November 8, 2007

Trashing Staph

You’re a good citizen when it comes to hygiene. You’ve heard about MRSA infections and you don’t want to contribute to the problem, or spread any other infectious disease. In the restroom, you do your business and wash your hands. Then you leave.

But not before grabbing the handle of the door. That’s be the same handle that your coworker grabbed right after he wiped his nose or other bodily location with a thin piece of germ-permeable paper.

It doesn’t take an immunologist to tell you that there are germy surfaces around you1.

And unless you don’t believe that germs are what’s making you sick, reducing your exposure in some easy ways seems prudent.

If you’re washing your hands, you’re already ahead of the game, so kudos. But don’t touch that faucet after you wash if you can use your elbow or the back of your wrist to turn off the water. If I can’t do that, I let the water run for a second while I dry my hands on a paper towel, then use the paper to shut off the faucet. Then I use the paper to open the restroom door and I leave.

Here at our work office, there is no trash near the restroom door. I have four options.

  • Toss the crumpled up paper in the trash across the restroom after I’ve opened the door (holding the door open with my foot)
    • Awkward!
  • Toss the paper towel on the floor near the door
    • Obnoxious
  • Hold on to the paper towel and throw it away in a trash container on the way back to my office
    • Not so bad
  • Try to open the door using my sleeve over my hand
    • Not so useful when you’re wearing a short sleeve shirt.

It would be better if there were a trash container next to the door. But I’ll live.

I was saving this for the shotgun post, but it fits here. You can’t always trust surfaces you would otherwise assume are clean. Like the drinking glasses in your hotel which say they’ve been cleaned. Oops. A hidden camera investigation in Atlanta showed that among 5 different hotel chains not a single one of them actually cleaned those glasses properly. Not one.

I don’t think you should be paranoid about germs. But you should be knowledgeable and realistic. If you put something in your mouth, don’t assume it’s clean. And if you touch something with hands that eventually put food in your mouth, think a little bit about that, too.

If you tend to put germs in your mouth out of habit, try to get some new habits. Good luck out there!

1 Doorknobs are not the most germy bathroom surface, but faucets are pretty bad. Why not reduce your risk by cultivating a habit of touching neither of them? This article discusses research on which are the worst surfaces. Also, NPR did a story on the worst surfaces in your child’s school.

Posted by James at November 8, 2007 2:47 PM
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Well done. I also use my foot to press the flusher on non-automatic toilets, or a wad of toilet paper if it's not foot-accessible. Another thing I read somewhere was that the bottom of most women's purses are loaded with germs, because we tend to put them down on floors (even bathroom floors if there aren't hooks on the stall doors), then we forget and put them on our kitchen counters later...UGH!

Posted by: Karen at November 8, 2007 3:14 PM

I will hang my bag around my neck if there's no hook on the restroom door. No way am I putting it on the floor. And at a restaurant I try to hang it off my knee if there's no room for it beside me in a booth. But I'm sure it's still touched some very nasty things.

I usually keep it on a chair when I'm at home, because the table surfaces are usually covered in papers and stuff. :) But I've been guilty of putting it down on the table in tidier homes. :(

Posted by: Julie at November 8, 2007 3:37 PM

My new and fabulous building has auto sinks and paper dispensers, and the door opens out.

However, in one of our older buildings, things are not so rosy. There is a work-around I suggest to you all:

In each bathroom, there are small waste baskets by the door so you can use the papere towel you've just wiped your hands with to open the door and then drop it in the trash.

I'll bet if you order a trash can for each bathroom on your floor, as my co-workers have done, you'll be a hero.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 8, 2007 4:08 PM

Yeah or the cleaning folks will say what's this doing here and take it away.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 8, 2007 4:23 PM

This is why I eat a yogurt between classes at work. Keyboards in labs? Ugh!! I don't care how many times I wash my hands in the shared bathroom (and shut the faucets and open the door with a paper towel), I don't feel my hands are clean until I get home and wash them thoroughly. I keep sanitizer in my car and in my purse. I am guilty, however, of putting my purse on the floor -- both in restaurants and at home. That's where it goes. (Not in bathrooms, though.)

Posted by: Maggie at November 8, 2007 6:06 PM

1) I kept reading the title too quickly and thinking "Who is Steph, and why are we trashing her?"

2) Ew. Just EW. Compulsive hand washer and Germ X user, here.

Posted by: leslie at November 8, 2007 9:55 PM

Interesting points. I acutally saw a snippet once on a show about germs. If there is no receptacle for your trash near the door the germ dude said to throw it on the floor... Eventually there will be a trash recepticle there :P

Posted by: jay at November 8, 2007 10:45 PM

Ha - you're probably right!

But for now I'm getting along using other receptacles outside the restroom.

Posted by: James at November 8, 2007 11:23 PM

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