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The homes of bachelors have 15 times more bacteria than those of single women, a new study finds.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/14/2011 8:22:48 AM ET 2011-02-14T13:22:48

Turns out some pearls of wisdom are laced into Beyonce's hit song: “All the single ladies. All the single ladies. Now put your hands up. ...”

Seriously, if you are in bachelor’s home, follow her advice and put your hands up — now. Or put them in your pockets. Better yet, put on mittens. And from now on pack some antibacterial spray along with your can of mace.

New research has just confirmed the old suspicion that the residences of single men are among the most foul in the land. But things are far grungier than random socks dangling from lampshades or towers of crusty dishes teetering in sinks. After testing for germs on four common surfaces — TV remotes, coffee tables, nightstands and doorknobs — scientists learned that bachelor pads contain 15 times the amount of bacteria than do the homes of bachelorettes.

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Ready to really get down and dirty in the singles scene? Seven of every 10 coffee tables checked at the guys’ places harbored coliforms — a variety of bacteria abundant in the feces of warm-blooded animals. Yes, feces. To help put this filthy finding in true laboratory lingo, we turn to the study’s leader, Dr. Charles Gerba.

“They have poop on the coffee table,” Gerba said.

Um, why?

“I would suspect the guys probably put their feet up on the coffee table. About 90 percent of shoes have fecal bacteria on the bottom after you wear them for three months,” said Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. “My wife never puts her feet on the table. I do, and I keep getting told to take them off.”

These fecal bugs — excellent indicators that such surfaces may also contain cold and flu viruses plus other squiggly microbes known to cause diarrhea — also were detected on many of the bachelors' TV remotes (30 percent), nightstands (62 percent) and doorknobs (13 percent).

To be fair, coliforms were discovered on the same surfaces in some of the bachelorettes’ homes. The bugs just weren’t quite as common — or plentiful — at the ladies’ digs. Except for one spot: 33 percent of the women’s front doorknobs harbored colonies of coliforms.

Again, though, the bachelors — and their grubby hands — may be to blame.

“The entrances into the women’s homes — we haven’t quite figured out yet,” Gerba said. “But I assume that’s why women always expect guys to open the door for them.”

Gerba’s study, sponsored by Clorox, involved swabbing the four selected surfaces at the homes of 30 bachelors and 30 bachelorettes. Most test subjects lived near or were affiliated with the University of Arizona in Tucson. Some residences in Los Angeles, San Diego, El Paso and Phoenix also were sampled. Any germs grabbed by the researchers’ swipes were placed on plates then incubated at about 90 degrees for up to five days.

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Overall, Gerba said, the homes of the single women were cleaner than the average American abode while the bachelor pads were more germ-laced than the typical U.S. residence.

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This conclusion didn’t exactly shock Caroline Landree. Early last fall she stopped dating a man in Minneapolis because his apartment was so “nasty,” she said.

Among the sights she took in at his place — after he had tidied up for her visit: a bathroom sink covered in hair, mold growing on the shower curtain, a mound of dirty dishes, and an odd medley of dirty clothes and rumpled bed sheets.

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“It was part of the reason — fine, almost entirely the reason — for the break-up,” said Landree, 25, who works in the communications industry in Minneapolis. “All I could think was, there is no way I could clean up after him forever!

“I told a few (female) friends about this situation, and they all had stories of someone they dated who had a really disgusting apartment. It does seem to be quite common.”

‘Have you been on a farm or camping?’
Attorney John Boyd said he has cleaned up his act, at least somewhat, since his bachelor days. Now married to a woman who “hates clutter,” he describes himself as “neater,” although he admits that certain areas within his Ridgefield, Conn., house — namely his garage and office — are “unsightly.”

Still, those nooks don’t begin to compare to his New York City bachelor pad back in 1997. That year, a friend, Gabe Escobar, visited for a few weeks. The dark apartment was strewn with Boyd’s clothing and piles of magazines. One week into his stay, Escobar’s left hand suddenly blew up “like a balloon,” Boyd recalled. Escobar saw a doctor who initially asked: “Have you been on a farm or camping?”

The diagnosis: Escobar had likely been bitten by a brown recluse spider.

“I was always a little messy. Can't fight chaos,” said Boyd, the 45-year-old founder of the networking site MeetingWave.com. I’m “not sure if (the trash) led to the spider being there, but likely (it) made it feel at home.”

Germs are certainly more at home in dwellings where sprucing up is a rare occurrence, Gerba said. In fact, simply rubbing down surfaces with disinfectant wipes kills the types of bacteria the Arizona researcher found to be lurking on the coffee tables and nightstands of so many bachelors.

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“I think women (typically) practice better cleaning and better disinfecting of the key surfaces in the home. We’ve seen that in the homes we’ve studied,” Gerba said.

An explanation for the sloppiness of many guys certainly won't be found in a Petri dish. But does the germ expert have any theory as to why women seem to be collectively more tidy?

Gerba can only point to his own childhood. His mother, he said, was "like a general when it came to cleaning and disinfecting." Perhaps, Gerba suggested, such domestic lessons on proper mopping, sweeping and scrubbing are simply not handed down to the boys in the home.

"It’s probably," he said, "just a lack of proper education.”

Bill Briggs is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com and author of the new, nonfiction book, “The Third Miracle.”

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