The Art Of Making Public Restroom Breaks Less Icky

Practicing solid bathroom hygiene is a great way to keep from getting sick, and doing so is especially important when using heavily trafficked, rarely cleaned public lavatories. The nastier the bathroom, the more unique the health challenges they present.

QualityHealth makes these recommendations to keep germs from other peoples’ waste out of your system:

* Wash your hands correctly. The three-second routine doesn’t cut it. Rub your soaped-up hands together under warm water for half a minute.

* Flush with your feet. The toilet’s flush lever may be the most contaminated surface area in the bathroom. If you can manage the acrobatics, kick it with your foot rather than using your hand.

* Open the door with a paper towel as a hand barrier You don’t want to undo all your hard hand-washing work by touching a disgusting door handle. Keep your paper towel in hand to open the door for an extra layer of safety.

Are Public Restrooms Making You Sick? [QualityHealth]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

    Are you obsessive-compulsive yet?
    How about now?

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      What about paranoid?

      Are you sure?

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      I remember when the host of Double Dare–that kid’s game show, what was his name? Marc Summers?–was on a daytime talk show about his OCD, and … people made fun of him for opening bathroom doors with a paper towel.

      Now everyone does it and it’s normal.

      I need more germs in my life, my immune system has taken a kick since I stopped living with school-aged germ factories.

      • Cat says:

        My daughter started kindergarten this year and we’ve been sicker than we’ve been in… well, in forever. I can’t convince Mrs. Cat that in the end, this will be good for us.

  2. Cat says:

    Advice from the late Sam Kinison:

    Do everything you need to do in a public restroom with your feet.

    • pawnblue says:

      At my work we have a relatively clean bathroom. But we have these foot flushers. They are always trying to kick the handle. Not only does it do damage to the actual toilet system, it puts bathroom floor ickies (since some people can’t aim) on the toilet handle.

      These guys also don’t wash their hands.

      If you can’t function like a professional and have to Chuck Norris the toilet, you should just use the stall, and make an impenetrable barrier of TP to protect you from the germs that everyone else has.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        I call that the extra point. Your business is done; one kick and you’re on your way. (Chuck Norris is also an awesome name for it!) This is such a jive move, and perhaps the best option for diehard foot flushers is to use the top of the foot. Most toilet and urinal handles flush are multidirectional. Use the tip of your toe to gently lift up.

        I’d rather they just use toilet paper or realize that there’s a sink a few feet away and just touch the damn thing. You can be elbow-deep in soap in just a moment.

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      Then you have to wash your feet.

    • FLConsumer says:

      So…how do I interact with Senators I meet in bathrooms then?

  3. Don't Bother says:

    As the daughter of a RN, this list is pretty old news.

    If you’re environmentally conscious though, you’ll probably cringe at the fact that you should turn on the water, let it run while you soap up your hands, then let it keep running as you grab a paper towel to dry your hands.

    • magnetic says:

      That’s always been hard for me, too. But when you’re washing your hands at the bathroom for a microbiology lab, you do what you gotta.

    • Kevin411 says:

      I agree with letting the water run while washing and drying, as much as part of me hates it.

      But the thing I don’t get is the guys who will handle all sorts of items in a store, especially kids toys or raw meat packages, then go pee, THEN wash their hands. Come on! Wash your hands BEFORE (and after) you handle you junk. Particularly if you have any plans on sharing that thing with anyone later. ;-)

    • RvLeshrac says:

      As the daughter of an RN, you should know that a (reasonably cleaned) restroom is an inhospitable environment for bacteria.

  4. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    * Flush with your feet.

    Next on the Consumerist: Studies Show Strange Spike in Smashed Toilet Tanks.

  5. mauispiderweb says:

    Throw out the paper towel you dried your hands with AFTER you use it to open the door :)

  6. VintageLydia says:

    I’m not gonna say it, but you know what I’m thinking.

