TRI-CITIES, TN/VA – (WJHL) – Backpacks are a necessity for any family with kids heading back to school and with a hefty price tag, many parents opt to reusing backpacks year after year.

Jenny Huan, a mother of two, says for this school year both her kids are reusing their backpacks because they were good quality and could last at least one more year.

The one problem with reusing backpacks year after year is the amount of bacteria that can build up over time. Just like many other parents Huan knows exactly where the backpack lands when her kids walk through the door, “[they] throw it on the counter and wait for somebody else to take care of it”.

Huan admits she has never really thought about where her kid’s backpacks travel throughout the day, or what kind of bacteria they could pick up before they end up on her kitchen counter or dining table.

Chris Pritchett, an East Tennessee State University Associate Professor with the Department of Microbiology, says backpacks are a type of fomite, which is basically an inanimate object that can transmit a potentially infectious disease.

“There’s lots of nooks and crannies [in a backpack] and because there’s lots of nooks and crannies they pick up some of the bacteria on the floor whether it’s on the bathroom or school room floor. Then there’s always the potential that they’re bringing some of that home,” explains Pritchett.

From the school bus floor, to the hallways, and even the bathroom floors the amount of bacteria that could end up on a backpack is alarming.

“There’s always the potential for fecal material to end up on a book bag and again that could be distributed at home especially if it’s on the counter or on the kitchen table,” says Pritchett.

News Channel 11 put some backpacks to the test. A few coworkers volunteered their kid’s backpacks to be tested in ETSU’s microbiology building. Pritchett swabbed each backpack with a sterile cotton swab then streaked them on a plate that would allow someone to see the bacteria with a naked eye.

Bacteria samples taken from several backpacks. The clear dish on the left is what it looked like before we swabbed each backpack. The dishes on the right are after.

We left the plates to sit for a weekend and looked at the results on Monday, and to Pritchett, they were not surprising. “Every backpack has some bacteria on it. There’s also some fungal growth […] on many of these [plates] as well”.

When we told Huan about the results her reaction is the same as most mothers, not shocking but not something that regularly cross her mind.

“I guess when I really think about it’s not an oh my gosh, but it is an oh my gosh, because typically when [the kids] come home [the backpack is] on the kitchen counter or kitchen table and I can’t say that I sanitize it before dinner or always wipe down the table because there was a gross backpack on it,” says Huan. Now, Huan says she will be regularly cleaning her kid’s backpacks.

Before you run home and throw your backpack out, Pritchett offers some easy tips any parent can follow.

  1. Wash each backpack and make sure to dry it instead of spot clean only.
  2. Wash each backpack at least once a month.
  3. Wash each backpack more regularly during peak seasons when the flu or a cold is going around.
  4. Don’t let your kids put their backpack on the kitchen counter or table and have hooks near the front door for the backpacks to hang up on.
  5. Continue to talk with your children about the importance of washing hands.

Pritchett says by washing hands and your kid’s backpacks it minimizes not only your kids chances of being exposed to something but also the rest of your family.Copyright 2015 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.