Regularly cleaning your bathroom is essential (even better if it's with these safe cleaning products), but you might be inadvertently spreading germs around the house through some not-so-great bathroom habits.
"Because the bathroom is often perceived as the germiest room in the home, it tends to get the greatest amount of attention when it comes to cleaning," says Charles Gerba, PhD, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona who is often referred to by his nickname, Dr. Germ.
But a freshly scrubbed toilet and sink are just part of the equation, he adds. "While the most attention in the bathroom is focused on surfaces, what's most important beyond surface cleaning is hand hygiene."
Here, Gerba shares some of the most common mistakes people make in the bathroom that up their risk of spreading germs—plus easy fixes to stay germ-free.
Scrolling through the phone on the toilet
You probably already know without being told that this is sort of gross. But if you're guilty of this bathroom habit, you're in good company: Even Gabrielle Union admitted to Health that the so-relatable ritual of checking apps like Twitter and Words With Friends from the toilet is her "end-of-the-day treat." Still, you're better off keeping the bathroom a phone-free zone, says Gerba. "Germs, including fecal matter, are released into the air and can land on those surfaces, leading them to spread outside the bathroom.”
Not washing your hands properly
No surprise here: Hand washing is "the most cost-effective and efficient way to prevent getting sick, and the gold standard to getting rid of germs on hands," Gerba tells us. Wash incorrectly, though, and you could bring bathroom germs with you when you walk out the door.
Need a quick refresher? Make sure you're washing your hands with plenty of warm, soapy water for at least 20 to 30 seconds, long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. And don't forget to scrub under your nails, an area that can harbor germs.
Using bar soap
Bar soap may be making a comeback in the beauty world, but when it comes to simple hand washing, stick to liquid formulas that come out of a dispenser. The reason: Bars of soap "collect bacteria when used by multiple people," explains Gerba. "While the soap tray is often cleaned, the soap itself becomes a breeding ground for germs that are easy to pick up and spread." In other words, every time you pick up that sudsy bar, you're enabling more germs to come into contact with your hands instead of expelling them. Gross.
Skipping hand sanitizer.
Although it's no substitute for hand washing, a few spritzes of a hand sanitizer can go a long way in and out of the bathroom, says Gerba. He recommends one that provides up to 24 hours of residual protection with just one application.
Sharing one hand towel for the whole family
Those disposable paper towels in public bathrooms are actually better at controlling the spread of germs than fabric ones you keep in your bathroom at home, says Gerba. For most households, however, installing a paper towel dispenser isn't exactly feasible (not to mention, it would be pretty terrible for the environment). Instead, try to be mindful of how often you switch out hand and face towels—they should be laundered at least once a week, more often if there are small children in the house.
And while there's little you can do about a public bathroom that's equipped with only air dryers, know that those aren't exactly the most hygienic, either: A University of Connecticut study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology earlier this month found that they can disperse bacteria throughout the room, even on just-clean hands (no!). Yet another reason to keep that hand sanitizer stashed in your purse at all times.
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