Ewww! The Gross Germs that Follow Your Kids Home in Their Backpacks

By Tracy Wright

It is time to go back to school and for most children this means suiting up with a school backpack. The American Occupational Therapy Association reports that more than 79 million students nationally carry backpacks. We know that backpacks are meant to carry books, lunchboxes and other school supplies, but often some unwelcome friends may attach themselves to your child’s bag. Unhealthy GERMS can be found all over the inside and outside of an average child’s backpack and some can lead to illness and infection.

Too many germs to count!

Think about the germs that can be found on the floor of a classroom, bus or even worse—a school bathroom. Now picture your child casually tossing their backpack all over these surfaces and what they may pick up on the way. Add a lunchbox or sack that may be filled with old or rotting food and you have a perfect combination for an environment teeming with germs.

A University of Arizona study analyzed shoes and found 421,000 different types of bacteria including E. coli. According to the Mayo Clinic, “escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals.” Although most types of this bacteria are relatively harmless, some can cause serious conditions like vomiting and severe diarrhea.

Another study conducted by the University of Houston found that 26.4% of shoes carry clostridium difficile and 40% had listeria monocytogenes, whose infections have become “more frequent, severe and difficult to treat,” said the Mayo Clinic.

Cetec Labs in Cleveland examined children’s backpacks to determine what bacteria was found. They detected more than 300 units of staphylococcus bacteria. In fact, there was more staph than the test could count! Similar to E. coli, most staph bacteria are not dangerous, however, some staph infections can be fatal if the bacteria goes into the bloodstream, muscles, bones or major organs.

Bye bye germs!

So now that we know what kind of dangers may be lurking on or in children’s backpacks, what is the best way to fight these sometimes harmful germs? Good Housekeeping recommends that parents wipe down their children’s backpacks with a disinfectant wipe. In addition, parents should check inside their children’s backpacks for any food or other items that may rot or go bad. Lunchboxes should be cleaned daily with warm, soapy water to ensure foodborne germs are being removed for a healthy lunch each day.

Once a week, parents should empty their children’s backpacks and launder them. Check the labels to make sure that the backpacks are able to be laundered in a washing machine, usually containing only nylon or canvas fabrics. Whirlpool recommends removing all items out of the backpack and vacuuming out crumbs and dust.

Next, spot clean the backpack to remove stains both inside and outside with a soft-bristled brush. It is important to read the care label to follow instructions. Typically, parents can toss the backpack into the gentle cycle with a fragrance-free detergent, said Whirlpool. Once the backpack comes out of the washing machine, use a towel to remove moisture then air dry. Backpacks should not be placed in the dryer to avoid warping of zippers or other items.

If the backpack cannot be laundered in a washing machine, it is best to hand wash the item thoroughly. Whirlpool recommends using water, baking soda, a soft bristled brush and thoroughly soaking and rinsing the bag.

Backpacks can pick up all sorts of germs. While not all of these germs are harmful, it is important to regularly clean backpacks to minimize exposure. A quick clean with a disinfecting wipe plus a more thorough washing periodically will help keep germs at bay and that backpack clean and fresh!

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