Public restrooms are a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and microorganisms. Proper handwashing can help combat some transmission, but high-touch surfaces are a popular avenue for contracting and carrying bacteria. Knowing the concentration of harmful organisms in these areas can be shocking.  

High-touch surfaces include door handles, faucets, towel dispensers, garbage cans, and toilet stall items. The more often an object comes in contact with hands, the higher chance of transmission is possible. 

Contributing Factors for Contamination Spread 

High-touch surfaces in public restrooms contribute to how bacteria spread from person to person. However, the severity of contamination for these specific areas will vary due to several elements. 

  • The time of day of samples taken
  • The type of restroom: men’s, women’s, unisex 
  • The high-touch surface material: metal, plastic, or other 
  • The shape of a frequently-handled object 
  • The cleaning process and accompanying supplies 

These factors will determine the concentration of bacteria and the potential hazard for transmission. Although pathogens may exist in other surfaces of a public restroom, the high-touch areas are places of concern due to skin contact. 

Time of Day

Contamination samples of high-touch surfaces in public restrooms will typically contain fewer bacteria and microorganisms earlier in the day or shortly after a thorough cleaning. Therefore, to conclude accurate readings, samples should reflect varying times of the day. 

Type of Restroom

On average, a men’s restroom will contain a higher concentration of bacteria and microorganisms on high-touch surfaces when compared to women’s restrooms. However, unisex or mobility-accessible restrooms will also carry more bacteria transmission chances than women’s options.  

Surface Material 

Surface materials may hinder or promote bacteria growth, depending on the environment. Antimicrobial plastics and ceramics are currently used in many circumstances to prevent the adhesion of microorganisms to these surfaces. 

Shape of Object 

Several studies conclude that various shapes can affect how well bacteria and microorganisms remain on an object. Typically, handles harbor more harmful bacteria, while knobs show significantly less during sample tests. However, the reasoning is yet to be determined. 

Cleaning Processes 

The cleaning process can directly impact how much contamination remains on high-touch surfaces in public restrooms. Inadequate cleaning products or reusing contaminated products, like sponges and rags, can spread more microorganisms rather than rid areas of them. 

Various Bacteria and Microorganism Contaminants  

Many common strains of bacteria and microorganisms are prevalent on common high-touch surfaces in public restrooms, coming from various samples. The harmful pathogens found in active and significant concentrations include: 

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Citrobacter freundii
  • Enterobacter cloacae
  • Rahnella aquatilis
  • Shigella sonnei
  • Pantoea sp3

Staphylococcus Aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is one of the more prevalent strains of bacteria found on high-touch surfaces in public restrooms. It typically shows as a skin infection and is easily treatable. However, some strains of staphylococcus pathogens are antibiotic-resistant, making them challenging to treat.

Staphylococcus bacteria can reside in healthy individuals around the mucus membranes, including the nose, eyes, and mouth, without causing illness. However, transmission can occur to immune-compromised individuals, posing life-threatening sickness. 

Citrobacter Freundii

Citrobacter freundii is a common bacteria that cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), which, when left untreated, can evolve into intestinal infections or meningitis. This pathogen is more diverse than other common bacterial strains, making it difficult to isolate and handle, especially in individuals who are immune-comprimised. 

Enterobacter Cloacae

Enterobacter cloacae are responsible for many illnesses, including respiratory infections, UTIs, soft-tissue infections, endocarditis, and more. However, it commonly presents in individuals with shortness of breath, coughing, and irregular chest x-rays. 

Rahnella Aquatilis

Rahnella aquatilis resides in water as its natural habitat. Consequently, corresponding illnesses from contamination of this bacteria include respiratory infections, sepsis, wound and urinary tract infections, and other severe issues in immune-compromised individuals. 

Shigella Sonnei

Shigella sonnei bacteria causes shigellosis infection. Affected individuals may experience abdominal cramping, fever, and diarrhea. Although the recovery time is relatively short for many people and does not often require antibiotics, immune-compromised individuals should obtain treatment with shigellosis infection. 

Pantoea SP3

Pantoea sp3 is a plant pathogen common to cause disease and illness in humans. It is typically transmittable through wood splinters in fingers or thorns. Although many cases of Pantoea sp3 skin laceration infections are mild, without treatment and care, it can cause endocarditis in some individuals with pre-existing conditions. 

Minimizing Contamination of High-Touch Surfaces in Public Restrooms 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), proper handwashing can help minimize illness, including respiratory infections, diarrhea, gastrointestinal sickness, and others. However, even with the correct handwashing technique, high-touch surfaces can still harbor bacteria and microorganisms, enabling individuals to contract the bacteria and carry it after leaving a restroom. 

Although handwashing will eliminate the majority of bacteria from the hands, it is not 100% effective. Using a paper towel to turn off water faucets and open doors to avoid skin contact is best to prevent contamination from a public restroom.