  7. hamhands says:

    Also, if there is a handle on the towel dispenser, take towels first, then wash your hands Try to make minimal contact with your hands and the towels. But, as very few people sing “happy birthday” three times to themselves while washing (kind of an optimum timer to make sure you are washing long enough) those towel dispensers are probably as dirty as the door and flush handle. And remember, it’s not hot water that kills germs, it’s the combination of true scrubbing with soap and hot water. Most temps on the water in those bathrooms are in the “zone.” The bad zone – where bacteria flourishes. Avoid ALL of this by bringing hand sanitizer with you. Wash, use sanitizer, open door, re – sanitize.

    • Cat says:

      Lather. Rinse. Repeat ad nauseum. Sanitize. Wear rubber gloves and surgical masks everywhere. Touch nothing. Buy “anti-bacterial” versions of every product you can. Use a quart of hand sanitizer a week.

      Die from your body having developed zero defenses.

      • jenesaisrien says:

        hand sanitizer -OK- kills germs doesn’t inhibit growth
        anti bacterial soap-not OK-promotes resistant bacteria

    • curiositykt says:

      glad we don’t have to worry about hot water, there is no hot water in the bathroom at my office!

    • and_another_thing says:

      How would the royalties for singing that song be determined?

  8. blinky says:

    Okay, I’ve heard the “Rub your soaped-up hands together under warm water for half a minute” line before. Have these people used soap? The problem with soap is that IT FRICKIN’ WASHES OFF! I can see rinsing my hands for 30 seconds though that seems kind of silly, and every public restroom has a 3-second timeout on the water. I can see lathering them for 30 seconds after rinsing them with warm water (though it won’t stay warm for 30 seconds). So please, if you’re going to print it, explain what you mean.

  9. The Brad says:

    Or you could be a man and realize that a few germs won’t kill you. Your parents survivied using a public restroom, your grandparents survived using a public restroom, and I’m sure you’ll survivie using a public restroom.

  10. curiositykt says:

    They really ought to have foot pedals on the floor to flush the toilet, also foot pedals at the sink to turn on the water… or you know, autoflushers, which aren’t my favorite, but do solve a lot of these problems.

    • katarzyna says:

      Seriously, why are foot pedals not standard?

      • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

        I think we jumped over that method straight to auto-flush. My workplace recently renovated the bath rooms and installed the auto flush, a welcome change. I think the person who designed the bathrooms was OCD too. She also made the stalls with floor to ceiling walls and made out of solid wood; no peeking thru the gaps in the metal doors or staring at someone else’s shoes and odors waft a little less.

        • katarzyna says:

          Sounds a bit like overkill, yeesh.

          The problem with the auto-flush or the auto- whatever (sink, paper towels) is that there are too many ways for it to not work. We have auto sinks at work, and it’s not uncommon for them to get stuck in a always off- or on- mode. I haven’t run the statistics, but I imanine a mechanical system would be more robust.

        • Jane_Gage says:

          I like to laugh at kids who think the autoflush is going to eat them.

    • Kuri says:

      Oh MAN do I HATE autoflush. I go go sit down, it flushes and I get splashed, I go to leave and want it it flush , and now it won’t flush.

      I hate auto sinks too.

  11. notovny says:

    Toilet paper is covered in aerosolized fecal bacteria. Avoid touching it with any part of your body.

  12. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    Wash your hands correctly? My parents taught me not to pee on my hands.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      The pee isn’t going to make you sick (usually quite sterile). It’s the bacteria that live on the skin in those regions that are a far bigger concern.

      • Jules Noctambule says:

        Urine might be sterile in the body, but I can guarantee you that the means by which it leaves the body is absolutely not sterile in the least.

  13. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    At our office a few germaphobes kept breaking the flushing mechanism using their feet. Those flush levers aren’t designed for foot use and it is really hard on them. If you don’t have any cuts or abrasions on your hands it should be perfectly fine to flush and then wash thoroughly. Or take a paper towel with you. Unless of course your the plumber who makes money off this advice.

    • Don't Bother says:

      How much force are these people using that they damage the levers? I am one of the these so-called “foot flushers” but I never stomp on the handle.

