We've long been supporters of the power of hand hygiene, therefore, we believe good hand hygiene is vitally important when using public washrooms, where it can help prevent the spread of germs and illnesses.
It's nothing new to hear that sharing amenities such as toilet seats, toilet rolls, sinks, and taps with strangers have been linked to health risks; some claims are credible and others are little more than 'myths'.
Following Steve Palmer from Tork manufacturer SCA's recent article in Cleaning and Maintenance magazine, we take a closer look at what type of infections and viruses you could possibly catch from a public washroom, and importantly, what you can do to protect yourself.
What Germs Are Really Lurking In Public Washrooms?
As high traffic areas, it's no surprise to hear that the use of public washrooms means exposure to germs. According to experts, there are any number of bacteria and viruses that could be lying in wait in public toilets – including streptoccus, E.coli, salmonella, typhoid fever and Hepatitis A.
So where are the germs lurking? The sink is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria as it is naturally wet for prolonged periods of time. Avoid touching the inside of the sink and you'll receive little to no risk of contamination. Other areas which receive frequent contact, meaning they are offer high risk include – light switches, door handles, taps, dispensers, and toilet seats, which you can find out more below. If you are responsible for the maintenance of washrooms, always make sure to give these areas your utmost attention.
Can I Catch Diseases From Toilet Seats?
If you've ever used a public washroom which was in need of a thorough clean, chances are you were most concerned about the cleanliness of the toilet seat. However, if you use a toilet seat cover, or cover the seat in toilet tissue, it will provide little more than comfort. The truth is that toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents.
In an article by Huffington Post, Dr. William Schaffner, M.D., a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, explains...
“Toilet seats were once thought to be a way of transmitting gastrointestinal or sexually transmitted infections, but that idea has since been refuted in research."
What might shock you, is that the toilet seat might actually be the cleanest surface in a public washroom. A 2014 US programme called 'The Drs' investigated the cleanliness of public washrooms by taking swabs of various surfaces and sending them to a lab for analysis. The toilet seat actually came out as the cleanest – beating other washroom surfaces such as taps, sinks, and toilet paper dispensers.
Limiting the spread of germs within an airborne environment can be easily achieved by closing the toilet seat lid when flushing, however many of us forget to do this on a regular basis. A 2011 study revealed that the number of viable C.difficile bacteria on surrounding surfaces following a toilet flush was 12 times higher when the toilet lid was open compared to when it had been closed. So remember to always 'put a lid on it' every time you flush!
3 Steps To Protecting Yourself From Germs In Public Washrooms
Although it might seem shocking to discover the extent of which germs are present in public washrooms, the good news is it's actually one of the best places where you could encounter a surface contaminated by harmful bacteria. With immediate access to soap, water, and hand towels you can easily remove the contamination from your hands.
We consider some tips below which you may wish to consider, whether you're using a washroom on a regular basis or are in charge of its maintenance.
Consider Enclosed Toilet Tissue Dispensers
As an area which receives regular contact, and may receive splashings of water and germs from the toilet bowl, research by Philip Tierno of the New York University Medical Centre recommends using dispensers which almost completely enclose the paper. The Versatwin by Leonardo are fantastic dispensers.
Practice Good Hand Hygiene
Washing our hands after using the toilet is the most crucial aspect of protecting ourselves from germs in public washrooms. The Centres for Disease Control states that we should wash our hands with running water for 20 seconds and then drying them thoroughly after each visit to avoid becoming ill or spreading germs to others. By doing this, it is relatively unlikely that you will pick up an illness in the washroom provided you practice good hand hygiene.
But methods for drying our hands 'thoroughly' have also been a point of contention recently, with both The European Tissue Symposium (ETS) and The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods paper concluding that from a “hygiene viewpoint, paper towels are superior to electronic air dryers". Take a look at our Infographic Hot Air Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels to discover more.
Use 'No Contact Dispensers'
The risk of cross contamination can be reduced even further by using touch free electronic dispenser systems. Reducing contact points, soap dispensers such as our Merlin Gold Soap Dispeners are both a practical and elegant choice for busy washrooms. Touchless taps, paper hand dispensers and hand dryers are other examples of touchless technology – a logical step forward in the future of washroom hygiene. For extra peace of mind, touch free hand sanitising dispensers are perfect for public washrooms, hallways, offices and receptions alike.