Bathroom Etiquette: a Guide to Hygiene and Proper Behavior
Let's get this out of the way.
Every day, those who reject the boy/girl binary for genders are harassed in public restrooms.
It is not your business which gender another person identifies with (in the bathroom or out). They are there to relieve their bladders, not stare at you. You would be the one making someone feel uncomfortable with poor behavior or any comments that you might make, not the other way around.
It is not your business which gender another person identifies with, in the bathroom or out. End of story.
Great! Glad we're all on the same page. With that being said, please know that people with non-binary gender identities will also be sharing a public restroom with you. Treat them with respect and courtesy.
How Should You Act?
I am not going to dictate how you handle your bathroom activities or cleanliness at home. But I will implore you to think about it.
What's your routine? Does it change, or is it precise each time you use the bathroom? Do some of your family's habits bother you? I bet they do!
This is the same for public spaces.
The employees that take care of a public restroom think of three things:
When you as a consumer, step into a public restroom, you're only thinking of one thing:
- Bladder Relief
Obviously there's a disconnect. Let's think about the different ways you can help your and others' experiences of a shared private, business, or public restroom much better.
An Intro To Cleanliness
Did you know that public restrooms hold a statistical 2 million bacteria per square inch on the floors? Dr. Charles Gerba, co-author to The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu, says in an article on ABC News Health that this is about 200 times higher than a sanitary surface [ABC News Health].
From the same article, the employees of the ABC Newsroom found out that their toilet seats were the cleanest areas, the sinks the second cleanest. The dirtiest areas? Those were the sanitary napkin disposals.
Overall, we can thank each of our janitorial staff employees for keeping the most-touched surfaces the most-clean.
But! We have to also do our part. Keep reading to see how.
Drips & Drops
Sitting on a toilet is more sanitary than squatting.
Why? Because those public seats are cleaned often! When you squat, you may only be leaving a mess for the next person, whether you wipe up or not.
Whether you squat or sit, please wipe up any mess you may have left behind. By refusing to clean up your own mess, you are basically waiting for a brave person to do it for you (do you really want someone else touching your urine?), or you're making that seat out of order until the janitorial staff cleans up.
Streaks & Racing Stripes
Imagine this: you're sitting blessedly alone in the public restroom, and you're completing number two. Someone walks in. Take a moment to flush. Don't let that sit and ferment. They may think about how you didn't get out of the stall after flushing, but they won't be gagging on the smell of your excrement. Win/win, anyone?
If you flush when you're done and notice leftover tracks, flush again. What's a confused stall neighbor compared to not smelling something awful when you next return?
And remember, by leaving a mess, you're either waiting for a brave person to flush again after you, or you're putting an out of order sign on that stall until the janitorial staff cleans up after you. Just flush if needed!
Watch this hilarious short video!
Soap is necessary.
If I am in the stall next to you, and I hear you get out and splash water on your hands for 3 seconds, I will assume you did not use soap. I will then put soap on a paper towel and wipe everything down before I use the sink.
There are so many myths about germs in bathrooms, and one of the largest is that you will get the most bacteria from your bottom. This is false. The most bacteria is from your hands. Your hands reach your mouth. They reach your eyes. They reach your ears. They reach your genitals. They reach almost all of your skin.
So if you go to a public restroom and then develop a rash, it's not because you sat on something. It's because you wiped yourself with dirty hands. Just use the soap. Scrub your hands and rinse. There are some germs that only come off with scrubbing; just the presence of water (even hot water) and soap will not be enough. Take at least 30 seconds to scrub.
Sanitary Napkin Disposal
The sanitary napkin disposal has been reported to have the most germs [ABC New and Health]. Think about it; these disposals usually have a little paper bag in them, so the automatic treatment is as a waste receptacle. You don't see the janitorial staff hosing down the inside of garbage cans.
You're throwing something in there that is covered in multiple bodily fluids. Wash your hands after you do this. If it makes you feel better, wrap your hands in some toilet paper to throw your trash away.
Make sure your used sanitary products are either rolled up in on themselves, or put back in the wrappings from your fresh one. Keep others clean by helping to keep what you're using clean, and do not dirty the receptacle. That little tray is considered a garbage can and is probably not hosed down or wiped.
- Sit, don't hover.
- Clean up any mess you leave behind.
- Flush an extra time if need be.
- Use soap.
- Take extra care with sanitary napkin disposals.
And remember: If I see you doing something shady, you're only making it so that nobody wants to use the bathroom. Let's be fair about this and be clean.
An Intro to Safety
Of course you always have safety while in the bathroom on your mind, right? As if the constant presence of a caution or a wet sign isn't enough of a reminder.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons for that sign: 540,000 of those reasons a year, to be exact [Green Hygiene].
What other types of safety hazards could there be in bathrooms/restrooms? Lots. But yes, let's first focus on the water.
Statistics from The Green Hygiene
- Over 540,000 slip-and-fall injuries requiring hospitalization occur in the United States every year
- More than 460 workplace deaths reported each year are directly related to slip-and-falls on a wet floor
- Slip-and-falls kill more workers than all other workplace accidents combined
- The annual direct cost of disabling injuries on the job due to slip-and-fall related accidents is over $11 billion
- The average cost from a slip and fall is $22,800 per accident
According to The Green In Hygiene, a website dedicated to "educating others on common myths and misconceptions...surrounding personal and public hygiene", slips and falls are the number two leading cause of personal injuries [Green Hygiene].
