home News A culture-independent examination of microbes in public restrooms

A culture-independent examination of microbes in public restrooms

July 23 2008 025 Family BathroomAs soon as I heard about this story I figured there was going to be a lot of scare-mongering news coverage about all the scary things waiting to ambush you in public restrooms.  But in fact, most of what I read was quite reasonable and gave this well-done study a fair shake.

This study, from the group of Noah Fierer at the University of Colorado Boulder, looked at microbes from different places in public restrooms.   Not surprisingly, they found that the floor contained the most unusual species (presumably tracked in from elsewhere) and that female-associated microbes were found in the women’s bathroom.  But they also found that the toilet handles often contained floor-associated microbes (evidence that some people flush with their feet) and that the vast majority of microbes in the bathroom came from people (as opposed to say tap water).

I think the best description of the study was this article in Scientific American by Rob Dunn (who we just blogged about here).   Here is the original study in PLOS One.

My only issue with this study is that they didn’t do any comparison to a non-public restroom.  People might conclude from this work that there are tons of microbes in public restrooms and not in their own (potentially less well-cleaned) bathroom.


David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter

One thought on “A culture-independent examination of microbes in public restrooms

  1. “Well-cleaned restrooms…” So, this raises questions about the chemicals used to clean the restrooms and the health effects associated with exposure to those chemicals. One pathologist’s clean may be a toxicologist’s nightmare. As with all the trade-offs in the indoor environment, ‘it depends.’

    What’s in your bathroom?

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