You may have wondered where microorganism comes from. You have likely heard that microorganisms are everywhere and even live in our bodies. You may be cleaning your place of work thinking about all of the places where microorganisms could be hiding.

Let us discover together the world of microbiology that exists all around us.

Cleaning versus disinfecting

  • A CDC guide for cleaning and disinfecting homes with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 says: “Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings. (Centre for Diseases Control & Prevention -CDC) Updated June 17, 2021
  • Cleaning with soap (or detergent) and water lowers the number of germs on surfaces. Cleaners don’t necessarily kill germs, but cleaning can remove germs and lower their numbers. This can play a role in reducing the risk of spreading infection. Disinfecting products kill germs on surfaces using chemicals.(Health Canada 2020-10-05)

What is a Microorganism:

The word ‘microorganism’ refers to the microscopic life forms that inhabit the world. This includes different species from the virus, bacteria, protists, and fungus kingdoms. Microorganisms can cause nasty infections and disease outbreaks. However, they have a very sophisticated and important relationship with animals and plants. Life would not be possible if there were no microorganisms.

Germ Hotspots

Although microorganisms exist naturally, bacteria, virus, fungi, and other microbes can cause serious problems when they are allowed to uncontrollably replicate. The living and workplaces of many industries could be made safer by controlling microorganism populations.

Where problematic microorganisms may be concentrated in your place of work.

1) Your Body

A. Hands: How many microorganisms are on your hands alone? At any given time there are more than 3000 bacteria representing over 100 species. (Mayo Clinic)

B. Body:10,000 microbial species occupy the human ecosystem. Moreover, between 81 and 99 percent of all microorganisms in healthy adults. (National institute of health)

C. Lungs: The maximum amount of air you can forcibly exhale from your lungs after fully inhaling. It is about 80 percent of total capacity, or 4.8 litres. (*4.8 L= 0.17 cu ft.),(American lung Association)

Normal respiration rates for an adult person at rest range from 12 to 16 breaths per minute. (John Hopkins Medicine)

Seven infected persons can 100% contaminate a room of 1000ft3 (10ftx12ftx9ft) in less than one hour.

Still, people have bacteria on the skin and nasal secretions that could potentially harm someone, especially a person with a compromised immune system.

2) Air

An average human breathes in between 100,000 and 1 million microorganisms belonging to over 1,000 different types each day, with at least725 species of them constantly present in the air around us. (Nanyang Technological University (NTU)). A person’s mere presence in a room can add 37 million bacteria to the air every hour. (Yale University- Science magazine)


Microbial populations present in HVAC exchange systems can be substantial. Researchers have reported bacterial concentrations up to 106 CFU cm−2 on air-handling cooling coils. Microbiological concentrations associated with the subsequent air stream 15–120 min after continuous use return to background levels (National Institute of Health). The ventilation and cooling systems are frequently guilty of inadvertently harboring and dispersing germs through the air. Various bio-contaminants may be found in an HVAC system. The primary bio-contaminants are fungi and bacteria. Secondary bio-contaminants may include mites, insects, or nematodes.

4) Curtains

This is particularly true of the curtains seen in hospitals, long term homes, clinics, offices and public buildings used to separate patients and provide privacy. More than a fifth of 1,500 samples taken from six post-acute care nursing facilities were laced with one or more dangerous bacteria, including the hospital bug MRSA, researchers found. But even in other types of offices and buildings, the curtains are rarely cleaned and make a good host for bacteria that survive within the fabric. (Medical Express)

5) Faucets and Drinking Fountains

School water fountains and faucets are at an increased risk because they are shared by everybody and the presence of water itself favours bacteria. The National Sanitation Foundation, which tests elementary schools for bacterial content, also found that more bacteria was found in drinking fountains than in bathrooms. In their study, 2.7 million bacterial cells were found per square inch.

6) Furniture

Different pieces of furniture such as chairs and couches, tables, beds etc. can be contaminated and may be difficult to clean. Microorganisms have the capacity to survive on fabrics for the following day:

Survival of bacterial and fungal isolates on various fabrics
US National Library of Medicine
Microorganism Length of survival (no. of days) of individual isolates on
Cotton Cotton-Polyester Wool Silk
E. faecium 49 51 49 49
S. aureus 37 37 41 37
E. coli 45 37 45 45
P. aeruginosa 13 23 33 33
A. baumannii 19 19 7 19
S. maltophilia 7 7 7 7
C. albicans 6 6 12 12
C. tropicalis 3 9 >30 24
C. krusei 3 6 >30 21
C. glabrata >30 >30 >30 >30
C. parapsilosis >30 >30 >30 >30
G. candidum 21 6 12 6
A. fumigatus >30 >30 >30 27
C. neoformans >30 >30 >30 >30

7) Telephones

Telephones are clearly a possible source of infection. People touch them with their hands holding them close to their face for prolonged periods of time. In fact, cell phones have been reported to have more germs than a toilet seat. Seven times more to be exact. Some of the bacteria that can be found on mobile phones include:

1) MRSA 2) E.Coli 3) Strep 4) Moild 5) C-difficile.(Cleveland Clinic)

Bacteria isolated from mobile phone surfaces (n = 25) before and after disinfection and reduction of contamination.
US National Library of medicine
Organisms Before Disinfection After Disinfection Reduction of the Contamination
Staphylococcus aureus 5 (20%) 2 (8%) 60.00%
CoNS 19 (76%) 7 (28%) 63.20%
Bacillus spp. 9 (36%) 1 (4%) 88.90%
Micrococcus spp. 9 (36%) 1 (4%) 88.90%
Enteric bacteria 3 (12%) 0 (0%) 100%

