Keeping your hands clean

I like to keep my hands clean. Literally. Not in the obsessive-compulsive way like those poor folks who feel the need to wash up every fifteen minutes or so. And I donít even mind dirt. Itís the creepy invisible stuff I want to evict. You know Ė germs.

Mostly itís because I donít like to get sick, and hand-washing is the best way to avoid it. The thing is, challenges abound when youíre in a public bathroom. The trick is to avoid touching all the things that are skeevier than whatever it is you just touched that made you want to wash your hands in the first place.

Anything gross that comes from ourselves is bound to be far preferable than something that comes from a stranger.

According to a study from the American Society of Microbiology, about 70% of men and 80% of women wash their hands after using the bathroom. Yes, there are people who study such things. Now, that figure only credits the people who do a good job of it Ė 15 seconds of scrubbing. The "run and rinse" folks get included in the non-washers.

But itís not possible to wash your hands for 15 seconds when you get one of those darn button-type faucets that shuts off by itself after what seems like three seconds.

To exit a public restroom feeling like your hands are clean isnít easy. The ideal public restroom is usually found at a modern airport. There are no doors. You enter through a Z-shaped pattern of walls. Toilets and urinals flush, soap dispenses and faucets turn on by means of an electric eye. The paper towels dispense accordion-style, so you can get in and out without touching anything thatís been touched by someone else.

I did come across a motorized roll-type paper-towel dispenser recently which worked off an electric eye. Unfortunately, to get out of that bathroom, you had to pull on a door handle which, quite possibly, was recently pulled on by someone who didnít wash their hands at all.

The way around this is to use a paper towel to open the door. Savvy proprietors will keep a trash can by the door, lest they end up with a big pile of trash at the entrance.

Iíve seen patrons use other techniques to get out the door, including the elbow maneuver and the pulling-the-coat-sleeve-over-the-hand trick. The latter works best in winter when one is more likely to have coat sleeves. Or even better, gloves.

If those techniques are unavailable, thereís always waiting for someone else to come in --- not a great choice in a bathroom that doesnít see a lot of action. Another Iíve witnessed (and used) is, if the door doesnít quite close all the way, is to grab the edge a foot or two away from the knob.

Thatís when you say to yourself, "Hmm, I bet no oneís tried this trick before. This door edge is as clean as an operating room."

The paper towel to hold the door knob isnít bad, but you canít always get a paper towel.

The hot-air blowers are the worst. Some years back, there was a novelty book called "Snippets", which contained words which should exist, but donít. "Blobiage" was their word for the propaganda on hand dryers which tell you all the reasons they are great (good for the environment, prevents chapping, etc.).

Another bad option are the white cloth towels that run as a continuous loop. Iím not totally sure of this, but it sure seems like the already-used portions are coming back around.

Or how about the paper towel dispensers that will give you one lousy brown square, and then you have to wait 10 seconds before it deigns to give you another one? Or the kind with the little crank geared so it takes about thirty turns to give you twelve inches of paper. And of course, you have to turn that crank bare-handed.

If itís a menís room with a regular toilet where the seat has been left down (my wife does this in our house, makes me crazy. Just kidding), thereís no man in the fifty states who doesnít lift the seat with his foot. And if he can keep his balance, he flushes that way, too.

Thereís a clear hierarchy in the quality of public bathrooms. Airports and nice restaurants are the best. Fast-food restaurants are dicey and often have those hand blowers. Only absolute desperation could get me in one thatís in a bus or on a train. Airplanes arenít too bad if you can keep your feet steady.

Once in a while you can do okay at a gas station, but the sure sign itís not your lucky day is when you have to ask for THE KEY. Yíknow, the one that dangles from a block of wood the size of a cereal box. When you get inside, it sure is a mystery as to why access is so carefully guarded.

So, there you have it. After all this, I wish I could give you some solutions. The best I have is, when on the road, drink less water.


October 7, 2003