Protecting ourselves from germs on public restroom door handles

In the last few years, I’ve noticed my colleagues at work performing a germ-defeating ritual as they leave the public restroom at our office. After completing their business and washing their hands, instead of throwing away the paper towel they’ve used to dry their hands, they carry it with them and use it to open the bathroom door as they go out into the hallway. This has become so common that we now now have an additional wastebasket near the exit for them to deposit the paper towels as they leave (involving a bit of gentle gymnastics).

While I normally figure “live and let live”, this particular habit really annoys me. I think it doesn’t really accomplish anything and that it just illustrates Americans’ germ paranoia.

So I’m asking: Is there any real benefit to doing this? I’m all for good hygiene, and I don’t doubt that there are germs aplenty in daily life, but if they’re such a big problem, wouldn’t we notice people getting sick a lot less now that we have antibacterial soap and all these germ-avoidance techniques?

I’m having a hard time locating any reliable information on the subject. (In fairness, a 1999 SD column says “Despite what some believe, however, doorknobs and handles in public restrooms are relatively clean.”

stwidgie, Chicagoland

Think of that 6 year old who used the restroom just before you, who wiped his butt after some diarrhetic event, using one dimunitive piece of 1 ply TP, bypass the handwashing, and used same hand to open the same door to exit that you are now using to exit.

WAG…Were you just leaving the restroom to go to lunch?

There is a woman who works with me that walks into the restroom, into the stall, does her business, and walks straight out of the bathroom after she’s done, every day, multiple times/day. I don’t wanna touch that doorknob, and I stay away from other stuff she handles, too.

Yeah, I get it—germs are everywhere. But germs aside, I just don’t really want her butt-function particles on my hands, ya know?

Uses a Towel to Open the Door Every Time

No bathroom near where I am has a door handle, so I just push it open with my elbow after I leave. Regardless, I think most people’s immune systems can handle a little bit of dirtiness now and then.

A little Google digging gave this page on the unfortunately named PoopReport:

Seems like they aren’t any more dirty than other public items.

Honestly dont, it is better to touch and and then lick your hand afterward. Ever notice the people who are always sick are the same ones who take all these measures to protect them self. The more you do to protect yourself the weaker you will be, your body should build up a immunity. I mean why do you have to wash your hands after you go pee but not after you use an ATM? or after you use a public bank pen? People worry to much about germs.

Are these the same people that follow the 5 second rule about dropped food?

Leaving aside the rather uncommon nature of your example, the same 6 year old is going to touch a lot of other things that you’ll probably also come into contact with. Granted, the door handle is a known one, but if the risk is so damn scary, you’d better not touch anything.

Well, I try not to touch much stuff in public. I’m no Howie Mandel, but I’m still aware of the amount of bacteria on things like bathroom handles, escalator rails and shopping carts, so I avoid touching those things as much as possible (the shopping cart thing I remedy because the store I use has a container of clorox handy-wipes by the front door for wiping carts.)

FTR, I hate bathrooms with hand dryers and no paper towels.

Maybe to some I’m a bit neurotic, but…oh well. I’m not one of those people who won’t shake your hand, or even one that carries around hand sanitizer in his pocket.

I think the OP is asking whether there’s any sound basis for this (apparently somewhat common) policy.

When you consider the state of public sanitation for the first 200,000 years or so of human existence (i.e. until about 100 years ago) the answer would seem to be that an extreme concern with asepsis is not vital for survival.

It is impossible to avoid most common germs, including fecal coliform bacteria.

It’s likely the ones that end up biting you in the a$$ were not directly from someone else’s a$$ but came to you courtesy of some intermediary fomite. However it is also reasonable to assume that folks with intact immune systems retain more vigorous immunity by constant modest exposure to pathogens, including bathroom door handles.

People with weakened immune systems (low white cells; chronic diseases, etc) are more or less screwed and will eventually get sick. Whether they can live in such a clean bubble that they never get sick is debatable but unlikely. People with really serious immunodeficiencies frequently end up succumbing to germs from their own body.

It is true that you might get salmonella from a recently deposited glob of filth that you touched. What’s not true is that you can avoid filth to any reasonable degree, and what is also true is that those who manage to do so have what we in medicine refer to as “naive” immune systems and get sicker more easily when they do come in contact with stuff.

The Europeans’ most potent weapon in decimating New World populations was new germs foisted on those who had (figuratively speaking) never touched filthy bathroom handles contaminated by Old World pathogens.

Having said all that, wash your hands thoroughly, wouldya? It’s still disgusting not to.

I’m much less afraid of the door handle than the toilet handle. People touch those right after god-knows-what, and they’re probably never cleaned.

From 1915 to 1997, the maternal mortality rate dropped almost 99%.

Since I own what is legally considered a restaraunt…at least by the health department, we are legally a retail store according to city planning…I have to do this. I got used to doing it working in a hospital anyway, so it wasn’t hard to get back into the habit.

The trash can is supposed to be located next to the door in a bathroom for this very reason.

You wash your hands, turn off the water with the paper towl, then cary that towl with you to the door and open the door with it, tossing it in the can as you go. i find myself doing this at most public places out of habit.
Yes, you touch lots of stuff that people who didn’t wash handled, but not so soon after. The little critters have a lifespan after all. I’d rather look paranoid then make someone sick. We also of course have two dedicated hand sinks.

I don’t worry about the toilet handle, because I am going to wash my hands right after anyway.

To which respectfully say: :rolleyes:

How do you get into your place of work everyday? There’s probably more hands that touch that than what touches the bathroom door.

Taking ordinary precautions has served me just fine.

That metal doorknob is an excellent conductor of temperature, and unless it’s constantly groped, it’s probably close to room temperature. Any germs normally deposited on it that have a habit of living inside somebodies colon are probably not going to like being chilled by about 15 degrees and dessicated in a matter of seconds. Will they?

Personally, I worry more about what I’m touching on the commuter train, the door handles to main building entrances, handrails on stairs and excalators and - worst of all - elevator buttons.

Since apparently no one ever touches the bathroom door with their flesh anymore I’ve stopped worrying about it - since no one touches it, it’s probably one of the cleaner surfaces in the office.

I really think we Americans have gone way overboard with the clean paranoia. I work in a 24-hour office where many desks are shared across shifts. Many employees, when arriving for their shift, go through a complete sanitation ritual of their work space, including keyboard and telephone as well as all surface areas, as if the person who used it last may have carried a hotbed of diseases.

I think we’re lucky that there are so many scenarios that we can’t control, else our immune systems would pack up and leave. I’m a firm believer in “use it or lose it.” I just don’t feel the need to disinfect behind my co-workers or use a paper towel to open a bathroom door. I probably pick up more germs on public transportation or in a shopping mall than I ever could in an office building.

While there are germs we do need to protect against, we’re made of strong enough stuff to handle the average bacteria we run into on a daily basis.


Not to mention people flush toilets with their dirty shoes!

Have you ever seen one of these paranoid people with latex gloves? That seems like it would make a hell of a lot more sense than trying to mess around with the paper towels. You could put them on before you even enter the bathroom, and then you wouldn’t even need to wash your hands.