Most of us enter public bathrooms with caution. You probably wipe down the toilet seat, do your best to touch as few surfaces as possible, wash your hands thoroughly, and use your paper towel to open the door handle to exit. All that carefulness is not without cause—there’s no doubt that bathrooms are generally germy places.
But what about the bathrooms in your own home? Chances are, you don’t exercise quite the same level of caution each time you head in to go to bathroom, take a shower or brush your teeth. And yet, the bathroom in your house can potentially hold as many germs as a public restroom.
“Thanks to daily bathing or showering—possibly by several family members—your bathroom can retain a lot of moisture,” says Smitha Gudipati, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Henry Ford Health. “And bacteria love moist environments in which they can thrive.”
Here’s a guide to where the most germs are lurking in your bathroom, and how to keep them from getting your family sick.
The Truth About The Toilet
There are plenty of things in your home that can spread bacteria, but some are undoubtedly worse than others. “The main thing everyone worries about is the toilet,” says Dr. Gudipati. “And that makes sense since it is where we deposit our waste.”
It’s true that fecal bacteria (which can spread stomach bugs) hang out on toilet seats, lids and handles. In fact, according to Dr. Gudipati, the average toilet seat harbors over 200,000 colony-forming units of bacteria. But the main worry about the toilet is what happens every time you flush it. “The pressure causes micro-particles of bacteria to shoot up and they can land on surfaces all over the bathroom,” she says. “Put the lid down before you flush to help prevent that spread.”
The Germiest Items In The Bathroom
It might sound like the toilet is the worst germ offender in the bathroom, but that’s actually not the case. Things that are touched frequently—such as door handles, faucets and toilet handles—normally hold onto lots of germs (including the bacteria that cause staph and coliform infections). But things that stay damp are actually the worst offenders.
“Bacteria, yeast and mold love a moist area, like the shower curtain,” says Dr. Gudipati. “Whether it’s plastic or cloth, it can hold onto bacteria and, in damper climates, even grow mold. The shower curtain harbors more bacteria than anything else in your bathroom, with up to 16 million colony-forming units.”
Wipe down plastic curtains with antibacterial cleanser at least once a week and wash cloth ones in hot water. To help your bathroom dry out better between showers, crack the window and leave the bathroom door open.
Toothbrushes are another danger zone, especially if you store them in a cup. “The toothbrush gets wet and then it sits in a moist environment,” says Dr. Gudipati. Keep the handles free from bacteria by washing the brush holder frequently and drying off the toothbrush handle after using it. And according to the American Dental Association, you should replace your toothbrush (or the head of an electric brush) every three months.
Tips For Keeping Bathroom Bacteria At Bay
In order to wipe away germs, disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily and give the bathroom a thorough cleaning at least once a week. That should include scrubbing the tub and toilet bowl as well as handles and other surfaces. Dr. Gudipati also suggests swapping out the bath towels about once a week—more frequently in damp climates where the towels may not ever dry fully.
And last, but not least, never leave the bathroom without washing your hands thoroughly. That is the best way to prevent the spread of bacteria and illness.
To find a physician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.
Dr. Smitha Gudipati is an infectious disease specialist at Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.