How to Safely Use a Public Bathroom

Two Parts:Locating a Clean Public BathroomPreventing the Spread of Bacteria and Germs

Using a public bathroom can be an uncomfortable proposition, as many people are hesitant to enter a public facility due to fears of coming in contact bacteria and germs. Public bathrooms can contain several kinds of harmful bacteria like E.coli, salmonella, coliform, rotavirus, and cold virus.[1] However, these bacteria do not survive long outside of the body and are not any more dangerous than the germs you might find in an average home.[2][3] Though not all public bathrooms are created equal, and some will be dirtier than others, if you look for a clean bathroom and follow good bathroom etiquette, you should be able to avoid getting too close to bacteria or germs.

Part 1
Locating a Clean Public Bathroom

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    Know where to find the cleanest public bathrooms. To limit your contact with bacteria and germs you should try to only use toilets in hospitals and buildings that are cleaned regularly. Hospitals usually have the cleanest toilets as they use disinfectants often and heavily.[4]
    • Avoid bathrooms in airports and on airplanes. Airplane bathrooms are very small, making it difficult for people to wash their hands, leading to bacteria on surfaces you cannot help touching when using the tiny bathroom on the plane. Airports are high traffic areas and their bathrooms may not be cleaned enough due to the high volume of people using them throughout the day.
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    Go for the first stall. People tend to use the middle and back stalls of the bathroom for a bit of privacy, so go for the first stall to limit your exposure to bacteria and germs. It will likely be less used and cleaner than the other stalls in the bathroom.[5]
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    Do not put your belongings on the bathroom floor. A study found that the highest concentration of germs in public bathrooms are on the bathroom floor. The second highest concentration of germs are on sanitary napkin disposals and the sinks and water taps in bathrooms.[6] Avoid picking up any bacteria or germs from the bathroom by hanging up your bag or coat on the hook rather than placing it on the floor, or leaving it outside with a friend while you use the bathroom.
    • If there is no hook on the back of the door of the stall, you can hang your bag around your neck or keep your coat on as you use the bathroom. These options may actually be more sanitary than putting your belongings on the floor.

Part 2
Preventing the Spread of Bacteria and Germs

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    Do not be afraid to sit on the toilet seat. Skin contact with urine or fecal matter on the toilet seat may be unpleasant, but they are not clear health hazards. You are more at risk of picking up germs and bacteria through touching bathroom surfaces with your hands and then not washing them, rather than through your skin on your bottom.[7]
    • If the psychological implications of the toilet seat bother you, you can certainly still hover over the seat or use a seat cover in a public bathroom. However, you should avoid touching the toilet handle or the stall door with your hands as you can easily transmit bacteria from your hands to your face or your mouth without realizing it.
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    Wash your hands after going to the bathroom. This seems obvious, but it is essential that you always wash your hands well after you use a public bathroom. This will cut down significantly on the transfer of bacteria and fecal matter from your hands, via surfaces in the bathroom, to your face, mouth, or eyes.[8]
    • To properly wash your hands, use soap and lather your hands for 20 seconds. Then, rinse your hands well and dry with a paper towel or a hand dryer. Avoid touching the bathroom door as you leave, as some people may not have been as good about washing their hands as you and you don’t want to pick up any germs or bacteria.
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    Limit your contact with surfaces, such as door handles and sinks. If possible, try to restrict your contact with surfaces in the bathroom so you do not get bacteria or germs on your hands. Use the automatic soap dispenser if it is available and the automatic taps to wash your hands. An automatic hand dryer can also be a good way to avoid having to touch the paper towel dispenser on your way out of the bathroom.[9]

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Categories: Health Hygiene | Travel Health