You don’t have to be a germophobe to feel queasy at the thought of all the microorganisms and pathogens that await you in public restrooms. You may think you have already thought of all the places these nasty germs can hide. However, there may be spots that have escaped your notice. Even the act of washing up before leaving the room can introduce danger. It is true that you are far more likely to get sick after direct contact with an infected person than from a restroom surface. Nevertheless, it is still helpful to know how to take proper precautions when entering this area. Read on for eight places that are havens for germs in public restrooms.
8. The Floor
This may seem a strange one to start out with, considering that all floors are relatively dirty and it’s not as if you will be touching the floor. Just keep in mind that not only do restroom floors contain all the germs from people’s shoes, but the floors inside the stalls also contain particles of bacteria and fecal matter that are sprayed up into the air every time the toilet is flushed. This effect is known as toilet plume, and the microscopic spray from toilet flushing can spread as far as six feet away. Be sure to keep your purse, backpack, or briefcase off the floor, as you don’t want them to pick up germs along the way.
7. The Walls
Remember the phenomenon called toilet plume? This spray containing microscopic particles of feces, urine, and vomit lands on the walls as well as the floor. While we’re at it, they can also land on the toilet paper dispenser, the little trash receptacles, and the toilet seat. Avoid touching the walls in the bathroom stall and be sure to thoroughly wash your hands upon exiting.
6. The Flush Handle
This one seems obvious since people are touching the handle after wiping and may have germs on their hands. Some people employ the technique of using their foot to depress the flusher. While this protects their hands, it also transfers more floor germs to the handle, and handle germs to their foot. Use a piece of toilet paper to depress the flusher if the stall doesn’t contain an automatic toilet.
5. The Stall Door Handle
Like the flush handle, the stall door handle is used by people who have just used their hands to clean up after urinating or defecating. You’re going to have to brave it and use the handle or be stuck in the stall. Turn the handle with a piece of toilet paper, or just go for it and plan on a good, thorough hand washing immediately afterward.
4. The Faucet
Now that you are at the sink, you are faced with another conundrum: how to actually wash your hands when the faucet handle is crawling with germs. In this case, go ahead and use the handle to turn the water on. Lather up with soap and scrub your hands under the water while humming the “Happy Birthday” song under your breath. This ensures you are scrubbing your hands long enough to get them truly clean, which is about 20 seconds. You can shut off the water with your elbow or use a paper towel to turn it off.
3. The Soap Dispenser
Soap dispensers may contain soap, but they may not be all that hygienic. Even touch-free soap dispensers may spread germs. CleanLink reported on a study conducted by Dr. Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona. This study found that soap dispensers that are refilled from bulk containers can be contaminated with bacteria. A more sanitary option is soap dispensers with sealed dispensing systems that are refilled with pre-filled cartridges. These closed systems do not allow bacteria to be introduced, but they are less frequently found in restrooms. Lest you be tempted to skip hand washing when faced with these facts, keep in mind that hand washing has been proven to prevent the spread of illness and even save lives.
2. The Hand Dryers
When it is time to dry your hands, grab a paper towel. It is important to dry your hands thoroughly, as bacteria can thrive in moist environments. Just don’t use the electric dryers. The Harvard Health Blog reported on a study that suggests that restroom hand dryers cause bacteria in the air to be funneled directly onto the hands of those using them. To avoid recycling toilet plume from the air directly back onto your freshly scrubbed hands, skip the dryer and go for the paper towels.
1. The Door Handle
You’ve almost made it out of the restroom. To exit without bringing any little microbial friends along with you, use the paper towel you used to dry your hands to open the door. This is especially helpful since you may notice that not everyone is appropriately concerned about handwashing and good hygiene before leaving the restroom. If others are entering the room, you can use the paper towel, your foot, or an elbow to hold the door open for them. They’re going to need every bit of kindness as they too enter the danger zone that is the public restroom.