Should you sit?
To sit or not to sit, that is the question. It was the question that came up on hike today with a nurse friend of mine. She asked if I sit in public bathrooms. This started a tangent talking about what we see go on in the bathrooms with patients. Does this knowledge affect the habits we have in our own lives? I decided to look into what the research tells us about public bathrooms.
Public Bathroom Toilet Seats
Turns out, toilet seats are one of the cleanest parts of a public restroom. Guess what carries 10x’s more germs than a toilet seat? Your cell phone does. That’s less of a problem if you don’t share your phone with anyone since they are your germs. So when is the last time you cleaned your cellphone?
Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona who has studied restrooms and other germ-infested environments for more than 20 years, says that because of the care people take when they’re about to sit, other parts of the bathroom are much more prone to delivering bacterial infections.
So what’s the dirtiest spot? The floor is. That means setting down your backpack or purse is one of the worst ideas in a public bathroom. The sink is also pretty dirty so keep up the proper hand washing techniques. Air blower vs paper towels? Pick the paper towels unless you’re bigger worry is saving the trees. The air blower circulates the germs in the bathroom and blows them onto your hands.
Public Bathroom Doorknobs
The doorknob in a public bathroom is actually one of the cleaner surfaces. This is because, like the toilet seat, people are more careful about touching it.
My sister never touches a public bathroom doorknob with her hands. In fact, I’ve seen her use her foot (which I now know has been on the dirtiest part of the bathroom) to open the bathroom door when no towels were available. To think all this time she’s just been putting more germs on the doorknob!
What can you do to avoid germs in a public bathroom?
- Get the app. There are now apps (in some cities) that will tell you ratings for bathrooms near you.
- Keep all of your belongings off of the floor.
- Properly wash your hands. Forget how? Here is a video reminder (that’s sort of fun).
- Use paper towels (but get them ready first if you have to touch a knob or crank to get them) to dry instead of the air dryer.
- You can hover over the toilet seat, but only attempt if you can fully empty your bladder while doing this. If you can’t, you could be at Risk for getting a UTI which isn’t fun either.
- Use the first stall. It’s usually cleaner because it is used less. The middle stall is the dirtiest.
- Open the door with a paper towel. It’s one of the cleaner areas in the bathroom, but it’s still dirty.
Is anywhere safe?
The cleanest public bathrooms are in hospitals and the dirtiest are in airports and on airplanes. That’s good news for healthcare workers and not such good news for flight attendants.
During my research on public bathroom cleanliness, I found this funny FAKE news story by the onion. It’s less than 2 minutes long and worth watching (if you have a good sense of humor). Keep in mind the information contained in it is very inaccurate. I’m sure you’ll get that though.
Click below for the video.
This is dedicated to my friend Tammy. Nurse and mentor extraordinaire, peri-care expert, loyal friend, amazing maker of soup, and toilet seat hover-er! Tammy is also featured in our male Perineal Care Videos Series. Learn more about Perineal Care and Toileting.