COVID-19, the flu, common colds, and other nasty illnesses lurk around toilets, stalls, and faucets.
A public bathroom might not be your first choice when you have to go. But sometimes you can't book it home when you feel that urge.
So, what can you do to minimize your risk of contracting a virus or bacteria lurking in these public spaces if you have to share a bathroom with other people?
Here's what you should know about why public restrooms are so germ-infested and tips for staying safe while you're in one.
Why Public washrooms Are Risky
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu can survive on some surfaces for 48 hours.1 Also, per the CDC, on surfaces, coronaviruses like SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, die within hours to days.
Some evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on "porous" surfaces for minutes to hours.3
Still, it cautions that whether those findings accurately reflect real-world conditions is unclear. The CDC says that "it's possible" for people to become infected with COVID-19 through contact with infected surfaces. But generally, the CDC considers the risk to be low.
Then there's the toilet itself. Simply flushing can expel as much as 60% of produced aerosols three feet into the air above the seat, per a study published in 2020 in Physics of Fluids.
How germs and bacteria are spread in public washrooms
Hands are the main culprit. One of the most easily transferred and highly infectious viruses is the flu or cold virus.
How long can germs and bacteria survive in a public washroom?
According to the NHS, germs like salmonella and E. coli can survive on washroom surfaces for as long as four hours. However, some germs, can persist on surfaces for days or even weeks. On hard surfaces, other germs and bacteria that cause common viruses like the cold and flu can survive and stay contagious for up to 24 hours. Limiting the transmission of these germs and eliminating them before they cause harm through cross-contamination can be accomplished by regularly sanitizing washroom surfaces and practicing good hand hygiene.
Most common germ hotspots in washrooms
Did you know we spend around 11 days a year in washrooms at home and outside of the home that is 264 hours we spend surrounded by potentially harmful germs? While toilets and flush handles can harbor bacteria, your sink can harbor 250,000% more bacteria than your toilet seat, therefore, it is important that you disinfect all areas in your washroom, even surfaces you didn’t think germs would cling to.
Toilet roll holders
How To Stay Safe in a Public Restroom
You don’t have any control over what other people do in a public restroom or how well and often it’s cleaned. But you can take plenty of steps to avoid contact with infectious germs, including the following.
Cover Your Hands
Using a public restroom requires touching many potentially germ-infested surfaces, from door handles to faucets to stall doors to toilet paper dispensers.
To avoid picking up bacterial and viral particles, arm yourself with wipes and tissues so you'll always have something to cover your hand with and won't touch those surfaces directly. Carry them in your personal belongings, so you're covered even if the restroom doesn't have its stash.
The longer you stay in the restroom, the higher your odds of encountering viral particles or bacteria, But don't do your business in a hurry and skip out on handwashing and drying, both of which help you stay germ-free. Instead, avoid hanging around while your friends are using the restroom or deciding to redo your makeup or fix your hair when you don't have to.
Wear a Mask
Even though it's unclear whether flushing the toilet can spray and spread germs, wearing a mask in a public restroom may help. Wearing a mask also protects you from the germs of other people talking, sneezing, or coughing in the bathroom. Also, turn away from the toilet bowl after flushing, advised Winner.
Once your mask is on, leave it alone. If you touch your mask after touching anything in the bathroom, you can transfer germs from your hand to your face. And your eyes, nose, and mouth are prime entry points for germs.
When you've washed your hands and left the restroom, you can remove your mask, dispose of it, or take it home to be washed.
Wash Your Hands Correctly
You should immediately wash your hands after using the toilet in a public restroom. Here's a reminder why: Washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds is an effective way to rid your hands of viruses and bacteria, according to the CDC.
But if there's no soap, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. While hand sanitizer is not as effective as soap and warm water, it's better than not washing at all.7
Dry Your Hands
When you're done washing your hands, dry them with a paper towel or an air dryer, Be sure to dry your hands right after washing because germs easily spread from wet hands. don't leave the restroom with your hands wet.
According to research findings in 2022, public toilets that implement the following measures will reduce the risk of any infections transmission: