We’re grateful when we find one, but the pandemic has made us so leery of public restrooms that researchers at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University say 98 percent of us try to hold it!
The good news: “There are effective ways to protect yourself,” says Sanjay Dogra, MD. Here’s how…
Drop the Lid
Every time you flush, a germ-laden mist (called toilet plume) shoots up into the air. Thankfully, CDC researchers say dropping the lid before you flush will cut your risk of exposure by 83 percent.
No lid? “Flush and run!” says Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of virology at the University of Arizona. “When there’s no lid, I leave the stall immediately after flushing.”
Pick the Safest Sink
Scrubbing your hands well after using a public restrooms can cut your risk of picking up COVID-19 by as much as 69 percent, say World Health Organization scientists. But what if someone else —who may or may not be sick — is already at the counter?
“Ideally, public sinks should be divided by Plexiglas” says Philip Tierno, PhD, a professor of pathology at the NYU School of Medicine. “When they’re not, I social distance by moving over one spot.”
Dry Hands Like This
Steer clear of that air dryer! Australian scientists say you’ll inhale up to 27 times more germs if you stand near one when it’s running, since they blow germy air (including toilet plume) around the room.
“I tuck Kleenex in my pocket and use that to dry my hands, shut off the tap and open the bathroom door,” says Gerba. “I use hand sanitizer after leaving the washroom too.”
Purses and backpacks often end up on the floor, the back of the toilet, the bathroom counter… no wonder 80 percent are teeming with germs.
“I never carry a purse into a bathroom,” says Miriam Smith, MD, chief of infectious disease at the Long Island Jewish Forest Hills hospital. “Keep sanitizing wipes on hand so you can clean it off if you do.”
Choose This Stall
The farthest stall feels most private, so it’s the one used the most, say University of California scientists. That’s why the first stall ends up with 33 percent fewer germs!
Hang On Longer
When home isn’t too far away and you’d really rather not stop, “quick flicks” can help you make it there! Canadian researchers say quickly squeezing and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles five times (it will feel like speedy Kegels) relaxes bladder spasms, halting that gotta-go feeling for up to 30 minutes at a stretch.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.