Weekly checkup: Public Bathrooms

Public bathrooms run the gamut of cleanliness, but the prevailing philosophy for their visitors seems to be the same: keep contact to a minimum.

Some of GW’s bathrooms now have a variety of touchless appliances to help students and staff avoid germs, including automated toilets, sinks, paper towel and soap dispensers. These bathroom accessories are intended to keep users healthy, but they may provide more flash than function.

In fact, bathrooms may not be as ridden with germs as people think, said Jean-Claud Zenklusen, an assistant professor of chemistry.

“The thing that’s most surprising about public bathrooms is that the stalls aren’t that dirty,” Zenklusen said. “The floors aren’t bad either.”

Contrary to the belief that public restrooms are as grimy as things get, studies have shown that optimal breeding grounds for germs are often in an unexpected place: one’s home. Purses, laundry machines and even cell phones are among the culprits.

“Sometimes house bathrooms are a lot dirtier than public restrooms,” Zenklusen said, warning that sinks are probably the most germ-infested part of a restroom. “The problem is the handles of the faucets because those never get cleaned,” he said.

Zenklusen said he believes the purpose of a high-tech bathroom is mostly to maintain a chic fa?ade.

“People feel the need to keep everything germ-free,” he said. “Some kids have bad reactions to certain allergens because they’ve been raised in a totally sterile environment.”

Freshman Angie Sharma said she thinks automatic appliances make for a better bathroom experience.

“I don’t like touching the sink and stuff because other people touch it,” she said. “With automated things, you don’t have to do the trick where you take a paper towel and turn on the sink, and then take another to open the door.”

Sharma may think that she’s got her “trick” down to a science, but Zenklusen said the best way to avoid bathroom germs is the old fashioned way: wash your hands.

“Washing your hands correctly is the best thing you can do,” he said. “Ten seconds of rubbing and 10 to 20 seconds of rinsing.”

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