Never Touch This One Thing in a Public Restroom

Avoid public bathrooms whenever possible, but if you have no choice, steer clear of this one thing.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, you probably had a pretty clear sense that most public restrooms aren't exactly shining examples of cleanliness and good hygiene. But now that the coronavirus has completely changed how we go about our daily lives, using any bathroom that isn't your own might be even less appealing than ever before. That said, at some point you'll inevitably have to pay a visit to a public restroom. And when you do, make sure to avoid using—or even getting near—the hand dryers you see in most restrooms. Why? According to more than one study, high-powered air dryers have been shown to disperse viruses and other bacteria up to 9 feet.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers had participants wash their hands while wearing gloves that were covered in a harmless virus called a bacteriophage. They were then asked to dry their hands using one of three methods: paper towels, a warm air dryer, and a high-powered air dryer. The results showed that the high-powered air dryer spread a significantly higher quantity of the virus than either of the other two hand-drying methods—up to 3 meters (over 9 feet).

Young man in public restroom

What's more, a 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that while high-powered air dryers were by far the most effective hand-drying method for removing bacteria from a person's hands, they're also the most powerful spreaders of germs. "Although jet air dryers were shown to be superior in removing bacteria, in terms of the effect on cross-contamination, jet air and warm air dryers increase bacterial aerosolisation from the hands," the study said.

RELATED: For more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Outside of forgoing public bathrooms altogether, microbiologist Ali Nouri, president of the Federation of American Scientists, says there are some best practices when you do have to answer nature's call when you're out and about. He told CNN that if you have them, wear disposable rubber gloves, but if not, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly and use paper towels—not an air dryer!—to dry them. And when that's done? Get the heck out of there!

"You don't want to sit down and read the comics," Nouri told CNN. And for more tips on staying safe when you leave your home, check out 7 Things Doctors Warn You Not to Do When You Go Out in Public.

Filed Under