Follow these do’s and don’ts when using public restrooms to stay safer from germs
Before the pandemic, you likely never thought about what you would do if you needed to use the restroom while you were out. You went about your day and if the need struck, you found the closest bathroom and did what you had to do. Now you may think twice about what you’ll do if you need to go while you’re out – and that concern may even be enough to keep you close to home.
As businesses open up, figuring out how to make bathrooms safer has been a challenge. Many business owners want to make bathroom improvements that will ease fear and keep patrons safer, but that requires money – something that’s in limited supply after a business has been closed for weeks or months.
Having to go is a basic human necessity, though, so businesses are trying to make as many changes as they can. Some fixes are temporary, like taping off every other sink or urinal to encourage social distancing, turning off forced-air dryers (which can deposit germs from the air right back onto your hands), installing clear plastic dividers and limiting capacity.
Public restrooms of the future might feature permanent improvements like touchless everything (stall doors, flushing, towel dispensers), toilets that flush on a delay so you can get out of the way of airborne droplets and bathroom entrances without doors (like at airports). If you’re hesitant about public bathrooms, you’re not alone.
If you decide to venture out and find that you need to go, here are some do’s and don’ts for minimizing your risk:
DON’T forget to go before leaving home. The safest bathroom, of course, is your own. Making a pit stop before heading out might be a no-brainer for adults, but if you have kids, they might need to be reminded.
DO carry supplies with you. Wear a mask and keep antibacterial wipes or gel in your bag or car. Disposable toilet seat covers are also nice to have.
DO put the lid down. Droplets that may contain viruses or bacteria are released into the air when a toilet is flushed. If the lid is open, most research shows droplets can stay suspended for about 3-7 minutes. One study shows they may even remain in the air for up to 3 hours.
DO use a piece of clean toilet paper to flush. This makes it less likely for germs to spread from the flusher to your hand.
DON’T use your foot to flush. That makes the handle germier for the next person, since the bottom of your shoes may have picked up germs from the floor.
DO maintain distance. If someone is washing their hands at the sink, stay back until they’re finished. Give people room to pass when entering and exiting the bathroom.
DON’T touch anything you don’t have to. If the faucet isn’t sensor-activated, use your elbow or a clean paper towel to turn it on and off. After you wash your hands for the recommended 20 seconds with soap, use the paper towel you dried your hands with to open the door.
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Date Last Reviewed: June 17, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD