This is the Dirtiest Thing at a Gas Station

And no, it's not in the bathroom.

While some gas station restrooms are pleasantly cleaner and more modern than others, we’ve all come across the ones that just…aren’t. Without question, most people would assume that the restroom’s toilet seat is the dirtiest place in the station. Surprisingly, there are a lot of everyday things that are dirtier than a toilet seat—and this one of them.

As it turns out, the dirtiest thing at a gas station is the pump handle. This research was conducted by “Dr. Germ,” who’s more commonly known as University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba. According to CleanTechnica, Gerba’s work showed that “71 percent of all the gas-pump handles that were sampled were ‘highly contaminated’ with [the] sorts of microbes most highly associated with illness and disease.” In case you needed another reason to keep hand sanitizer in your car at all times, here you go!

Person spray sanitizer onto fuel gas pump before using as protection against germs in new normalPhoto: Shutterstock

Why are gas pumps so dirty?

Gas pumps are things people can rarely avoid touching. As a result, a lot of people put their hands on them—and they may grab them without washing or sanitizing their hands first. According to Leann Poston, MD, this is especially true for travellers. “Travellers may have been in the car all day and not had access to soap and water, or may have used a restroom that did not supply soap and towels,” she explains.

It’s a simple formula: a common item people touch + people not washing their hands before they touch it = a thriving environment for germs. Plus, if people don’t properly sanitize their hands after touching the pump, they can spread germs to their most-used items. (Here’s why drying your hands is as important as washing them.)

How can people avoid getting sick?

Dr. Poston says there are a few effective ways to prevent germs from spreading at the gas pump. “Either use a paper towel over your hand when touching the gas pump so you don’t come in contact with it, or use hand sanitizer on your hands after pumping your gas,” she advises.

You should also pay attention to where, exactly, you’re putting your hands. “Avoid touching high-touch spots like door handles and push buttons as much as possible, and especially avoid using the pads of your fingers,” says Mark A. Schneegurt, PhD, a professor in the department of biological sciences at Wichita State University. “Pay special attention to the pads of your fingers and palms when washing.”

Some other tips include:

  • Wiping down the pump with a disinfecting wipe before picking up the handle
  • Wearing latex gloves when pumping gas
  • Using a touch-free payment option at the pump, if possible

Next, find out why you should never use your phone when pumping gas.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest