How clean is your handbag?

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For some, a handbag is a fashion statement. For others, it’s necessary portable storage, but do you know that what's lurking inside your purse may be hazardous to your health.

A new study by a British public health organization finds that women's handbags are contaminated with more bacteria than the average toilet. Tests revealed that one in five handbags is home to sufficient bacteria to pose a human health risk.

So, how do you protect yourself? Wendy Getchell, owner of Lotus Boutique in Sarasota, has some suggestions. "You might want to keep your glasses in a case so that their not contaminated by anything else, you know, your make up, lipstick, whatever you can keep that in a little something extra. Money is full of germs so definitely keep that in your wallet and not just throwing it into your handbag."

Research also reveals hand cream to be the dirtiest item in the average handbag with bottles carrying more bacteria than the average toilet seat. “One thing that women do that's a no-no is to throw your extra shoes in your handbag, think about that.”

Local resident Judi Mirabella wasn’t surprised to hear the toxic results. In fact, she had left her purse at the office, and here's why. "Every time I throw something in it, it stays in it and I can never find it I often refer to my purse as the black hole."

Gettchel has some tips on how you can help protect yourself from a hazardous handbag. "Wipe it with a damp rag or you could use a Lysol wipe or something of that sort, but again just keeping those things out of your bag in the first place is probably what I’d recommend."

Karen, who is vacationing from Dallas, Texas says she is surprised to hear the test results. In fact, she revealed the pristine interior of her handbag. How does she do it? "Dump it out on the counter every night before you go to bed and take all the trash out and all the things you don’t need to drag on your shoulder, and then put them all back in, nice and clean."

Gettchel suggests keeping food items and things like that in Zip-lock bags, and look for handbags offering compartments and little zippered pockets to separate your items to help keep them sanitary, and one more piece of advice. "I think that people should treat their handbags you know like a precious part of their wardrobe, because it really is."

The tests also revealed that leather handbags are the most bacteria-riddled because, the porous, spongy texture provides the perfect conditions for bacteria to grow and spread. The researchers suggest that women regularly clean their hands and bags with antibacterial wipes or gel to prevent cross-contamination.