      • AustinTXProgrammer says:

        I think people are off balance or just don’t care. I have foot flushed occasionally but I think using toilet paper is much more respectful to the people maintaining the restroom.

    • Real Cheese Flavor says:

      Alternately, grab a few sheets of toilet paper and use that to flush in the same way that germophobes use the paper towels to turn off the water and open the doors.

    • kooly says:

      Agree – the middle stall in the 15th floor ladies room has puddles now because the lever-kickers have kicked the crap out of it repeatedly. The middle stall being the most popular (because the left stall has a broken lock and the right stall is handicapped access, so the potty is too high for normal/short girls) it gets kicked more frequently.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I never kick it. I use my foot sometimes to GENTLY press it down. Why would anyone kick it when pressing works just as well? Some people need to just control themselves!

  14. jrwn says:

    Unless you wash your hands, then flush the toilet, I don’t get why you should use your feet to flush. Any insite?

  15. Bagumpity says:

    Use three new clam shells EVERY time.

    • I'd Buy That For A Dollar! says:

      LOL!!! He doesn’t know how to use the three sea shells?

      -I could see how that could be confusing.

  16. jebarringer says:

    Wait a second, they tell you to flush with your feet, but you’re supposed to be washing your hands afterward, right? So what does it matter what you touch beforehand?

  17. suez says:

    I never understood how adult women, in a completely modern high-rise building, working for a Fortune 500 firm, can still pee on the seats worse then little boys. Don’t they realize that THEY’RE the reason for their own paranoia about sitting down? For god’s sake, if you MUST hover, at least clean up after yourself!

    • conquestofbread says:

      YES!! A thousand times yes!

      If everybody would just sit down, then there wouldn’t be piss all over the seat.

      It’s not like you are going to get AIDS from sitting where someone’s butt was.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        I’ve had this discussion with friends. One woman had a clever solution. Hoverers should raise the seat before peeing. They’re not using it anyway, and that will keep it pee-free for the next person. Because they’re obviously worried about germs, they can use toilet paper to raise and lower the seat.

        • pegasi says:

          the other option would be to supply those little disposable “adapters” someone came up with to allow a woman to use facilities without sitting down.

          • noramine says:

            Those are so hard to use without them falling into the toilet. I just take some toilet paper and wipe the seat down really well before using it. It started because people are way too messy. But now it’s because you know, foreign butts are gross, and I’m wiping them away.

            I know this isn’t entirely sound but it works for me. Also I too struggle with over eager auto-flushers and under eager auto-sinks. I love the super hardcore dryers though. Warm and fast.

    • Not Given says:

      If you sprinkle
      When you tinkle
      Please be neat
      And wipe the seat
      (Spotted in the restroom of a doctor’s office painted on ceramic)

  18. kobresia says:

    That second suggestion is just stupid. All kinds of stupid, and selfish.

    Anyway, the best way to make public restrooms less icky is to keep the public from using them.

  19. buftar says:

    Flush with your feet, until they release a study about all the germs on the bottom of your shoes, at which point you just don’t flush at all.

    In an effort to keep myself “healthy”, I usually hover over the bowl. When I’m done, I’ll pull up my pants and run out of the bathroom screaming GET AWAY FROM ME GERRRRRRMMMMMS!!!!! at the top of my lungs without touching anything. I usually run into the door continuing to scream until someone opens it for me.

    I’d rather be sick from some germs then dead from the aggravation of being ascared.

  20. Shorebreak says:

    Why bother? Just do your thing outside behind the building.

    • LMA says:

      That’s what I was going to say! Only I was going to add that you should use a shrub behind the building. I actually did that once while trapped on the Garden State Parkway on a holiday weekend. The lines were huge and once I finally got inside it was so disgusting I walked back out side, and found a nice remote shrub to water.

  21. bhurt544 says:

    Howard Hughes must have returned from the dead to post this. 99% of the reason public restrooms are so bad are from the JERKS that do steps 2 and 3 and a host of others. Why not recommend the hover technique and the ranged urinal attack too ?

    • kobresia says:

      The #3 tip is reasonable, considering how many people wipe their asses and/or purposefully smear their own feces all over the stall & restroom walls, and then don’t bother washing their hands before grabbing that door handle.

