Bacteria might get a bad rep, but they’re beneficial in biotech advancements, modern medicine, food preparation, pest control, metal mining and even the balance of healthy intestinal flora. However, bacteria can also be dangerous and toxic to our health. And these mysterious microbes just love to lurk in the very heart of our own home: the kitchen.

While wiping down countertops and scouring dirty sinks is helpful in keeping harmful bacteria at bay, there are hidden areas in your kitchen that demand just as much care and attention as the so-called dirty spots. In fact, studies reveal the occurrence of E. coli is around 89 percent in an average kitchen towel! The yuck factor doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. Research collecting and analyzing 201 kitchen sponges revealed that these sponges were covered entirely with strains of aerobic mesophilic bacteria. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even deduced that harmful bacteria in the kitchen can make people fall ill. Bacteria like salmonella, listeria and E. coli are responsible for 48 million sick Americans every year.

While there are obvious areas in the home where bacteria lurk, such as cutting boards or floors, there are many places in the kitchen where viruses and fungi silently thrive without our knowledge or visual clues. Here’s a peek at some sneaky spots germs can hide in the place you gather, cook and eat — and how you can keep that from happening without throwing toxic chemicals into the mix.

4 Kitchen Areas to Clean Well

Icky things are probably lurking in your kitchen. Photo: Adobe Stock

1. The Coffee Maker Water Filter

You’re likely replacing the disposable (and hopefully, recycled) coffee filter or cleaning your steel mesh daily, but are you running a vinegar rinse through your coffee machine to keep it clean and bacteria-free?

White distilled vinegar is acidic, making it a safe and natural disinfectant due to its inherent antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Vinegar is also great at dissolving mineral deposits from the interior parts; dilute with water, then follow with several rinse cycles according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to avoid damage or, perhaps worse, a vinegar-flavored cup of joe.

There’s also a removable water filter that provides a perfect environment for bacteria to flourish if not replaced properly, since bacteria and fungi love moisture. Additionally, the water filter can become packed with dirt and coffee debris. Like any clogged filter, this will cause a backup in your system, preventing your machine from running properly. While these charcoal filters help, they don’t remove a majority of contaminants in tap water (fluoride, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, etc.). Therefore, it’s best to remove this filter all together so it doesn’t harbor bacteria. Instead, use filtered water from a quality home water filtration system to ensure your coffee is being made with the most clean, pure and healthy water.

2. The Refrigerator Water Filter

As a result of bacteria, parasites and viruses in drinking water, 19.5 million illnesses occur each year in the United States, reports The New York Times. The refrigerator water filter can be surefire breeding ground for bacteria. As noted above, bacteria and fungus require water and moisture to survive. Ingesting bacteria-ridden water or ice from a dirty filter can cause allergic sensitivities or bacterial infections.

The solution? In between replacements, remove and clean the water filter thoroughly with a natural, plant-based soap; soak the filter; then rinse. Next, air-dry the filter to prevent bacterial growth. Replace the filter entirely when indicated by a light — or per the manufacturer’s recommendation. Many people commonly make the mistake of repeatedly using the same filter and neglecting to replace it.

3. The Dishwasher Filter

Some dishwashers have a self-cleaning filter that uses grinders. However, these can be noisy. Quieter dishwashers often contain manual filters that need to be removed, cleaned and eventually replaced. Consult your owner’s manual for exact recommendations for replacing this filter if required; typically, every three to six months is recommended. Failing to maintain this can cause bacteria and mold to flourish.

Additionally, there’s something called a glass trap situated on the bottom/center of the interior to collect broken glass, straws, bones or pits. If you notice your dishwasher having performance issues, check this and remove any pieces of debris. This should be checked every few months to maintain a clean and properly running dishwasher.

4. The Range Hood Filter

The range hood filter collects grease, smoke and other particles from cooking. There are many different types of hoods, such as ductless hoods and vented range hoods. Regardless of the type, regular cleaning and filter replacement is essential. The carbon filter, which is inserted in the fan system, should be replaced every six to 12 months.

The next time you host a party or feast with your family, remember to conduct a maintenance check on all of the above to ensure the health of everyone. Bacterial infections are no laughing matter, and all-natural precautionary measures can — and should — be taken to avoid them.

By Lisa Beres

Lisa Beres is a healthy home authority, Baubiologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly award-winning media personality who teaches busy people how to eliminate toxins from their home with simple, step-by-step solutions to improve their health. With her husband, Ron, she is the co-founder of The Healthy Home Dream Team and the 30-day online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health. She is the author of the children’s book My Body My House and co-author of Just Green It!: Simple Swaps to Save Your Health and the Planet, Learn to Create a Healthy Home! Green Nest Creating Healthy Homes and The 9 to 5 Greened: 10 Steps to a Healthy Office. Lisa’s TV appearances include "The Rachael Ray Show," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," "The Doctors," "Fox & Friends," "Chelsea Lately" and "The Suzanne Somers Show."