How do we avoid this? Don't add water to the bathroom floor.
Now, if there is a leak, condensation, rain, or flooding of any kind, we know that can't be helped by the general employee. Janitorial staff can clean it up, and maintenance can repair it. But if I step on huge droplets because you felt better shaking your hands than pulling disposal paper towels out of the dispenser, I am at risk of falling.
Are you a hand-shaker in the bathroom sink?
Moisture and Water on the Floor
Most public restrooms are now vented. Promoting airflow helps keep moisture from building up in a bathroom, whether that is on the walls, along the pipes, or on the floor.
If you work or live in an outdated building, you might not be so lucky. Those water droplets that you shook off of your hand will take hours instead of minutes to dry without ventilation. Chances of other consumers adding to those water droplets in that time increases tenfold.
So, how do we avoid adding water to the floor? Clean up a mess if you make one. Shake very carefully over the sink, or don't shake your hands at all. Take half an extra paper towel and wipe the floor if shaking results in a mess. The rest will dry in minutes. Use your shoe if you need to, just clean up.
Paper Towels VS Dryers
Previous studies showed that paper towels decrease the spread of germs, while dryers, touchless or not, increase the spread of germs.
However, more recent studies show that those previous ones were not accredited and shared falsified statistics. According to Snopes, the real issue for the spreading of germs is shown below.
American Society for Microbiology
American Society for Microbiology studies showed:
- 97% of females and 92% of males say they wash
- of these only 75% females and 58% males actually washed
Likewise, the studies showed:
- 50% of middle and high school students say they wash
- of these, 33% of females and only 8% of males used soap while washing hands [Snopes].
- Use soap and actually wash your hands.
- Avoid shaking your water-filled hands' mess all over the floor.
- Dry your hands, whether with air (cold or hot) or towels.
- Throw paper towels away, and pick them up if they've dropped on the floor.
- Request a janitor to clean up the floor or to place a caution or wet sign if need be.
And voila! That is a safe bathroom.
An Intro to Courtesy
We now know safety tips and hygienic tips, but what about just common courtesy? You would turn off the bathroom light after use at a friend's home, right? So why not in a public restroom where you're the last one out? You would make sure to turn the water off completely at your parents' home, right? Why do you forget this at a public restroom? Keep in mind that somebody is still paying bills. Somebody is still cleaning up after you. Be courteous.
Yes, we know you're a tax-payer. Would you prefer that money goes to loads of paper products to clean up after your spills, floods, and messes? To sprays that also help clean up after you? To signs that are a must because someone slipped on your mess last year?
Or would you prefer that the money goes to nicer amenities with great smelling products and softer, thicker toilet paper? Turn off those lights. The lights may be off for 45 seconds as you just miss the next colleague who needs to relieve their bladder. But they also might be off for 45 minutes because of the lunch break being over. This adds up.
Be courteous: turn off the lights.
Ventilation & Odor
Already mentioned briefly, ventilation is essential to a public restroom. Or so one would think. When coming across one that lacks ventilation, please keep in mind the previous paragraphs on drips and drops.
Allowing water all over floors and counters can encourage bacteria to grow. This is especially true during warmer months. Warm temperatures and moisture make things grow. If there is no continual air flow, the growth is usually bacteria.
As for odor, please keep in mind that the lack of ventilation and air flow allows odors to sit. This could mean freshly-mown grass on the bottoms of shoes or sprayed perfume/body spray, or it could mean what is left to sit for too long in a toilet.
For those with allergies, tracking in grass or spraying perfume/body spray could mean sneezing (which also spreads germs and bacteria), or even allergic reactions. Be courteous about where you track your feet or spray your products.
Taking reading material into a restroom has always confused me. I don't know what people think they don't have on their hands, but chances are they are wrong.
I can concede that reading material is definitely one's choice. However, having to clean up after someone else's watermarked reading material is not ideal, to say the least. I've summarized a few points that help to be courteous with reading material:
- a.) If you bring personal reading material, take it back out with you.
- b.) If you're leaving clean magazines or other commercial items for others to read, please stack it somewhere other than the potentially wet sink and counter, and please do not put it in a stall.
- c.) If you're using commercial items left in the bathroom, please be honest about how clean and dry you keep it, and throw it away if necessary. And then return it to a clean, dry spot.
Remember, sharing is not always caring when it comes to public restrooms.
- Turn off lights if you're the last one to leave.
- Help keep floors and sinks/counters dry in poorly ventilated areas.
- Flush if needed.
- Only spray perfume or body spray if a place is well-ventilated.
- Take away personal reading material.
- Place commercial reading material in a safe, dry spot.
- Throw away anything that may need to be trashed.
We don't put much thought into using a public restroom. We use them all day in places around the world, and it becomes more thoughtless habit than anything.
However, we do have an obligation to keep public restrooms safe and clean for everyone. Let's make sure to do so.
- Myth: Toilet Seats Are the Dirtiest Thing in the Bathroom, by ABC Internet Ventures [ABC News Health]
- Slippery When Wet: The Hazards of Wet Floors, by The Green in Hygiene, an online resource for private and public hygiene myth-busting [Green Hygiene]
Blowing Hard: Do restroom hand dryers spread disease by blowing germs and bacteria around?, by David Mikkelson on Snopes [Snopes]
© 2014 Jennifer Kessner