For many people, it could be the most terrifying part of their day; the moment they walk into the public restroom stall and are confronted with the
Dozens of questions pop to mind; when was this last cleaned? Who used this last? Is there any creepy, crawly germs sticking around on that seat? Is
this thing really safe? And finally; Can I hold it until I get home?
For most people, waiting ‘till you get home isn’t an option and they’ll have to take their chances with the public toilet. Most women I know say
they have mastered the skill of hovering over the toilet while they go. Seems awfully strenuous to me though, especially if you’re having trouble
pushing something out. Makes me wonder if the public toilet is really that dangerous after all, so I decided to look into it.
What Can You Catch in Restrooms?
Many people consider toilet seats to be public enemy No. 1 -- the playground for organisms responsible for STDs like chlamydia or gonorrhea. But
before you panic, the toilet seat is not a common vehicle for transmitting infections to humans. Many disease-causing organisms can survive for only a
short time on the surface of the seat, and for an infection to occur, the germs would have to be transferred from the toilet seat to your urethral or
genital tract, or through a cut or sore on the buttocks or thighs, which is possible but very unlikely.
"To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet seat -- unless they were having sex on the toilet seat!" says Abigail Salyers, PhD,
president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).
See, most germs, even those notorious STDs, can’t live long enough or in numbers strong enough to cause problems unless you have cuts or open sores
on your backside. Then again, if you have open, puss oozing sores on your bottom, maybe the guy who comes along after YOU has more to worry about.
Some studies have even shown that the toilet seat is one of the most germ free areas in your average office building.
Myth: Toilet Seats Are the Dirtiest Thing in the Bathroom
Gerba defines a sanitary surface as something clean enough to eat off of, with no more than 1,000 bacteria per square inch. The toilet seat passed
that test, but "20/20" reporter Don Dahler's desk failed.
Still, it will be hard for most people to accept the conclusions shown by the data.
"No matter how often you hear that, you know, it's safer to eat your turkey wrap off the toilet seat than your desktop at work, you're just not
going to believe it," said Janse.
See there, there’s no reason for all of those people to have such a level of paranoia about the public restroom.
We should all feel free to plop our bottoms right down on that seat and get
comfortable while we’re doing our business. Heck, we should even feel free to take our lunch in there and eat it right off the seat, they’re so
clean and germ free, right? You could just picture yourself chowing down on your lunch on that toilet seat, right?
What? You say you’re not buying it? You think this is just a load of gubment disinformation as part of one of their evil depopulation agendas? Maybe
I should look a little further into this.
Upon further review, not everybody seems to agree that it’s so impossible to get a STD from the toilet seat. It looks like that doctor was
exaggerating when they said the only way to get a STD from the toilet would be to have sex on it.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Public Restroom
The one possible exception is the herpes virus. Studies have shown that the secretions from an open herpes sore can survive outside the body for up to
four hours. Theoretically, once they have contaminated a toilet seat, the herpes microorganisms could infect another toilet-user who has a sore or
break in the skin (which allows the virus to enter the body). But because a sufficient amount of the virus is necessary to penetrate the body's
defenses, infection is unlikely, according to Martin Favero, Ph.D., a microbiologist with the Hospital Infections Program of the CDC. Still, it's not
impossible, he says.
The crab louse, a non-germ villian, could also possibly be contracted from sitting on contaminated toilet seats. But, once again, it's unlikely,
because these small creatures (also known as pubic lice) feed on human blood, lay their eggs on hair follicles, and would rather jump from one warm
body to another. They can survive 24 hours without feeding, however, so may live for a short time on a toilet seat until they find their next
Sure, they say these are only theoretical ways someone could get a STD but, the possibility is still out there and the toilet seat doesn’t seem
quite as safe as the “experts” would lead us to believe.
Then, when you look at the REST of the restroom, things start to get really scary. The experts seem to disagree on which is the MOST germiest part of
the public restroom but, it seems the sink area and the floors are in a dead heat for that title.
Other hot zones in public bathrooms include sinks, faucet handles, and towel dispensers. Picture someone emerging from a bathroom stall, and
turning on the faucet with dirty hands, and you'll know why faucet handles are a potentially troublesome surface. Studies at the University of
Arizona in Tucson found that sinks are the greatest reservoir of germ colonies in restrooms, thanks in part to accumulations of water that become
breeding grounds for tiny organisms.
"Usually, actually the floor is the dirtiest, as you might guess," said Gerba.
The floor test revealed about 2 million bacteria per square inch. Gerba says that's about 200 times higher than a sanitary surface.
"This is pretty bad," said Gerba. "We consider that a fail. So you don't want to walk around barefoot in ABC News toilets."
Not surprisingly, the sanitary napkin disposal unit also failed the test and rated as the spot with the most germs in our ladies' room.
And ladies, never put your bags on the floor.
"We found fecal bacteria on about 30 percent of the bottom of women's purses. So you may be moving bacteria from the bottom of the restroom floor to
maybe the kitchen sink area when you're going to make lunch," said Gerba.
It seems that maybe the toilet seat, while a possible source of germs and STDs, may be one of the LEAST worrisome parts of the public restroom
experience. Germs seem to thrive on the floors, near the sinks, and even on the door handles and paper towel dispensers. Once you leave the toilet,
you move into a whole new world of germs waiting to infect you. And if you think that is bad, check this out;
Germs in feces can be propelled into the air when the toilet is flushed. For that reason, Philip Tierno, MD, director of clinical microbiology
and diagnostic immunology at New York University Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Medical Center, advises leaving the stall immediately after flushing to
keep the microscopic, airborne mist from choosing you as a landing site. "The greatest aerosol dispersal occurs not during the initial moments of the
flush, but rather once most of the water has already left the bowl," he says.
Aerosolized fecal matter thrown up from the toilet every time it’s flushed!
Forget about worrying about it landing on you, what about the possibility that you could end up BREATHING that stuff in! Makes you want to run for the
hills without even bothering to wash your hands on the way out.
That would be a mistake however. Hand washing and basic sanitation measures are some of our greatest defenses when it comes to protecting ourselves
from the dangers of the public restroom. In fact, restroom supplier Kimberly Clarke has a site advising people of the safest way to use the public
restroom. Basic hand washing and avoiding touching germy surfaces are among some of their suggestions but, perhaps one of their best suggestions is
Tell management about poorly maintained restrooms. Unless you're traveling in a part of the world where toilet hygiene isn't exactly
number one priority, these days most companies or local authorities responsible for managing public restroom facilities want to be told when their
toilets are in disarray. Complaints from consumers do matter and the more, the better. If you don't get a response or the standard doesn't lift,
contact your local health department and lodge a complaint.
Maybe the best course of action would be to wear a gas mask while using the public restroom. People might laugh at you but, you’ll get the last
laugh when they end up breathing in all that aerosolized fecal matter and wonder why they ended up getting sick.