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50 Shades of Gross

In the 2011 paper “Microbial Biogeography of Public Restroom Surfaces” Noah Fierer and others found that some of the toilet flush handles had similar microbial communities to those of the restroom floor, suggesting evidence of the germaphobic practice of flushing the toilet with a foot.
I was curious to know if we could find other microbial community footprints, if you will, of germaphobes in public restrooms. So logically, I began researching germaphobic practices. Some of them are just too good not to share! Behold 50 shades of Gross: A guide to Germaphobia! But facepalms aren’t allowed because god forbid your germy hand touches your face…

We recommend you play this appropriately selected music as you read: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otCpCn0l4Wo

  1. Pretend to look at yourself in the mirror and wait for someone else to open the door to a public restroom so you don’t have to touch the door handle.
  2. If riding public transportation, use a toilet plunger suctioned to the ceiling to hold on to instead of touching the bars.
  3. Lysol spray your dog and/or cat.
  4. Wear 2 layers of socks through a TSA checkpoint, so you can throw out the outer layer before putting your shoes back on.
  5. Make sure that your child is the first child of the day to sit on Santa’s lap, only after confirming that his Santa costume was recently washed.
  6. If something has E.Coli on it, it HAS been pooped on.
  7. Just. No. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj-kwAiO05o#t=174
  8. Decorate your home with fake flowers because real flowers need standing water, which breeds terrifying germs such as malaria.
  9. Designate one side of a pillow for when you have just washed your hair, and another for when you haven’t.
  10. When throwing a party, provide individualized snacks to avoid any double-dipping situation or multiple hands reaching into a bowl.
  11. Bring your own pen and stylus to avoid touching any public pens or electronic signature pads.
  12. Take antibiotics any time you or someone in your family thinks they are sick.
  13. Always have a moisturizing hand sanitizer with you, because your hands get really dry after scrubbing them with antibacterial soap.
  14. Use a clump of toilet paper to lock the door behind you when you use a bathroom stall. Repeat with a new piece when you need to unlock it.
  15. Bring disposable gloves with you everywhere you go for instances such as when there is only an air dryer in a single occupancy public restroom.
  16. Bring disinfecting wipes with you everywhere you go for instances such as when someone else uses your keyboard.
  17. When bathing at a friend’s house or a hotel, place a towel in the bottom of the shower so you don’t step on the floor of the shower.
  18. Always have a pre-wrapped straw on hand in case you are eating out at a venue that doesn’t have them.
  19. Wear a surgeon mask when in densely populated public places, especially in airports.
  20. Avoid shaking peoples hands, and have emergency hand sanitizer ready in case it’s unavoidable.
  21. Squat and hover.
  22. Sort mail with tweezers and wear gloves to avoid touching anything that has traveled through the postal system.
  23. Take your own condiments with you to a restaurant with you so you don’t have to touch the same dispensers as other people.
  24. Never use cash and sanitize your credit cards often.
  25. Dispose of any and all dishes that a dog has ever licked.
  26. Use a produce bag on each hand while shopping at the grocery store to avoid touching the shopping cart.
  27. Never set your purse down anywhere in a restroom, but if you must, lay out sheets of toilet paper to set it on.
  28. Use your elbow to get paper towels out of a non-automatic dispenser.
  29. Irradiate your vegetables with a UV lamp.
  30. Only read electronic books on your own personal device because used books (especially library books) are absolutely disgusting.
  31. Use a touchless toothbrush holder that sanitizes with UV light when toothbrush is not in use.
  32. Use only antimicrobial laundry detergents.
  33. Add toilet paper to the water of a public toilet to minimize the chance of any splashing.
  34. If you are at a friend’s house, use the back of a hand towel to dry your hands, as most people will just use the front.
  35. Avoid bar soap, but if you have to use it, only use it once.
  36. Clean out the washing machine with a disinfecting wipe after each use.
  37. Run your washing machine at a high temperature with several disinfecting chemicals once a week.
  38. Press elevator buttons with your elbow.
  39. Use your own purse hook (preferably disposable) to avoid setting your purse down on any public surface.
  40. Bring your own toilet paper everywhere you go…hmmm, BYOTP.
  41. Only drink bottled water.
  42. Over boil, bake, microwave, and/or grill all food.
  43. Demand disposable clips at the dentist for the plastic bib they put on you.
  44. Home school your children to avoid the possibility that your child will play a wind instrument in music class.
  45. Bring disposable bags, extra pre-wrapped silverware, and/or tupperware with you everywhere you go in case someone wants you to share your food with them.
  46. Hold your breath after flushing the toilet until you are at least 5ft away to avoid breathing in airborne particles of germs.
  47. Bring a plastic bag to the gym for your dirty workout clothes so they don’t touch the inside of your gym bag.
  48. Never accept hand-me-downs or shop at goodwill.
  49. Do not lean against any public walls.
  50. SHARING IS NOT CARING. Never share razors, water bottles, food items, cell phones, shoes, bags, towels, or air with anybody else.

Despite the best efforts of all of the germaphobes out there, they are still covered in trillions of microbes. But, in case you’re curious, this is what life would be like if they were somehow successful: https://microbe.net/2014/02/06/imagine-a-sterile-human-life/

Thanks to Madison Dunitz, Hannah Holland-Moritz, Alex Alexiev, and Cassie Ettinger for their contributions to this post!

Katherine Dahlhausen is a PhD student in Jonathan Eisen’s lab interested in the mechanisms and biogeography of antibiotic resistance. Follow her on Twitter @PhDKD



Katherine Dahlhausen

Katie Dahlhausen is a PhD student in Jonathan Eisen’s lab and is interested in the biogeography and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance. Find out more at her Twitter feed .

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