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Are Public Bathrooms as Gross as We All Think?

Human behavior in public bathrooms is often quite bizarre – all for fear of public bathroom germs. Are the actual statistics really that scary? We’ll uncover dirty truth.

What’s Happenin’ in the Public ‘Library’?

The bad news is, public bathrooms are filled with microorganisms, just like every other place on the planet frequented by humans.

  • No touching!
    The current germaphobic population minimizes hand-use in the bathroom. A survey by a bathroom fixtures company noted, in public bathrooms, 45 percent of Americans shut the door with their butt, 64 percent flush public toilets with their feet, 60 percent re-open the door with toilet paper, with 39 percent using elbows to avoid hand contact.
  • Hover or cover?
    Those frustrated by the thwarting of toilet-seat-covering efforts by auto-flushers will be happy to know: Toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents according to Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. Bacteria on public toilet seats are common skin microbes most already have, posing little risk.
  • Let it fly!
    Without a lid to cover the bowl, every flush puts germs into the air — aerosolizing toilet funk and propelling it up to six feet. Sorry would-be microbe-managers - the toilet seat is not your only enemy.
  • Hand washing catch-22:
    Think you’ll erase those microbes with soap? Soap dispensers are especially gross, with a quarter so laden with fecal and coliform bacteria your hands may end up filthier than before.
  • Liar-liar, pants on-fire!
    Everyone lies about hand-washing. Men and women alike overstate handwashing frequency, 56 percent admitting they don't even bother to wash every time. Even more disturbing: Another study revealed only 32 percent of food-handlers practice required handwashing techniques.
  • (Dis)Obey the sign:
    Handwashing reminder signs boost scrubbing from 61 percent to 97 percent of women. With men, however, they are associated with a drop, from 37 percent to 35 percent.
  • Dirty job.
    When people actually bother to wash their hands, they don't do a very good job. Only five percent wash well enough to kill germs.
  • Bacteria blast!
    Paper towels surpass hand dryers as the most hygienic hand-drying option. Research shows hand dryers blast bacteria everywhere. In one experiment, airborne bacteria counts were 27 times higher near hand dryers than near paper-towel dispensers. And jet dryers make things four-and-a-half times worse.
  • Hold the phone.
    Seventy-five percent of people use cellphones in the bathroom: 63 percent answering a call, 41 percent initiating a call, and 10 percent making an online buy. As many as one-in-six cell phones may be contaminated by poo. Just one of the many reasons cellphones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats.
  • Not just the germs…
    With public bathrooms, people define ‘unclean’ in different ways: 76 percent say a bathroom is gross if the soap dispenser is empty – 84 percent if a dispenser is out of toilet paper – 76 percent if the soap is empty. And the over or under debate ensues…

The Good News?

Despite all these icky statistics, it is unlikely you’ll catch a disease from a public toilet seat. (Yes, this includes STDs.) All in all, public restrooms contain no more bacteria than the bathroom in your home. Yes, some bathroom bacteria has the capacity to make you sick, but most poses no immediate health threat. "The restroom isn't that dangerous," Jack Gilbert, microbiologist and bathroom germ study co-author from Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois stated. "The organisms which can grow there have a very low probability of being able to cause an infection."

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