Don’t Spread it Around: How to Protect Yourself (and Others) in Public Restrooms

Nobody is excited to visit a busy public restroom when nature calls. What microscopic horrors could be lurking, just waiting to make them sick? The good news is that practising good hygiene and using a few easy tips can greatly reduce your chances of picking up a bug in the bathroom.

Although public restrooms, especially toilet seats and faucet handles, are known to harbor pathogens such as E. coli, streptococcus, hepatitis A, staphylococcus, and the common cold, the germs die very quickly on hard surfaces. Someone with a healthy immune system is unlikely to be affected by these germs. In fact, the only way to become infected while sitting on a toilet seat is if the bug directly enters the urethral or genital tract, or comes into contact with an open wound. As for STDs, there has been no known case of a person contracting one of these diseases from a public toilet.

Here are some tips to make your next trip into a public stall a little less scary:

  • Use the paper seat cover before sitting on the toilet seat. It’s your first line of defense.
  • Make sure the toilet paper roll is dry. Wet paper can harbor bacteria or viruses that can be directly introduced into the body.
  • Don’t place any personal belongs on the floor. Urine, fecal matter, and other germs can be transferred to your bag that you will handle later.
  • Flush the toilet with your foot.
  • Leave the stall promptly after flushing. Flushing creates an airborne mist that contains microscopic amounts of fecal matter. The quicker you leave, the less time the mist has of landing on your body.
  • Proper hand washing is a lifesaver in the war against germs. Make sure you soap your hands thoroughly and scrub all surfaces, including under the fingernails. Rubbing vigorously for 20 seconds will do the trick. That’s about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”
  • Use a paper towel to shut off the faucet. Remember, everyone before you had dirty hands when they touched the faucet. If you touch it with your bare hands after washing, you’ve just negated all that work.
  • Use a paper towel to dry your hands. Promptly dispose of the towel without touching the garbage bin. If an air dryer is available, don’t touch the button or vent with your bare hands.
  • Use a paper towel on the door handle when exiting the restroom. Although most people claim to wash their hands, studies have shown that the actual number is around 67%.

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