Public bathrooms, whether in restaurants, gas stations, coffee shops or stores, can be real-life adventures in science. What germs are lurking, and where? A report from seniorliving.org reveals that the spots most people may think are the germiest may not be so bad, and some other areas could be dirtier than you think.
The researchers swabbed various surfaces multiple times at three different U.S. restaurant and bar public restrooms, choosing surfaces for perceived traffic and accessibility. They then averaged resulting numbers of colony-forming units, which indicate viable bacteria that are able to reproduce, for each surface.
Surprisingly, the toilet seat didn’t top the list, though it did have 1.5 million CFU per square inch. It’s soundly beaten by the toilet-paper dispenser, which had over 7.6 million CFU per square inch, five times more than the toilet seat.
But get a handle on this news: The toilet handle had barely a trace of germs on its surface, while the sink faucet handle turned up over 3 million CFU per square inch. (Yay that people are apparently washing their germy hands, but is no one flushing?)
The report also broke down the kind of bacteria types found on each surface, and turned up three of the four main type of germs. Gram-negative rods are the type that is almost always harmful to humans and can become antibiotic-resistant. The samples taken from toilet-paper dispensers were 99 percent composed of gram-negative rods and those from the faucet were also full of them (87 percent). So … bring your own TP and water, then? But feel free to use the soap dispenser, since 80 percent of its surface bacteria consisted of gram-positive rods, which are largely benign.
“If there's one thing we've learned, washing your hands after visiting a public washroom is essentially non-negotiable,” the report concluded. “Just make sure you turn off the faucet with a sleeve pulled over your hand as not to negate your efforts.” And if you need more germy items to worry about, check out this list of 15 kitchen items that are dirtier than your toilet seat.