Public Restrooms The Good. The Bad. And the Phew!

Public Restroom

I’m not a germophobe, but I don’t want to get sick either. Handwashing is one of the best ways to help prevent the spread of disease. However poorly equipped or designed public bathrooms can contribute to germ exposure. Airports and newer theaters do it right; the rest, not so much!

This is not meant to be a fluff piece, but an exploration of a necessary evil. Thousands of caregivers accompany someone else into a public bathroom to help them every day. Whether it’s a parent with a young child or a “child” with an older parent, the restroom can be a yucky, inadequately equipped nightmare. And most of the worst mistakes can be fixed!

Towels Please

Several months ago, I had an experience in one bummer of a bathroom that launched a keener observation of powder room protocol.

Although it doesn’t happen often, one of my contact lenses slid off my eye causing pain and considerable watering while I was driving. The closest public bathroom was actually at my grocery destination. Problem solved; or so I thought.

I kept my drippy eye shut tight while I used the bathroom and washed my hands. My plan was to line the sink with paper towel (so the lens didn’t go down the drain) pop it out, rinse it off and re-insert. Wrong. This bathroom didn’t have any towels, only hand dryers. I was going to use toilet paper but the auto-faucet wouldn’t shut off; possibly the one up side to manual faucet handles. Every time I put paper in the sink, it was soaked with water. I finally sat on the floor (one of the dirtiest places in the bathroom) so I could catch the lens.

This experience sparked my attention to the best and worst of public bathroom set-ups.

The gold standard of restrooms should model airport designs.

  • Door-less entry.
  • Stalls that stay open if not occupied. Latches that work. Strong bag hook. Toilet paper not sand (rough) or tissue (thin) paper. Auto flush with a manual override.
  • Auto or manual soap dispensers that don’t drip gooey soap.
  • Auto-faucets with warm water.
  • Sensor or pull down paper towel dispensers. Blow dryers positioned away from the toilets.
  • Smaller public places like coffee shops, offices, etc. may not have the space for a door-less entry. And although most are clean, many have fixable problems.

Hand Dryers and Other Flaws

I think every public bathroom should have hand towels available. The rationale for hand blowers is less paper waste and although accurate, recent studies show the dryers suck up contaminated matter and recycle it. Yuck!

Upon exiting the bathroom, one needs a barrier to protect clean hands from the potentially germy door handle. No towels; no barrier. Not every door can be opened with an elbow or butt push.

I was in a restaurant restroom recently that has a towel dispenser mounted on the wall adjacent to and left of the sink with a turn wheel on the right side in the corner. Only someone with telescoping arms could reach it! Dumb but fixable.

What You Can Do

Probably not every bathroom blemish can be fixed at a reasonable cost to the owner. But for those that can:

  • Identify the problem.
  • Recommend a solution.
  • Survey the setting.
  • Plan ahead.

Two of the businesses I frequent have turn wheel style paper towel dispensers which, even if reachable, are hard to grip with wet hands; and your wet, clean hands are probably touching a germy handle.

Recently, I approached the managers who were very receptive to replacing the dispensers. In fact, one admitted that a few employees had already complained about the awkwardness of wheel design. It’s being replaced. Survey any obstacles and grab your towels in advance of needing them. And carry hand sanitizer just in case!

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Elaine C.Pereira

About Elaine C.Pereira

Elaine retired in June 2010 as a school Occupational Therapist where she worked with special needs children. She lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband, Joe. Between them, they have five children — Joe has three sons and Elaine has twin daughters-and soon-to-be five grandchildren. Elaine has a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Wayne State University. Elaine is the author of I Will Never Forget and she was inspired to tell her mother’s incredible story in part to help other caregivers coping with memory loss issues in their loved ones. I Will Never Forget

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