What to Watch Out For in Public Bathrooms

Filed under: Health

Public restrooms can be scary places. They smell funny, their cleanliness is never predictable and germy danger seems to lurk in every (damp and creepy) crack and crevice. Parents of toddlers have an even greater challenge, since small children are not only just learning to use the toilet, but they also love to touch whatever they can get their little hands on. Public restrooms are so notorious, they've inspired websites like The Bathroom Diaries, a tribute to the world's best and worst public bathrooms. (The best is in New Zealand. China's squat toilets rank as the worst.) So is all this anxiety appropriate? Or is it just public paranoia? For the poop (sorry) on public potties, read on.

What to Watch Out For in Public Bathrooms

    What kind of bacteria can be found on a toilet seat? The gang's all here: Streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli, hepatitis A virus and the common cold virus are regulars in a public bathroom. Yikes! Now here's the good news -- for most people, a healthy immune system and a good hand washing can handle any of these bugs who do manage to immigrate from toilet to person. Read on for more scary stats and tips for staying healthy in a public restroom.

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    Toilet Seats: Cover Them or Squat?
    Before you hover or, worse, wrestle with one of those impossible toilet seat covers, hear this: It's all but impossible to catch a disease from a toilet seat, says Columbia University. All that paper cover does is put a mental barrier between you and the seat. In fact, hovering can actually lead to urinary tract infections, if you don't empty your bladder all the way. That said, if the seat is visibly soiled, wipe it down or choose another stall.

    Damon Dahlen, AOL

    But What About the Children?
    Just like moms don't need to hover over the seat, neither do kids (at least those with healthy immune systems). But little ones have trouble perching on those grown-up sized thrones. Either hold your tot so they don't have to grip the seat with their hands, or make sure they get a really good scrubbing at the sink when they're done.

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    The Great Flushing Controversy
    Health experts recommend that you use your shoe to flush. Not because of the nasties that live on the handle, mind you, but because everyone else is probably doing it anyway. Toilet handle plus bottom-of-the-shoe germs equals EWWW. But blogger Julie of A Little Pregnant once threatened violence to anyone she caught using this technique, so you'll have to decide which is riskier -- exposure to those germs? Or one mad mama?

    Damon Dahlen, AOL

    When Toilets Attack
    Unpredictable and loud, automatic toilets might be cleaner, but they scare many newly trained toddlers right out of the bathroom. Reassure your child, but if the going gets tough, here's a tip: Carry a pack of Post-It's in your bag to cover the sensor while your tot takes care of business.

    Damon Dahlen, AOL

    Oh Baby!
    Many public restroom changing stations feature a disposable cover dispenser to keep baby away from germs. As most parents know, that dispenser is almost always empty. Instead, plan ahead and carry your own changing pad. In a pinch, a blanket will do, too. Keep baby's hands busy with one of her own toys, then be sure to wash your own hands when you're through.

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    Handwashing 101
    Teach kids the right way to scrub for cleaner hands: Using soap and warm water, lather up and scrub hands (back and front), in between fingers and under fingernails for at least 20 seconds, or as long as it takes kids to sing the ABCs. Rinse well, dry, then use that same towel to turn the faucet off.

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    Stuck Without Soap
    Hand sanitizers are a life saver for busy parents and other people on the go, but do they really work? According to Mayo Clinic, yes, as long as they are alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Look for a product with at least 60 percent alcohol, and use enough product to cover your hands, front and back. In a pinch, it's just as good as hand washing.

    Damon Dahlen, AOL

    Think Outside the Throne
    Think the toilet is the germiest thing in a public restroom? Think again. The floor usually ranks as the dirtiest, followed by the sanitary napkin receptacle. Sink faucets and towel holders are major culprits too; both are nice, damp breeding ground for germs. Teach little ones not to touch while they wait for you to go potty, and if you can't find an automatic sink, use the towel that you dried your hands with to turn the water off.

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    Dirty Little Secrets
    Everyone has a dirty little secret, but here's one that's filthier than most: Though we all claim to wash our hands after we use the bathroom, ASM's Clean Hands Campaign discovered that only 77 percent of us -- on average -- actually do. At a Braves Game in Atlanta or Grand Central Station in NYC? Keep your hands to yourself; a high percentage of people in those locations were observed leaving the bathroom without washing.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.