8) Elevators

Elevators are an often overlooked hiding spot for microorganisms. They are a small, confined space shared by everybody. Also, they require the users to push buttons to operate it. Did you know that the amount of bacteria on a commercial elevator button is nearly 40x higher than on a public toilet seat. (Stanley Elevator Company)

Bacteria cultured from elevator buttons and toilet surfaces*
US National Library of Medicine
Organism Sampling site no. n = 120 (%) of samples* n = 96
Staphylococcus† 67 (56) 35 (36)
Streptococcus 11 (9) 7 (7)
Coliform bacteria 10 (8) 2 (2)
Enterococcus 2 (2) 0 (0)
Pseudomonas 1 (1) 1 (1)
Miscellaneous‡ 2 (2) 4 (4)

9) Kitchen Appliances

Do you know how long cold microorganisms can live on surfaces? The answer is about seven days. Most workplaces have a kitchen area or lounge where employees can share meals. Although this is, of course, better than eating and working in the same place but many types of microorganisms can be found here. Specifically, the buttons and handle on the microwave and the refrigerator can become particularly nasty. Also, any leftover morsel of food can cause a surge in pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and mold.

US National Library of Medicine 

10) Keyboards and Computers

This should not come as too much of surprise to anybody. The keyboards we use every day are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Obviously, we touch them with our hands all day and the little crevices between the keys are hard to clean and disinfect. But this isn’t one part of the disinfection you want to overlook.

Percentage evaluation of microorganisms isolated from computer keyboard surfaces (n = 25) before and after disinfection and reduction of contamination.
US National Library of Medicine
Organisms Before Disinfection After Disinfection Reduction of the Contamination
Staphylococcus aureus 1 (4%) 0 (0%) 100%
CoNS 20 (80%) 8 (32%) 60.00%
Bacillus spp. 22 (88%) 15 (60%) 31.80%
Micrococcus spp. 5 (20%) 2 (8%) 60.00%
Streptococcus spp. 3 (12%) 0 (0%) 100%
Enteric bacteria 16 (64%) 8 (32%) 50.00%
Yeasts 2 (8%) 0 (0%) 100%
Moulds 3 (12%) 0 (0%) 100%

11) Floors& Carpets

Again, no real surprise here but the floors and carpets house all types of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. A typical carpet contains roughly 200,000 bacteria per square inch on average, making it technically 4,000 times more germs than a toilet seat. Sure, most floors are washed once a day but it might not be enough. This includes:

  • Food, beverages, moisture
  • Dirt, dust, pollen, smoke
  • Hair, skin cells, nastier human stuff
  • Whatever your kids dragged in
  • The presents your pet leaves for you

Pets, as well as children who spend more time on the floor and touch their hands to their mouths, are more at risk of being affected by toxic particles in your carpet.

(American Lung Association)

12) Transit:

A. Automotive: Interior disinfection can be integrated into key areas and products for car interiors:

  • Steering wheel
  • Gearstick
  • Hand break
  • External door handles
  • Internal switches and levers
  • Dashboard + fascia
  • Internal mirror
  • Sun visors
  • Glove compartment
  • Seats
  • Seatbelts
  • Mats, carpets

B. Aviation: Interior disinfection can be integrated into key areas and products for airport and aircraft interiors:

  • Airport security check point trays
  • Fold-down table trays
  • Window shades
  • Seating, textiles/leather
  • Armrests
  • Galley trays and storage units
  • Overhead compartment components
  • Flooring
  • Rest room areas

You might be carrying something off the plane – other than your carry-on.!

Disease-causing bacteria can linger on surfaces in commercial airplane cabins for up to one week! (Auburn University)

On a plane, MRSA Bacteria survived the longest168 hours—on material from the seat-back pocket, while E. coli Bacteria lived for 96 hours on the material from the armrest. (Federal Aviation Administration Centre, in partnership with Delta Airlines)

C. Public Transit: protection can be integrated into key areas and products for public transport carriages and vehicles:

  • Grab bars & handles
  • Seating textiles
  • Controls & switches
  • Interior panels
  • Flooring
  • Faire box
  • Windows
  • Tables

Microorganisms always have free ride tickets on public transportation.

This phenomenon causes the microbial load in public transportation vehicles to escalate to a contagious value. Vehicles can be an important source of contamination for many community-based infections. (Faculty of Pharmacy, Istanbul University)

4. Marine: Treatable Interior disinfection can be integrated into key areas and products on cruise liners:

  • Grab bars & handles
  • Seating textiles
  • Controls & switches
  • Interior panels
  • Flooring
  • On-board kitchen areas and equipment

13) GYMS

Most fitness facility surfaces and equipment are non-porous (not allowing liquid or air to pass through) and can be sanitized or disinfected (West et al., 2018). Non-porous surfaces include glass, metals, plastics, glazed tiles, and marble.

Disinfection is preferred for fitness facilities. This can be done by using some type of cleaning agent recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Larson et al., 2007).

  • Fitness facilities and Fit Pros should have a daily plan for disinfecting surfaces and equipment.
  • Disinfection is preferred versus sanitization for fitness facility surfaces and equipment.

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