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Study: Women's restrooms more contaminated than men's 2:1

September 19, 2010
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A study conducted by the University of Arizona confirmed what most cleaning managers already suspected: In a variety of locations, including airports and bus terminals, female restrooms have more contamination than their male counterparts.

In fact, according to Professor Charles Gerba, a microbiologist who conducted the study, in frequency of total coliform occurrence, women out-do men nearly two to one in all areas.

It should also come as no surprise that feminine hygiene disposals had the highest isolation of Escherichia coli (E. coli), a sure sign of potential contamination.

Case in point

The purpose of Gerba’s study, conducted by the university’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, was to determine “occurrence of microbial hotspots in public restrooms”.

Testing was conducted in 47 restrooms — 27 for females and 20 for males — sampling 28 sites in women’s restrooms and 31 sites in men’s.

Most surprising, perhaps, for the general public — although not necessarily for maintenance superintendents — is the study’s finding that male restrooms had “1.5 times less total coliform contamination, and that female restrooms were contaminated with E. coli to a much greater extent.”

Again, the sanitary napkin disposal ranked among the highest in coliform contamination, along with the sink, toilet and floor.

Three of those areas — the feminine hygiene disposal, toilet, and sink basin drain — were found to have coliform bacteria “more than 50 percent of the time.”

As for E coli isolation, the sanitary napkin disposal ranked the highest, followed by sink drains.

Coliforms were found frequently on mops, especially those used in restrooms of fast-food restaurants.

Professor Gerba noted that those restrooms, which fared well in the survey, appear to have been cleaned at least once a day.

What it means to cleaners

What constituted an excellent restroom? The U of A study listed the following requirements:

  • No debris or standing water on any surface
  • No odors of mildew, feces or urine
  • Toilet seats free of spots of human waste
  • Floors clean of garbage, such as dis- carded paper towels or food particles
  • Sinks free of human hair or other matter.

The study’s findings have obvious implications for clean-up personnel. Brenda Metz, supervisor of the custodial department of Ohio’s growing Akron/Canton Airport, said the facility recently installed hands-free feminine hygiene disposal units, and converted to a hands-free, battery-operated towel dispenser that does not require the user to pull on the towels in order to extract them.

Metz said the units have made restroom cleaning more sanitary, because her staff never has to empty the sanitary-napkin disposal units. She added that the full receptacle is in a metal container that is replaced with another stainless steel container, so her staff never has to touch the contents when the containers are exchanged — and that means a safer, healthier environment.

Excellence, as described in the Arizona study, is very achievable without exposing your personnel to risk. The best examples are public restrooms in hospitals, which the study found were the least contaminated.

We should demand no less.

Russell Parry is the president of Hygienic Systems Ltd., Canton, OH (, a provider of Cannon Hygiene and other hands-free sanitary products for public restrooms.

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