October 20, 2014

Fighting germs in public restrooms

Posted 3/31/10

I am not a big fan of germs. I know, who is, right? But I’m worse than the norm. Fortunately, I’m not at the point where germs consume my every thought, but I probably pay more attention to them than other people.

And that makes public restrooms a bit more stressful for me than the average person.

It took me a long time before I could convince myself to actually use public restrooms. When I go into them, I am always very conscious about what I am touching. And as silly as it may seem, I also try to be careful of how much I am breathing when I’m in there, in an attempt to breath in the least number of germs as possible.

And being a bit of a germaphobe, I appreciate the attempts that these places make at keeping public restrooms as sanitary as possible. Technology has been a big help over the years, making many things in the bathroom process automated.

My preferred public restroom would be one that you wouldn’t have to touch anything with your hands. Many restrooms come close, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in one that fully qualifies.

For example, automatic flushing toilets have been around forever, and a good number of bathrooms have them. Even if they don’t, while it occasionally requires some acrobatic ability, it’s usually common to be able to flush without using your hands. So we’re good there.

Another common thing is the automatic faucet. These are great, in theory, because all you have to do is put your hands under the faucet and they turn on automatically.

Only it never quite works that way. It always kind of feels like an episode of “Candid Camera” in there. You’ll put your hands under one faucet, and it won’t turn on. So you move to the next one, and the one you were just at turns on. So you go back to that one, and the one two sinks down comes on. The one you choose never seems to actually work.

But when you do find one that works, you run into one of the first problems in most bathrooms — the soap dispenser. In most bathrooms, you have to touch the dispenser to get soap to come out. This isn’t a huge deal, because you are washing your hands immediately after touching it.

But some bathrooms have solved this problem, by installing automatic soap dispensers. I encountered my first one at Ford Field in Detroit a few months ago, and it is quite possibly one of the greatest things ever. And unlike the automatic sinks, it actually works.

So now your hands are washed, it’s time to dry them off. This is where a number of bathrooms fail. Public restrooms have a lot of different options for drying your hands. Many have the blow dryer, which generally blows cold air and would require you to stand there for about 374 days before your hands were actually dry.

Others have the paper towel dispenser, which requires you to touch the handle to make it work, kind of defeating the whole purpose of you washing your hands in the first place.

But many have moved to the “wave your hand in front of it” automatic paper towel dispensers. I’m a big fan of these as well, because obviously, you don’t have to touch it. It’s debatable just how often these actually work correctly, but when they do, it’s great.

So let’s say you have found a public restroom that has automatic toilets, sinks, soap and towels. Congratulations, you have found quite possibly the most sanitary public restroom there is. But there’s one problem, which I have encountered at every bathroom I’ve ever been in that fits into this category.

You always have to ***pull the door to open it. Seriously? You went through all this trouble to make sure people didn’t have to touch anything, and yet we still have to touch the one thing with arguably the most germs on it in the entire room? Why can’t these places prop the door open, or make it so you can push to open it?

So I have yet to find the perfect public restroom. Maybe I’m better off not using them at all.

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