A Germaphobe’s Guide To Public Restrooms

June 29, 2022

Public restrooms can appear clean on the surface, but like the gym, they can be infested with all kinds of harmful bacteria and viruses. Some bugs commonly found in public restrooms include E. coli, streptococcus, staphylococcus, shigella bacteria, hepatitis A virus, the common cold virus, and STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea or public lice (although STDs and public lice cannot survive long on a cold hard surface like a toilet seat). Knowing that public restrooms are unsanitary and can even make you ill should motivate you to take special precautions when using the public restroom. Here are some helpful tips when using a public restroom.

Find A Suitable Public Restroom To Use

The most obvious advice is to locate a relatively clean public restroom and avoid ones that are filthy. It is not always easy when you have a restroom emergency but as you have at least a few minutes to decide which facility to use, it is a safer bet to use certain types of facilities over others such as hotel, bookstore, restaurant and café restrooms tend to be cleaner than the public toilet in the subway or outdoor toilets. Basically, you want to try to avoid using restrooms that have a high volume of visitors or restrooms that are not frequently attended to. Often, the cleaner restrooms might technically be reserved for customers only, so you need to stride purposefully towards the facility as if you belong there and if you are unsure where the restroom is located, ask politely and confidently.

Use The Restroom With Clean Habits In Mind

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As soon as you approach the public restroom, mentally check all the ways that might help you avoid catching germs. Starting with the door handle, note that since you touched it to enter the restroom, you should wash your hands before entering the toilet. You may want to use a paper towel to enter the stall and lock the door behind you. Next, you want to discard the paper towel doing your best not to touch anything and clean off the toilet seat if there are any traces of moisture. If you spot smears of blood or feces or large drops of urine you are better off locating a cleaner stall to use. After ensuring that the toilet seat is rid of any moisture, lay down the paper seat cover and do not hesitate to double it up. If paper covers are not provided, use toilet paper instead.

Dealing With The Terrible Odors

Sometimes terrible odors are unavoidable in public restrooms. Consider purchasing a pocket-sized air freshener and keeping it in your bag for when you need to use a public restroom. If you happen to find yourself without air freshener or are worried about breathing in chemicals from the air freshener, try breathing into your sleeve or wrap a light scarf loosely around your face to help mask the odors. Of course, it is better to find a restroom to use that does not smell foul but if you cannot wait; try your best to struggle through the odors using the tips above. Try not thinking about the odor molecules that you are breathing into your body.

How To Flush The Toilet

Make sure to flush the toilet using your foot and then quickly back away as far as possible (unlock the door and extend your leg to flush with your exit ready if the stall is tiny) so you do not get sprayed as some toilets tend to have a powerful flush that causes water droplets to fly several feet beyond the toilet bowl. If the toilet has a seat lid, always place the lid down before flushing. If you prefer not to flush using your foot, use some toilet paper to flush so you do not have to make direct contact with the toilet handle. Use some more toilet paper to open the stall door with and if your hands make direct contact with anything in the restroom stall, be mindful not to touch yourself or your belongings until after you thoroughly wash your hands.

Wash And Dry Your Hands

Many public restrooms have automatic water and soap dispensers, but there are still restrooms that do not. If the public restroom you are using does not have an automatic water and soap dispenser, use a paper towel to turn on and off the faucet. It is not unlikely that the handle of the sink might have traces of human fecal matter. If your hands have traces of human waste, you need to ensure that your hands are scrubbed and thoroughly sanitized. Many illnesses and deaths are associated with poor hand washing practices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that over a million deaths per year caused by infections and disease associated with improper hand-washing could be prevented.

Exit The Public Restroom


As you prepare to exit the public restroom, grab a paper towel and open the exit door with it. If no paper towels are available and direct contact with the exit door handle is unavoidable, upon exiting the public restroom, use the hand sanitizer that you wisely travel with inside your bag. Use these tips for a more hygienic public restroom experience. Remember that to help avoid using the public restroom, use the restroom at home before going out as often as possible. When using the public restroom, remember to do your best to not touch any surfaces directly, close the lid of the toilet, flush with your foot or toilet paper and back away quickly, use paper to turn on and off faucets that are not automatic, and to exit the public restroom. Lastly, to stay healthy and clean remember your ABC’s: Always Be Cleaning (your hands).

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