How sanitary are the insides of public toilets?
March 17, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Am I being germophobic about the public toilet in my office? (possibly gross details within)

I recently moved from working in a smaller office with a couple of private, one-person bathrooms to a corporate building with hundreds of employees and a single public bathroom on my floor with several urinals and stalls. They're busy bathrooms. I have a nervous stomach and at least 2 or 3 times a week get severe stomach cramps and have to poop.

Here's my problem: I'm tall. When I sit down, my penis rests against the inside of the front of the bowl unless I push it down by hand. But it's hard to wipe up after and prevent it from touching the sides of the bowl accidentally. Plus, pushing it down by hand means it usually dips into the toilet water. Can't have that either.

Is having one's penis rest against the inside of a public toilet bowl (not the seat) a big deal? Am nervous about getting an STD or picking up an infection or anything else from the toilet. Is that likely? Typically, how clean is the inside of a public toilet? I've been trying to place a wad of toilet paper between it and the bowl, but that doesn't always work. What else should I do? Anything? Obviously I can't wash my junk in the sink after I exit the stall. Have considered carrying antibacterial wipes or gel to wipe up after, but would that be ridiculous and neurotic?

Please help!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you know how often the toilets are cleaned? Probably more often than the toilet in your house. And yeah, it's used a lot more often than your own toilet too, but still.

Using an antibacterial wipe afterward is harmless though, and if it gives you a little peace of mind you should probably go ahead. While I would consider it excessive for me personally, there are times when I probably would have used one if I happened to have one handy.

Are you sure you're sitting far enough back on the toilet? I know the instinct is to center your body perfectly over the water, but you may have a few more inches of leeway back there than you think.
posted by hermitosis at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2011

This is why you have an immune system.

Do your business, then get up and wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards. In my opinion, yes you are being germophobic.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:16 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Generally if I sit down on a toilet I push my penis down into the bowl not letting it touch anything (I keep my hand on it so you could prevent it touching the water I'm sure), I urinate, then pull it out and close my legs a little (narrow stance!) so it rests on top of my legs while I do the rest of my business.
posted by skinnydipp at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2011

I basically do what skinnydipp does.

I am not a germaphobe by any means and am comfortable using the public washroom, but yeah. The penis does not make direct contact with toilet bowl. I do not know how rational this is, but it weirds me out.
posted by utsutsu at 9:36 AM on March 17, 2011

IANA penis-owner, but couldn't you hold on to it while you sit? Cradle it with your left hand, wipe with your right.

You probably don't need to worry about getting an infection, and definitely not an STD, but it does sound unpleasant and grody.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2011

From what I understand, the germs that cause most STDs don't survive for long when exposed to the air, so even if something got onto the inside of a toilet seat it'd die within a few minutes anyway. So you're probably fine.

Also: it honestly never occurred to me that "where do I put my penis when I sit down to take a crap" could even be an issue for men.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on March 17, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'm in an inventive frame of mind this morning, so later, if you see my "Gentlemen's Package Holder" infomercial, you can nod knowingly to yourself.

I don't have a penis, so I can't offer any style or technique advice, but I do have a pocket-sized pack of wet wipes. They're cheap and often in the travel/sample section at the drugstore. You could use one as a shield, or for discreet cleanup afterwards. I wouldn't worry that it seems ridiculous -- if you're still in the stall, it's nobody's business what you wipe and what you wipe with. Even a paper towel from the dispenser would work.

Is there a Free Cowboy Hat dispenser in there? The way the holes in paper toilet cover seats are cut leaves them with a bit of a flap at one side, which you could arrange to the front of the bowl.

Yeah, the toilet gets frequently cleaned, but what does that mean? Somebody put chemical cleaner on or near it, rubbed a gross and undoubtedly historical brush on it, and flushed the suds. Frankly, I wouldn't want to dab my meatus on the bleach OR the dirty toilet bowl.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:46 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not germophobic, but I don't let my penis touch either the water or the bowl, at all.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 11:52 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nding inkowizbirfmark... to which i add that regular use of antibacterial products (containing actual antibiotic drugs as opposed to alcohol or hydrogen peroxide) can lead to seriously nasty drug resistant infections for you and your community. so don't so that.
posted by paradroid at 12:04 PM on March 17, 2011

For anyone penis-less:

Sometimes you pee a bit while you're pooping. If you rest it on your penis on your lap, and poop, and it's the kind of poop where you pee, you will have pee in your lap at best, and pee on your pants/shoes at worst.

