Public restroom soap may be dirtier than toilet water

Everyone should wash their hands after using the restroom, right? However, a team of scientists says the hygienic practice may not be as clean as thought – that’s because the hand soap in 25 percent of public restrooms may could be dirty – even more contaminated than toilet water.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that microbiologists at GOJO Industries say that contaminated soap oftentimes contains so much fecal matter that it leaves your hands dirtier than before you washed them. GOJO says there could be so much bacteria in the soap that coming in contact with it could lead to vomiting, fever, diarrhea or pink eye.

"It was disgusting," University of Arizona professor Charles P. Gerba said of the GOJO study, which was published in the Journal of Environmental Health. "We didn't find any new life forms, but we found plenty of coliform bacteria. I never dreamed there could be so many bacteria in soap."

Gerba says that one soap supplier analyzed in the study had a 30 gallon tank of soap that "at the bottom was a half-inch of slime."

Of course, as the inventors of Purell hand sanitizer, GOJO does have a stake in the soap game. Their study, part of an effort to encourage end the use of bulk soap dispensers, said the bacteria is formed from airborne contaminents that come in contact with the soap when containers are refilled. Instead, the company says public restrooms should use sealed soap dispensers that have been proven to block bacterial contamination.

However, Nicole Koharik, the company’s global sustainability and marketing director, said its about changing the industry standard rather than pure profit motivation for her company. "GOJO isn't the only manufacturer of sealed (soap) systems," Koharik told the paper"This will help drive sales for our competitors as well, and we're fine with that. This is about motivating change."

For their study, GOJO researchers tested more than 500 soap sampled collected from public restrooms in health clubs, restaurants and retail stores in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio.

GOJO said contaminated containers held about 1,000 times the recommended bacteria levels based on industry standards.

Based on the results from the study GOJO microbiology scientist Dave Shumaker said an individual could leave a restroom with 25 times more bacteria on their hands than before they first walked in.

Even more disturbing, the study found that attempting to clean the soap dispensers, even when using bleach, made little to no difference over time. "Within two weeks, the soap inside the dispenser was just as contaminated as before the cleaning," Shumaker said.

"You could end up going into a public restroom and coming out dirtier than you were before," he told the Plain Dealer.