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From the Magazine

3 Easy Ways to Germ-Proof Your Public Bathroom Visit


Holiday travel means inevitable pit stops in crowded public restrooms. Even if you’re not a full-blown germaphobe, it’s a recipe for the icks every time — especially during cold season. Read on for simple strategies to reduce exposure to illness-causing germs next time you have to go. 

Look it up later.

Rushing around during the holidays results in a lot of multitasking, so it’s not surprising that 75 percent of us use our time in the bathroom to scroll through our smartphones, looking up directions to our destination or our estimated time of arrival. And it’s also not surprising that recent University of Arizona research finds the average cellphone is 10 times more contaminated than a toilet seat — often with fecal matter. Still, sometimes stashing your phone simply isn’t an option. So after washing your hands, disinfect your phone with a sanitizing wipe before touching it with bare fingers again.

Wash this way.

“Your 10 fingers are the quickest way to spread infection,” says Philip M. Tierno, Ph.D., a pathologist at New York University and author of The Secret Life of Germs ($19.99, Amazon) — which is why preventing the spread of pathogens comes back to what we all know: thoroughly washing your hands. To make sure you cleanse for the full 20 seconds needed to rinse away harmful bacteria, mentally sing a slow rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Don’t want to hang around a public restroom that long? Leave, then apply a generous half-dollar-size dollop of hand sanitizer for 20 seconds to get the full germ-killing effects.

Dry with paper towels.

Touch-free jet-air hand dryers spread 500 percent more germs than paper towels, according to research in the Journal of Hospital Infection. The reason: “People who haven’t washed their hands properly deposit germs on the dryer, which blows these microbes onto your hands,” explains Dr. Tierno, who travels with his own paper towels. Or simply shake off water and let hands air-dry.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine. 

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