If it's possible to keep a hand on it while pooping, kind of pushing it into limbo between the side of the bowl and the water, I'd do that. If that's not possible, you might just need to take a deep breath and accept its presence against the side of the bowl.
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:24 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

IDHAP (I Don't Have A Penis), but if I did, I would not want my junk touching any part of a public toilet -- no way, no how! -- no matter how clean someone else insisted it was. Wrap your sausage in toilet paper before you sit down; that way, any germs (real or imaginary) will touch the paper -- which you can flush -- instead of you.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2011

I think you're probably too germophobic. If the bathrooms are fairly well maintained (let's say cleaned at least once a day) the part your penis is touching will likely have less germs than your toothbrush in your bathroom at home.
Didn't Mythbusters do an episode on this a while ago? But I've seen data on this elsewhere as well. Usually people's toothbrushes have more fecal bacteria on them than their toilet seats.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:21 PM on March 17, 2011

Hairy Lobster: " Didn't Mythbusters do an episode on this a while ago? But I've seen data on this elsewhere as well. Usually people's toothbrushes have more fecal bacteria on them than their toilet seats."

Yep! But the OP's question isn't about toilet seats, it's about the inside of the bowl.
posted by zarq at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2011

Urine is sterile. It contains waste products and unused salts but no bacteria. Wash with soap routinely, you'll be fine. If you could get sexually-transmitted diseases from something other than having sex with somebody, they wouldn't be called sexually-transmitted diseases, you know? They'd just be called "diseases".

I have nothing to add to beyond that, but I would like to flag IANAPO and IDHAPBIID as the Acronyms Of The Year.
posted by mhoye at 6:30 PM on March 17, 2011

I am not germophobic, but I don't let my penis touch either the water or the bowl, at all.

Seconded. Also, gross, gross, gross.

Solution. Hang onto Mr. Johnson or take a few squares of toilet tissue and make a small nest (*) for it to wait in.

(*) Using the word nest for this make my skin crawl.

Urine is sterile. It contains waste products and unused salts but no bacteria.

In a healthy person. Pretty sure someone with a UTI won't have sterile urine. And poop definitely isn't, and that's what's inside the toilet bowl.
posted by gjc at 6:53 PM on March 17, 2011

@mhoye: Urine is NOT sterile. One of my pet peeves is when people trot this myth out.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:54 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Augh! Yes, do something to keep it from touching the sides of the bowl! Some of us put those in our mouths, you know!
posted by socket wench at 7:51 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Luckyseven: while your link to some random crank is certainly impressive, Medline (provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine) says otherwise I admit, though, that there are some conditionals involved - the article on urinary tract infections, for example, says "Normally, urine is sterile. It is usually free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi but does contain fluids, salts, and waste products", but does say that in the case of UTIs, the urine may not be so.

Further, it's also true that while urine does not generally contain bacteria, as the waste products and nitrates you secrete begin to break down urine can become an excellent breeding ground for bacteria.

Nevertheless, I stand by my claims that (1) by and large as long as he's washing properly our anonymous questioner has nothing to really worry about, and (2) that IANAPO and IDHAPBIID really are the Acronyms Of The Year.
posted by mhoye at 7:54 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Huh, did I get that link wrong?

Tragic. Well, the point stands.
posted by mhoye at 8:00 PM on March 17, 2011

On the Topic of Urine Sterility (a common sub-genre of the Humanities, as I understand it), a doctor, a microbiologist, and Dan Savage weigh in during the last part of the column of this article.

Summarized: urine is sterile until it leaves the body, but bacteria on the skin could definitely contaminate it (albeit in trace amounts).
posted by alexandermatheson at 1:13 AM on March 18, 2011

cool - this has answered the different question I've spoken about with friends a few times... "how do American blokes stop their junk from dangling in the water?"... because if you come from a country where the plumbing isn't filled to the brim, US toilets are a surprise...
posted by russm at 6:15 AM on March 18, 2011

@mhoye, your link isn’t supporting your point.

And I should clarify mine: once urine leaves the body, it is no longer sterile (please see alexandermatheson’s link with the quote from a microbiologist). I didn’t think it was necessary to state the obvious, since we are talking about public toilets here.

Sorry if the link I posted offended you; I thought it was kinda funny, but after re-reading it, I can see how it got your hackles up because of the guy’s insulting tone. I wasn’t trying to imply that you’re an ignorant person. Peace.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:25 PM on March 18, 2011

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