Special Assignment: Dirty Purses

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February 22, 2007

Chanel, Coach, Christian Dior...it's amazing just how much money women are willing to spend on designer purses.

But even more amazing is how dirty they can become.

In a Special Assignment, News 12 puts your purses to the test.

It's hard to believe our handbags could be dripping with bacteria, but as we discovered, it's true.

Think for a moment how many places your purse has been: the car, the floor, the kitchen table and counters, the stairs.

With the help of Mullins Laboratory, we put purses to the test.

We swabbed the bottoms of bags outside K-Mart and inside Jill Wagner's salon.

"It's what you'd expect to find if you were to swab the ground or the floor," said Dr. Phil Williams, director of operations at Mullins.

We allowed our samples to incubate for 72 hours. When we returned, the plates were covered in nasty looking fungus and other bacteria.

"Certainly that's not a good thing," Dr. Williams said.

The big gray glob on one of the plates caught our eye. Biologists say it's bacillus, a common contaminant in soil.

But perhaps the most disturbing was the plate containing protease, an organism found in human intestines.

"You could find that on a restroom floor, around restrooms, that sort of thing. People don't wash their hands adequately," Dr. Williams said.

Not every purse had problems. But before you take a bag into a bathroom, remember this story.

"It's very much like the bottom of your shoe," Dr. Williams said. "If you don't want it exposed to what your shoe's going to be exposed to, don't put it there."

Leather and vinyl purses don't trap bacteria as easily as say cloth purses do. We also learned women with children tend to have dirtier purses.

We also tested the bottom of 6 O'Clock anchor Laurie Ott's purse. She laughingly told us she expected it to be pretty gross, since she leaves it around the newsroom. Laurie also has a daughter, so the probability for something nasty was high.

However, it turned out that her purse was clean...quite a relief!

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