Public restrooms are something we all have to deal with, whether we like it or not. They are spaces we have to share with a bunch of strangers while doing a very private act, which can be anxiety-inducing. Public restrooms are also breeding grounds for bacteria. Yikes!
Germs like Bacteroidetes are commonly found on public restroom surfaces, making them a scary place for some (1). Bacteroidetes can cause anaerobic infections, which commonly affect the abdomen (7). Seeing as public restrooms are communal spaces that gather a lot of bacteria, there are important rules you should follow to protect yourself from the germs lurking on a number of restroom surfaces.
Where is the Restroom Bacteria?
5 Rules That Will Protect You from Public Restrooms
Rule #1 – Be Wary of “Safe” Surfaces
It’s natural to assume that the toilet is the dirtiest surface in restrooms. After all, that’s where all the action takes place. In actuality, the restroom sink has more bacteria on it than the toilet (2). Crazy right?
The reason sinks are so dirty is because human skin is the main source of bacteria on restroom surfaces (1). In one study that observed restroom sites for 30 weeks, it was found that the highest concentrations of bacteria were found on moist surfaces that were frequently touched, including the restroom sink area (2). Be extra cautious of public restroom sinks!
Rule #2 – Pick the First Stall
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When you walk into a washroom, you usually assume that the first stall will be the dirtiest. People can be pretty lazy or might really have to go, leading to the first stall being used the most. Surprisingly, this logic isn’t true. Fewer people use the first stall, which makes it cleaner than all the rest!
In a study done on public restrooms at a California state beach, it was found that people prefer the middle stalls (3). Further research suggests women like to pick the stall farthest away from the restroom entrance, which leaves the first stall as the least used option (4). Rethink your stall choices and consider picking the first stall for a cleaner restroom experience.
Rule #3 – Keep Your Belongings Off the Floor
It can be awkward to use a public restroom when you’re carrying a bag. It’s already hard enough to maneuver yourself in those tiny stalls, and now you have to put your bag down somewhere. Well whatever you do, just make sure you don’t put your bag down on the restroom floor!
A study done on ten surfaces in twelve public restrooms found that the floor had the most diverse communities of bacteria out of all restroom surfaces (1). Try to put your bag on the toilet tank or on a stall hook to keep it as bacteria-free as possible.
Rule #4 – Sit on the Toilet Without Toilet Paper
It seems very counterintuitive to not put down toilet paper when using public restrooms. Another common technique used to avoid touching the “dirty” toilet is to hover or squat over it. A barrier between you and the toilet always seems like a good idea, but it actually isn’t.
Paper absorbs moisture extremely well and, as was mentioned earlier, moist environments promote high concentrations of bacteria (2). According to Brianne Grogan, a women’s health physical therapist, hovering can actually cause pelvic organ prolapses and increases the likelihood of bladder infections (6). Sit down and relax when using public bathrooms. The toilets are cleaner than you think!
Rule #5 – Don’t Touch the Stall Walls
Sometimes you need to touch the stall walls to maintain your balance when using a public restroom. Although it’s nice that they’re there to keep you from falling and provide some much-needed privacy, these walls are extremely dirty.
Flushing lidless toilets causes particles of bacteria like Clostridium difficile to fly outside of the toilet at heights reaching 10 inches above the toilet seat (5). This flying bacteria often lands all around the toilet, which includes on stall walls (5). Refrain from touching stall walls as much as possible when using restrooms!
As a social being who has to venture outside the home to accomplish most tasks, there are a lot of public restrooms you will inevitably have to use in your lifetime. By following these rules, you’ll better be able to manage all the germs that may come your way and improve your overall public restroom experience! Read this next to discover more tips on how to safely use public washrooms.
(1) Flores, G.E., Bates, S.T., Knights, D., Lauber, C.L., Stombaugh, J., Knight, R., Fierer, N. (2011, November 23). Microbial Biogeography of Public Restroom Surfaces. PLoS ONE, 6 (11). Retrieved from
(2) Rusin, P., Orosz-Coughlin, P., Gerba, C. (2008, December 17). Reduction of faecal coliform, coliform and heterophic place count bacteria in household kitchen and bathroom by disinfection and hypochlorite cleaners. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 85 (5). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.1365-2672.1998.00598.x
(3) Christenfeld, N. (1995) Choices from Identical Options. Psychological Science, 6 (1). Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9b27/879a0ce797975a6b1d68e92db521169fe781.pdf
(4) Kranakis, E., Krizanc, D. (n.d.) The Urinal Problem. Retrieved from http://people.scs.carleton.ca/~kranakis/Papers/urinal.pdf
(5) Monette, M. (2012, August 7). Flush and run. CMAJ, 184 (11). Retrieved from http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/11/E581
(6) Turrill, K. (2016, December 7). Why you should always sit down on a public toilet and NEVER squat. Express. Retrieved from https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/741075/toilet-seat-public-germs-hover-squat-sit
(7) Wexler, H. M. (2007, October). Bacteroides: The Good, the Bad and the Nitty-Gritty. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 20 (4), 593-621. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2176045/
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