  22. David in Brasil says:

    More than once, while travelling on business in China or Brazil, I’ve realized that my “pinto” is probably the cleanest thing in that bathroom. I mean, I know that I washed it only a few hours before. I have NO IDEA when the last time that filthy sink was washed.

  23. tungstencoil says:

    Germaphobes make me laugh (well, laugh at them).

    The whole “wash your hands after using the bathroom” comes into play three times:

    1. You’re preparing food for someone else to eat (technically raw/undercooked food);
    2. You’ve defecated and you don’t wash your hands before you eat;
    3. You should wash your hands 2 – 3 times a day at regular intervals anyway, to cut down on things like cold & flu.

    Wait… what’s the third one? Oh, right, the real and most important reason for non-food-handlers to wash their hands after using the bathroom… Because it happens to coincide with the whole concept of washing your hands about every 6 or 8 hours during the day to minimize transmission of cold/flu-like things. Frankly, if you’re not preparing someone else’s food (and you didn’t crap all over your hands), there is little/no reason related to the toilet that you should wash your hands. If you only use the toilet once per day (for anything), you should still wash your hands a few times.

    However it has translated into this weird bathroom/germ thing. Bathroom surfaces, unless visibly dirty, are probably pretty clean. They’re smooth and non-porous, which is pretty bad for bacteria. Oh and that paper towel you put between your hand or butt and the handle or seat? Yeah, porous as hell. Again assuming no visible contaminants, it is going to protect you against little or nothing (which is not a big deal, because there isn’t much to protect against).

    Your body – like most surfaces – is coated in bacteria.

    • jenesaisrien says:

      not even going to attempt an answer to this

    • RayanneGraff says:

      You must have some damn nice bathrooms where you live, cause the public bathrooms I’ve been to make me wish they made purse-portable hazmat suits. Bathrooms that are cleaned regularly and correctly might be “pretty clean”, but 99.9999999% of public bathrooms are just horrifyingly disgusting. Most of them reek of piss, and are covered in a thin patina of visible grime. They’re cleaned by underpaid, overworked employees who spend approximately 30 seconds swishing the floors with stagnant, week-old mop water that most likely ADDS more germs than it kills.

      Yes, we are coated in bacteria, but that does not mean that ALL bacteria are safe.

      A little info for anyone who feels safe using public bathrooms~

  24. gregdor says:

    Regarding the second point:

  25. exconsumer says:

    Has there been some kind of outbreak of bacterial infections from public bathrooms that I didn’t know about?

    Sure, it’s theoretically possible, but when it comes to myself and the people I know, we’re usually getting sick with colds, flus, sinus and ear infections, and other things that probably didn’t come from a bathroom (or, at least, were no less likely to come from a bathroom than from any other doorknob or frequently used object). Will we ever be ready to admit that the vast majority of bathrooms, public or private, are probably not contaminated with enough (or the right kind of) bacteria to infect you with anything?

  26. Rachacha says:

    Our office has foot pedals (like a small clutch pedal) about 5 inches off the floor that you use to flush. Everyone who sees them for the first time thinks they are strange, but it makes perfect sense. I am just surprised they don’t show up in other public restrooms.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      Hospital rooms I’ve been in have had foot pedals for the sink. They’re pretty cool, but the one downside is that it was hard to dial in the amount of force to use to get good pressure without overspray. I’ve not seen it with toilets, but it’s a cool idea.

  27. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I’d like to take this moment to give a hearty “fuck you” to those responsible for bathrooms only having the air “dryers” instead of proper paper. I’m sure the spa treatment is very nice for the germs that just made it to my hands after washing by turning off the water.

    • kobresia says:

      Motion-activated toilets & faucets solve that problem. They are awesome.

      Well, except for automatic toilets that flush while they are still in use; that’s funny for everyone but the people using them at the time. If they were on a timer, that might give folks enough time to get clear of the plume of filth that blasts out of them, as well as offer people an incentive not to dawdle.

