared office supplies are germs magnets. Disinfect your workspace by coating the area with Lysol® Disinfectant Spray and don’t wipe it off. Simply let the spray dry for maximum effect.


Airplanes: Germs can spread easily on a flight, particularly because you’re in a closed space with strangers. We recommend disinfecting your seat with a Lysol® Disinfecting Wipes when you board, including the arms, tray, window and video monitor.


Movie theatres: Similar to airplanes, these are another place that germs thrive. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly whenever you get a chance. If you’ll be eating snacks throughout, try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.


Restaurants: Improperly washed – or unwashed – hands can cover food in germs. Not to mention raw or undercooked foods can expose an entire kitchen to germs such as salmonella and shigella. Always choose your restaurants wisely, and don’t forget to check their health certificate.


The doctor’s office: Your place of salvation can also be a place of doom. You are sharing a small space with infectious people, after all, so chairs, doorknobs, toys and the like can become contaminated. Try to avoid touching shared surfaces, wash your hands every chance you get and, if you’re taking your child, consider bringing their own toys and books from home instead.

The germiest items in your home

Your kitchen sponge: Hands down, the humble kitchen sponge is the most germ-infested item in your house. Researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture found that the best way to eliminate germs from sponges is to wet them and place them in the microwave on high power for two minutes. Do this every day and replace it with a fresh one at least every two weeks.


The cutting board: Microbiologist Charles Gerba found the average cutting board is dirtier than the average toilet seat.

Learn How to Clean your Cutting Board


Your toothbrush: When you flush the toilet, it sends a spray of germs into the air which can then land on your toothbrush, towel and other products. Close your toilet seat before flushing and replace your toothbrush often, and especially after sickness.


The kitchen sink: Food particles when left to soak can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Learn How to Clean your Kitchen Sink


Bed sheets and towels: When you’re sick, your bed can seem like the coziest place on earth but it can also be a breeding ground for germs. In fact, germs can live on towels and sheets for three to seven days without a host. Clean your sheets once a week and towels every one to three days in the washing machine with Lysol® Laundry Sanitizer. Hang them up so they don’t collect germs in a damp pile too!


Light switches, handles and knobs: How many times a day do people turn a light on or off, or open and close a door? When you combine that with the fact that hands are one of the germiest parts of your body, it’s important to wipe these areas down regularly. Simply use a Lysol® Disinfecting Wipe each day for germ reduction.


While knowing the most common places where germs hide can help us ensure we pay close attention to those areas, our best protection against germs is washing our hands thoroughly and regularly.