Never Use This Stall in a Public Bathroom, Experts Warn
THIS IS THE WORST BATHROOM STALL IN A PUBLIC RESTROOM, BASED ON HOW FREQUENTLY IT'S USED.
Most people have some kind of strategy when considering what stall to use in a public restroom. For some, the one farthest from the door is preferable. For others, the one closest to the exit makes sense. And for many of us, it's the one right in the middle. But while this Goldilocks-esque choice can be a challenge, there's actual research into which bathroom stall is the worst to use, based on how often it's frequented. Read on to find out which stall you should be avoiding when you have to use a public restroom.
RELATED: The Worst Thing You're Doing in Public Bathrooms, Infectious Disease Doc Warns.
Middle stalls are the most commonly used stalls in public bathrooms.
A 1995 study from the University of California, San Diego, looked at placement preferences among people in a variety of scenarios. Researchers monitored how much toilet paper was used in each stall of a men's bathroom at a local beach for 10 weeks, and concluded that the middle two stalls used up 60 percent of the toilet paper over that time, showing that people preferred to use the middle toilets to the outside stalls.
"Whether people were choosing a product from a grocery shelf, deciding which bathroom stall to use, or marking a box on a questionnaire, they avoided the ends and tended to make their selection from the middle," the researchers concluded. The phenomenon is known as "centrality preference," according to Business Insider.
With that in mind, if you want to avoid the stall the most people have been using, steer clear of the ones in the middle and instead use the first or last stalls in the bathroom.
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Thankfully, it's difficult to catch anything, even in the dirtiest bathrooms.
If the only open stall is the middle one, and you've resigned yourself to hovering over the toilet seat, take a deep breath. Experts say it's nearly impossible to catch anything from sitting on a public toilet seat. Yes, there are tons of germs in public bathrooms (and private ones, for that matter): E. coli, Streptococcus, and S. aureus—the germs responsible for diarrhea, strep throat, and pneumonia, respectively—can be found among fecal bacteria, Philip Tierno, PhD, a clinical professor in the pathology department with NYU Langone Health, told Everyday Health.
But your skin acts as a strong barrier against these bacteria and keeps you safe from potential infections. "Toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents—you won't catch anything," William Schaffner, MD, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, assured the Huffington Post.
The real danger isn't the seat—it's everything else in a public bathroom.
If you've been using stalls on either end rather than middle stalls, congratulations—but you're not completely out of the woods. Tierno told Everyday Health that you're most vulnerable to germs when you flush, regardless of what stall you're in, because the force of the flush distributes droplets anywhere from five to 20 feet in the air. Tierno recommends that you open the door before you flush and stand as far back as possible.
Because we're all so tethered to our phones—and so many of us use our phones while on the toilet—there's also a good chance that some of the splash could get on your phone. As many as 1 in 6 phones were found to have traces of fecal matter on them, according to a 2011 study from the University of London.
In 2005, Charles Gerba, PhD, co-author of The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu, tested various public bathroom surfaces and found that the toilet seat was the least germy part, according to ABC News. The dirtiest surface was, not surprisingly, the floor. That's why experts recommend that you never put your purse or bag on the floor of a public restroom.
"We found fecal bacteria on about 30 percent of the bottom of women's purses. So you may be moving bacteria from the bottom of the restroom floor to maybe the kitchen sink area when you're going to make lunch," Gerba told ABC News.
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Your hands are what you should be most concerned with.
No matter which stall you use, public restrooms can be covered in germs and fluids, and the real danger is your hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that cleaning your hands well after using a public toilet can decrease your potential for bacterial transmission by as much as 50 percent.
If you want to make sure you're not transmitting germs, the CDC recommends you avoid touching your face after you use the bathroom and wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. And if you're still concerned about germs, follow Tierno's advice. He told The Healthy that after he washes his hands, he uses a towel to shut off the water tap and open the restroom door to avoid exposing himself to surface germs.
RELATED: The One Thing You Should Never Do After You Flush, New Study Says.