Talking on Your Cell – in the Bathroom? (Survey Says Most of Us Do)

If you’re not an offender, you’ve definitely seen or heard it: A conversation happening right in the next stall and they’re not talking to you – or anyone else in the bathroom for that matter.

According to a recent survey of 1000 Americans conducted by the marketing company 11Mark, 75 percent of people admitted to using their cell phone on the commode. Of those, 63 percent said they’ve taken a call, while 41 percent said they placed one. The bad WC etiquette may be a potential health hazard.

“It’s not a good hygienic practice to use your cell in the bathroom,” says Holly Atkinson, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation. “You risk contaminating it with disease-causing pathogens.” A number of studies have documented not only the wide range of pathogens found in public bathrooms, but also that cell phones can carry these organisms and may contribute to the spread of infections.

While it’s true that germs are everywhere, there are several simple ways to reduce to your risk of getting sick without getting Howard Hughes paranoid.

For one, leave your phone in your purse or pocket rather than clutch it in your hands while doing your business. This will keep your cell from picking up organisms that spray in the air when you flush. Also, don’t place your cell on the sink or floor in any restroom. A study from the University of Colorado, published last November, found 19 different bacteria phyla (or divisions) in 12 different public bathrooms, some on the floors, some on the toilet surfaces and some on the surfaces touched by the hands (e.g., sinks, faucets, etc.). Vaginal-associated bacteria were, as you might imagine, more prevalent in the ladies’ rooms.

Once your cell phone becomes a carrier, it’s easy for the organisms to get on your fingers, which ultimately can make it back to your eyes, nose or mouth, says Atkinson, because we all touch our face numerous times a day. Well, that gives new meaning to the phrase “potty mouth”. So it’s just as important to keep your cell as clean as your hands (good ol’ soap and tepid water works just fine for your digits). Apple recommends wiping down a turned-off iPhone with a soft, slightly damp lint-free cloth. Check other mobile companies’ websites for instructions on how to clean their devices.

For more advice on how to stay germ-free in other public places, like the gym, check out this video on our HealthiNation YouTube channel:


Flores GE, Bates ST, Knights D, Lauber CL, Stombaugh J, Knight R, Fierer N. Microbial biogeography of public restroom surfaces. PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e28132. Epub 2011 Nov 23.


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