  28. annexw says:

    Oh for heaven-sake.

    Do not kick the lever. It will lead to the lever breaking. Use a tissue if you just *can’t* touch it with your hand. If you kick the lever, you just got whatever was on the sole of your shoe on the lever. Now the non-kicker have that on their hands when they flush. Blah. Circle to people not wanting to touch the lever because there is yuck on it. Probably from kick flushers.

    Just wash your hands after you use the washroom. This is not complex.

  29. leprofie says:

    I wash my hands before I pee. I know where my junk has been, my hands are a different matter.

  30. cameronl says:

    Came for the “more unique” grammar smack-down, leaving disappointed.

  31. JustMe2011 says:

    Wow, lot of clueless people here.

    1) People don’t go through these steps just to “avoid germs.” I don’t know how clean you think public bathrooms are, but in most, if not all, the ones I’ve had to use, avoiding germs per se is secondary to avoiding dried urine, sh*t on the walls and floor and toilet seat, and things like that that go beyond just germs. Try having to use restrooms in an area with a high low-income population and you might just see what I mean.

    2) Just because you don’t pee on your hands is no excuse not to wash them. That’s the “my sh*t doesn’t stink” attitude of lazy, inconsiderate dregs that can’t be bothered to use soap. Hate to tell you this, but your crotch is no spring rose, despite what you believe. People don’t want to touch your hand after you’ve finished fingering yourself. Get off your high horse and use some soap. You may love the smell of your crotch, but believe me, you’re the only one.

    Soap won’t kill you, dregs. And if you can’t take a minute to be thoughtful of other people stop believing yourself to be some great person. You’re just another low class loser that won’t stop being selfish.

    • RayanneGraff says:


      I can count on both hands how many public restrooms I’ve ever been in where I didn’t want to take a chemical shower upon exiting. Keeping a place clean where hundreds of strangers piss and shit daily is a constant effort, and I’ve only found clean-ish bathrooms in very high-end areas and in Indian-owned businesses. I’ve yet to go to any place of Indian ownership that didn’t have a remarkably clean bathroom, even the gas stations :D

      As to your second point, I couldn’t agree more either. I’ve met SO MANY guys who think that since they only touched their penis(which they claim is clean), that they don’t need to wash their hands. Um, hi- it’s still kinda gross that you’re going around touching stuff directly after handling your weenis! And what about all the handles you touch in the bathroom before & after shakin’ the dew off the lily? Yargh.

  32. Not Given says:

    What paper towels? What soap? In some of them there isn’t even a button to make it flush.

  33. Froggee285 says:

    I thought you were supposed to use your feet, thats why they look like that.

    In a restroom with silver little handles like at home, I use my hands.
    In a restroom with those long metal rods (think school bathrooms), I use my feet.
    Can I get some type of clarification here?

  34. RayanneGraff says:

    My mom taught me from a very young age to foot-flush, to pump out a length of paper towel BEFORE washing my hands, and to use the paper towel to both turn off the faucet after washing and open the door. I used to think my mom was neurotic but you know what? She never gets sick(and she’s a teacher!), and since I’ve always followed the same routine(out of habit at first & out of an understanding of cleanliness later), I hardly ever get sick either. Call me OCD if you want, but people are exposed to enough germs in daily life to build up their immune systems without needing to get everyone else’s SHIT on their hands.

    I just wish my boss followed this advice. He never, and I mean never washes his hands after using the bathroom. It’s so disgusting, he borrows my tools sometimes & I have to spend the next 15 minutes wiping them down with rubbing alcohol xP

  35. RayanneGraff says:

    I second that. I absolutely fucking HATE those things. And I hate having to go back into the nasty stall to get a wad of toilet paper to open the stupid inward-opening door. The only situation where I don’t want to drop-kick those stupid dryers off the walls are when the toilet, sink, and soap dispenser are all automatic, and when the door is just one of those twisty, open entrances with no door.

  36. MexiFinn says:

    I never understood people who used their feet to kick the flush lever. Now it’s even grosser. Plus, that’s why you wash your hands after you flush.