Here's How Gross Public Bathrooms Actually Are

by Sara Levine

Everybody knows somebody who refuses do their business in a public restroom because public restrooms are ew. Contrary to popular belief, a recent study found public bathrooms are not that dirty compared to the rest of your environment. So if you need to go, don't let your germaphobia stop you.

The study involved four public restrooms, two male and two female. Scientists decontaminated the restrooms, then let people come and go, charting the accumulation of bacteria and viruses on communal surfaces like toilet seats, faucet knobs, floors, and soap dispensers on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. Then they closed the restrooms and continued to chart the bacteria’s growth and ecology.

The results might make you rethink your attitude on public bathrooms. They found that most of the microorganisms were either skin-associated, or they came from soil or plants (which they presume people tracked in). Fecal germs did not seem to thrive in the bathrooms, only making up no more than 15 percent of germs after the restroom was closed for a few hours. They believe that the dryness and presence of oxygen in the air limit how long fecal microbes can survive. I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot less grossed out by (some) public restrooms now.

What does all this mean in human terms? Basically, that most of the bacteria and viruses you’d find in a bathroom come from humans — they might not come from humans you personally know, but that doesn’t make them harmful. As the lead author of the study Sean M. Gibbons put it, “Most of the things on us or in us are not only benign, but necessary for our health. So these surfaces are occupied predominantly by our friends.” Yaaaaay friends!!

Hopefully now all you germaphobes out there can relax a little knowing using the gas station bathroom won’t kill you. And just to put things in perspective a bit (or totally freak you out, it could go either way), consider these five things that are shadily dirtier than a toilet seat, but you use every day.

1. Your Cell Phone

Say it ain’t so! A 2012 study found that 10 times more disease-causing bacteria were found on cellphones. Think about it, you take your phone everywhere, and how often do you really clean it? So next time you let your friend borrow your phone, wipe it clean with a disinfectant wipe.

2. Your Keyboard

If you’re like me, you don’t pause what you’re doing to type. I’ll type away while I’m eating, right after painting my nails, before I dry off my clammy hands, you name it, I’ve done it. A 2008 U.K. study concluded that your keyboard has up to five times more bacteria than your toilet seat — and that’s not counting the time you spilled yogurt on your keys (true story). So wipe off your keyboard regularly (you can probably just assume that for most of these items) and use a pressurized can of air to get all the crumbs out from underneath the keys.

3. Your Kitchen Sponge

Real talk, kitchen sponges are nasty, and you probably aren’t swapping yours out as often as you should. Between all the water, food particles, and bacteria from the sink and various pots and pans, your sponge is about 200,000 times dirtier than your toilet. Yes, you read that correctly. Make sure to use antibacterial soap and don’t wait until the sponge starts smelling mildew-y to get a new one.

4. Your Toothbrush

This one isn’t for the faint of heart, so skip to number five if you’ve got a weak stomach. Yet another study done in Manchester found that the average toothbrush contains over 10 million bacteria, including E. Coli and Staph. And brushes stored in the bathroom (not that I can think of anywhere else you’d logically store a toothbrush) are all contaminated with fecal germs—something about germs flying up when you flush the toilet. Gag. Crying. Keep yours away from the toilet and change it every three months — not just when you go to the dentist for a cleaning.

5. Your TV Remote

Your hands, the floor, stuffed between couch cushions — these are all places your remote has lived, probably for extended periods of time. You might have coughed or sneezed on it without realizing. A University of Virginia study that looked at cold viruses on household surfaces found TV remotes to be among the germiest, so wipe that sucker down! And cover your mouth when you sneeze, don’t you have any manners?

All in all, I think Jimmy Fallon and Will.I.Am put it best:

Images: Getty Images ; Giphy (5)