In a study by Kimberly-Clark Professional, 39% of survey respondents feared picking up germs in a public restroom more than any other place. Is there good reason for the fear or are people overly concerned? Can you reduce the risks?
What’s in there and Can it Hurt You?
Without getting too specific, there are many germs that can thrive in restrooms. Bacteria live off of moisture and organic food (or waste), which can be quite plentiful in public restrooms.
Fears of contacting STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) from a public washroom have more to do with the fear of the disease than the likelihood of picking it up in a washroom. Many of these bacteria and viruses do not live long enough outside the body to be easily transmitted. However, some experts admit there is a theoretical risk of herpes or crabs being contracted under certain – but unlikely – conditions. Some public facilities provide flushable toilet seat covers, antibacterial cleansers or you can line the seat with toilet paper.
Of greater concern are salmonella and shigella bacteria which can be transferred by contact with feces. The infected person can transmit the bacteria on their hands which can then be transferred to flushing handles, door handles and faucets.
Foul odors, lack of supplies and puddles on the floors can all be signs of improper maintenance.
Odor that comes from public washrooms can be caused by urine in tile grouting. If the floors aren’t properly cleaned daily (or more) then the uric acid salts will not be removed with regular cleansers. These salts provide a food source for bacteria whose digestive processes give off the foul odor.
Products like MicroGuard from AllDura and even stainless steel can reduce the maintenance required to keep bacteria growth to a minimum.
A lack of supplies (toilet paper, hand drying towels or soap) can also increase the unhygienic conditions of a restroom. Overly crowded restrooms can suffer from a lack of supplies or a lack of available sinks, soap dispensers or dryers.
The Magic Weapon – Wash Your Hands!
It is the simple truth that hand washing will drastically cut the chance for germ transference. A study done by Scott Papers found that more than nine out of ten respondents claimed to wash their hands when using public restrooms. However, only 67% were actually observed doing so!
As manufacturers of paper products, including towels, the company also states that drying hands thoroughly is imperative in practicing proper hygiene. The moisture left on hands can still carry bacteria. Because of this, air drying machines may not be enough protection since many individuals do not use them long enough to thoroughly dry their hands.
The knowledge that proper washing and drying can protect you from even unsavory public restrooms is comforting. The fact that public washrooms still need to provide the basics for good hygiene, as well as good maintenance is something that needs work. Carrying an antibacterial gel for emergency use is recommended when visiting a public area.
10 Tips for Using Public Restrooms:
1. Wash Your Hands. Washing your hand is the single most effective way to keep bacteria at bay.
2. Use the first stall. If the bathroom has multiple stalls, use the first stall. The first stall is observed to be the least used stall. Most people go for one of the middle stalls and because they’re used more often, they are have more germs.
3. Check for supplies first before you go. Check to make sure there is enough paper towels and toilet paper available to you before you go.
4. Try to hover instead of sitting. If you can, this will help you to not come in contact with germs that are on the toilet seat. (If you make a mess, be sure to clean up after yourself!) If you must sit, line the toilet with toilet paper or sheet liners provided in the bathroom. You can also purchase toilet seat liners and carry them with you to use as needed. They are especially good to have on hand for road trips.
5. Wear Shoes. It might sound silly but be sure you have shoes on when you’re in a public restroom. There is plenty of bacteria on the floor that can be picked up into your skin from the floor if you don’t have shoes on.
6. Check the soap. Believe it or not the soap dispenser can be like a petri dish harboring loads of bacteria. This is so because people touch it with unclean hands throughout the day. You are likely to pick up more germs by using the soap if it is a dispenser you have to touch to get the soap out. Automatic dispensers are the best because people don’t have to come in contact with them to get the soap. If the dispenser is not automatic, consider simply rinsing for a longer period of time with just water.
7. Don’t touch the handles after you wash. Tons of bacteria is harbored in the handles of the sinks in a bathroom. They’re touched by people after they use the bathroom while they’re hands may have germs on them. If you can, after you wash your hands, don’t touch the handle again. Grab a paper towel to turn the water off so you avoid coming back into contact with the germs left behind on handles.
8. Carry Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer. While using hand santizer should be minimize for a number of reasons, it is good to carry and use antibacterial hand sanitizer with you for times when you have to use an especially dirty bathroom or one or more of the conditions listed above exist.
9. Be careful when touching the door handle upon exiting. Many germs remain on the door handle of the bathroom and you can pick them up by simply opening the door when leaving. Grab a paper towel to open the door so that your hands remain clean when you leave.
10. Check your surroundings. In addition to avoiding bacteria, make sure that your surroundings are safe. Go with a buddy, be aware of what is going on around you and take the location of the restroom into consideration before you go!