Should you stop using public toilets?

I am sure my headline has gotten your attention. Allow me to explain.

Public bathrooms have a negative stigma. Some of my friends won’t even use public bathrooms. Instead, they opt to “hold it in” rather than using a public bathroom because of fear of contracting a disease from sitting down on a toilet that has been used by countless other people. Well, they might be right, however, it is not for the reason they say.public_bathroom_toilet

Public bathrooms are dirty. However, the toilets are not the most dirty part of the bathroom.

Before I get into how scientists found this out, I would like to explain why I believe ordinary citizens deny that public toilets are clean.

1. Appeal to Authority:

I know I am guilty of this. Until I came across this, I too believed that public toilets were completely dirty. Why did I believe this? Probably because an authority of mine, probably my parents or an elementary school teacher, likely said public toilets were dirty. But should I have listened to them? Well, you should always listen to your parents as a child, but now that I am older I can say, no, I should not have listened to my parents when it came to the topic of public toilets. They were not experts in the topic, had no data, and like me, they too were probably appealing to their authorities when it came to this topic.

2. Confirmation Bias

There have been many studies on the cleanliness of public toilets. So why does the public not acknowledge this? People do not want to hear something they disagree with. If someone who believes public toilets are dirty, when they see a study like this, they disregard it because it goes against their longly held beliefs. They can even forget they even heard this news. This study must be respected, and if you do not think it’s correct, do the same study and try to find a different result.

Now, on to the science.

The study was published in the National Library of Medicine and posted by Mark R. Liles. Both door handles for the door of the bathroom, both handles for the door of the stall, the knobs of the sink, the soap dispenser, the handle to flush the toilet, the floor in the stall, the floor around the skin, and of course, the toilet seat were all tested for cleanliness for this study (Liles 2011). The study used 12 total bathrooms: six male and six female (Liles 2011).

While there were germs on the toilet, they were more prevalent on other items (Liles 2011). So this study does show the toilet seats are not what you should be worrying about in public restrooms.zbathroom-890x395_c

This is an observational study. How do I know this? The scientists did not randomly pick people to use the bathrooms. People used the bathrooms for a full day without any instructions. This is as observational of a study as you could see. But there is a problem with observational studies: confounding variables.

The first confounding variable that popped into my head was the type of bathroom? Were all these bathrooms the same size and layout? The answer is yes! Another confounding variable can be did the same number of people use these bathrooms? Well that is not made clear by the research. I think the biggest confounding variable is the well-being of the bathrooms occupants. Since they don’t know who is using the bathroom, could the results be the result of sick people using the bathrooms more on the day they did the experiment? It is certainly possible.

The article does not suffer from the File Draw Problem because it was published. Could this be the only study the published and have many results that show the opposite? It could be possible, but not likely.  It is not likely because it has been submitted for peer review, and other studies have not come out to denounce the study’s findings. This is the beauty of peer review and why other scientists should always submit their studies to scientific journals. Science is so toiinformative, in part, because it builds upon past studies. If this study was completely wrong, other scientists could look at the study and explain why. They could also conduct their own studies.

So the answer to my question that I proposed in the headline of this blog has a simple answer. No, you should not stop using public toilets. I would like a meta-analysis to be completed on this topic to ensure that this result was not due to chance. However, until then I will trust this study as it was well conducted, and has not yet been challenged by other scientists even though it has been under peer review for many years.

5 thoughts on “Should you stop using public toilets?

  1. Kateryna Okhrimchuk

    Reading your blog was actually such a relief because I’ve hated public bathrooms ever since I was a little kid! They always seemed so disgusting to me, and I’ve definitely had the appeal to authority problem where my parents told me they were dirty so I believed them. That being said, though, me being grossed out by public bathrooms has never stopped me from using them because I know there are so many risks associated with holding it in. According to this article,, your bladder can only hold about 15 ounces of liquid, and holding in your pee can cause you bladder to stretch. And as girls, we have to worry about things like urinary tract infections, which can develop as a result of holding it in for too long, so reading that public restrooms aren’t as bad as most of us believed them to be is really refreshing.

  2. Thomas Tatem Moore

    This is a very good post that I found very interesting. I also had a dislike of public toilets and would often avoid them, and wait until I got home. I never knew why I thought this and I liked how you laid out some of the possible reasons people believe this. I can see how the first reason you described where someone of authority explained something they disliked about public toilets. I am sure this came up in a class with a teacher, or a conversation with a parent, or other family member. Additionally I was frequently told the uncleanliness of other parts of a bathroom such as the door handle or the handle of the sink. Here is a study I found which described the dirtiness of door handles in more than just bathrooms.

  3. Anna Strahle

    I completely agree with you! Since I can remember, my family has always gone on long car trips, so it would be a very big problem for me if I were the type of person who chose to hold it rather than just suck it up and use a public restroom. I do think that your point about the appeal to authority is correct because I just did what my parents told me to. I followed in their footsteps; they used a public restroom, so so did I. But I can also see the other side to it. If my parents had told me to not use public restrooms, I probably would have gotten into the habit of holding it. According to Everyday Health, our skin is a very strong barricade that the germs would have to fight through in order to get us sick. The only easy way in is if you have some sort of open wound that is coming in contact with the surface. In that case, I think it’s safe to say that it won’t do us any harm if we occasionally have to use a public restroom.

  4. Asaad Saleh Salim Al Busaidi

    your topic has sure grabbed my attention, as I always question the cleanness of public bathrooms and try not to use them when not necessary. I also liked how you explained how some confounding variables were ruled out and how confirmation bias could have affected our view of public toilets. However, I think that people have this view because it seems “logical” and uncomplicated. Furthermore, Andrew has also mentioned in class that door handles could be dangerous because everyone who goes to the bathroom will touch it, even if he/she did not wash his/her hands, which could suggest that there could be another confounding variables such as people tendency to wash their hands after they go to bathroom. In addition, I think that you should have included more detail on the results of the study you included. Overall, I liked how explain the important element of the post and how you pointed out the weaknesses of the study. I did a research on this topic and I found an article that explains how sitting on the toilet does not make you sick (link is provided in the end).

  5. Julia R Martini

    This is a really good post! You added information we discussed in class and used good studies! I love how you immediately grab the readers attention with the headline. Actually this year I had to present a speech on a paradox encomium and I chose public bathroom as my topic. It was really hard to write about at first but after a while it got so easy to talk about how great public bathrooms really are.
    This article grabbed my attention since I did do an assignment on public bathrooms. It’s very interesting, you should read it.

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