Interfix Washrooms

What Are The Dirtiest Areas Of A Washroom?

People go to the washroom to tidy up but ironically, the washroom is a place that’s crawling with bacteria, more so in certain areas than others.

Many people assume that the toilet seat is the dirtiest but in reality, it’s actually relatively ‘cleaner’ compared to other areas. This is because germs are transferred via hand contact.

Here’s a list of the really dirtiest areas in a washroom.

  1. Toilet flusher. With the same hand that people use to wipe their rear, they also flush the toilet. In some cases, people use their feet. Now, imagine the number of dirty hands, and footwear, that touch and unwittingly pass on bacteria through a toilet flusher.
  2. Door handle. Applying the same principle from the toilet flusher, the door handle of a public washroom stall can also be considered a bacteria free-for-all.
  3. Washroom floor. Floors bear the brunt of countless footwear from various places, so they essentially accumulate dirt and grime. Damp surfaces are favourite breeding grounds for bacteria. And it’s not just water—there’s the inevitable spillover of bodily fluids. Next time you’re in a public washroom, remind yourself to not put your bags on the floor.
  4. Faucet. Faucets are tricky. You need it to turn on the water, which means it is touched by numerous unwashed hands that need cleaning. And because sinks are often wet, it’s more likely that bacteria and mould will thrive in these areas. This is, perhaps, why more publicly used washrooms now have the sensor-powered faucets that automatically turn on.
  5. Jet air hand dryer. Jet air dryers are popular in public washrooms because it’s a cool and convenient alternative to paper towels (which sometimes run out very fast particularly in a high foot traffic location).
  6. However, studies have shown that these high-speed machines tend to spread germs. In one of these studies, they found that a jet air dryer diffused 20 times more virus than a warm air dryer. Compared to a paper towel, it dispersed over 190 times more virus. The impact of the virus was estimated to be at about face-level for a small kid. Why is this so? Because jet air dryers force air out sideways—meaning the air in the washroom is sucked into it and blown into your hands. Warm air dryers, on the other hand, evaporate water. Paper towels, of course, absorb water. Not only does the latter dry hands faster, but the friction also extricates bacteria.

  7. Walls. You’d think walls are relatively ‘clean’ since it’s high up where water, urine and other bodily excretions cannot reach it but then there is such a thing as toilet plume.

Toilet plume refers to the droplets or tiny particles formed when toilet bowl water and waste—whatever it is that you just flushed—mix together. This plume, which likely contains bacteria from infected poop, blood or vomit, is emitted into the air every time you flush. Worse, it can go as high up as 15 feet, which means it goes all over the washroom, and all over you. This is disgusting and harmful in itself, but more so if you have an open wound or if, for some reason, it goes to your mouth. While it does not mean you’ll certainly get sick solely due to toilet plume, it can be a cause for concern.

A quick fix is to put down aka close the toilet bowl lid before flushing to prevent toilet plume from spreading its bacterial spray. This is all well and good if every single person who has used the stall did it. The bacteria in toilet plume can last for months so one careless washroom user is all it takes.

In public washroom stalls with no-lid toilet bowls, make sure you are as far away from the toilet bowl as you can possibly be after flushing.

Remember: Wash your hands properly

While we cannot entirely avoid public washrooms, and perhaps toilet plume, we can always protect ourselves. Inside the washroom, the simplest and most potent way to do this is proper handwashing. Here’s how you should be doing it:

  • Wet your hands then apply soap. (Do not leave the tap running.)
  • Do not forget to lather and scrub the back of your hands, the space between your fingers and underneath your nails.
  • Do this for 20 seconds. Experts recommend singing ‘Happy Birthday’ which is a fun way to get through it.
  • Rinse well.
  • Use a clean paper towel to dry your hands.

Faucet not working? Always pack hand sanitizer for situations like this. It’s not as effective in killing germs as proper handwashing but it’s certainly better than nothing. Make sure to get a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.

Conclusion: Just get on with it

Publicly used washrooms are dirty—yes. But essentially, it is just like any other public place we go to regularly.

One study found that there is an average of 500,000 bacterial cells per square inch on bathroom surfaces. But it does not mean that it’s a dangerous place to be. Unless you do something decidedly unhygienic—like touch the floors with your bare hands and then eat lunch or do something which you shouldn’t be doing on a toilet seat.

According to a microbiologist who worked on the aforementioned study, the bacteria in the washroom quickly perished because the environment is not conducive for survival. Skin bacteria, on the other hand, lasted longer on the surface. However, it is rather common (about one in five people) and is only particularly dangerous when people are immune-compromised or if they have open wounds. Even then, it would take concerted, and unlikely, effort to cause an infection.

While there have been recorded instances of washroom-related infections, good hygiene, public health initiatives and vaccination are effective protection against the unseen dangers lurking in public washrooms.

At the end of the day, going to a public washroom is inevitable but knowing the extra germy areas can help you be more mindful—for yourself and for others.

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