Top 5 Ways to Deal with Public Bathrooms: Tips for Parents

by Samantha on April 16, 2013

“I have to go pee!”

No sooner do those dreaded words leave the lips of your child and you’ve already broken out into a cold sweat.

The thought of entering a public bathroom with your kid is more than you can bear. A relative cesspool of germs - literally - thoughts of the Bubonic Plague and worse swirl around your mind.

“Are you sure?” you ask, hoping for a reprieve. “Can you wait until we get home?!”

Of course the answer is a big fat “NO!” from your child who is now hopping up and down, trying to hold off an imminent deluge, much to your protestations.

Have no fear the next time this scenario presents itself. There are, thankfully, some very simple tips and strategies that parents can use in order to avoid picking up too many of those dreaded germs, diseases and other choice microorganisms that seem to fester in public bathrooms.

public bathroom

Following are the Top 5 Ways to Deal With Public Bathrooms When Out With the Kids

1) Dont touch anything - Make sure to use tissue to open doors before and after leaving the bathroom. Don’t touch the bathroom locks, doors, taps etc. with your bare hands. Flush the toilet with you’re foot. I’m serious.

2) Bring hand sanitizer with you - Apply after washing hands. you may accidentally touch something and no amount of soap and water will make you feel clean. The hand sanitizer is an extra reassurance that you will get our of that place without the a serious illness or disease.

3) Teach your kids not to touch everything and to always wash their hands after every trip to the toilet. Explain to them how diseases are spread in simple terms. Once they get it, they won’t want to touch anything in a public washroom either. Trust me on this.

4) Hover - A must if you’re raising a little girl.  For boys, this may prove to be a necessary skill as well. Failing this or weak thigh muscles, put toilet paper on the seats. By all means, try to avoid contact with the toilet seat whenever possible. I know that experts say that you can’t catch diseases from toilet seats but why take a chance?

5) Make a deposit before you leave the house - Urge your child to go to the bathroom at home. To avoid the nightmare that is often a visit to a public bathroom with your kids, let the little ones get in the habit of going to the toilet before going out to decrease the likelihood of them having to use public facilities. Even if they do have to go when you’re out, it won’t be as bad if they’ve visited the loo before heading out.

So you see, your trip out with the kids doesn’t have to be a stressful and anxiety-producing event. Prepare accordingly by following the tips above and you’ll be good to go.

INFOGRAPHIC: How to Deal with Public Bathrooms: Top 5 Tips For Parents

Bathroom 3

Do you have any additional tips for dealing with kids and public bathrooms? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below!

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

christy garrett April 18, 2013 at 4:16 am

I have tried getting in the habit of using tissue or apaper towel when opening doors in public restrooms but its hard when they only offer air dryers. I do keep a bottle of hand sanatizer in my purse.


Samantha April 18, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I always have some type of tissue or Kleenex in my purse because of having so many kids ;) so it’s fairly easy to try not to touch anything directly with my hands. The more challenging part is getting our kids into the habit of not touching things because it’s in their nature to have their hands all over everything!


Lucy April 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I can never stop my kids touching things, so handwashing is essential!
Also I carry a small face towel in my bag so they can dry their hands - and sanitizer is essential!


Samantha April 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm

It’s never too early to teach kids the importance of hand-washing, is it? :)


Koen May 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm

This was featured on the Lifehacker website, and what i told there should be told here:
DON’T use this post as an advice, run away from it. If u follow this post than your kids will only get worse from it, they will kill their immune system.
It’s proven time and time again that kids should get dirty to train their immune system by getting dirty.
I’ve been in a youthorganisation as a monitor for 8 years and no kid was ever sick from going to a public bathroom.
But if u want your kid to be overprotective and sick all the time than follow the advice u read here.


Samantha May 30, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Thanks for your comment. I do feel that it’s a matter of degree and it’s always a good idea to teach kids about proper hygiene, washing their hands, etc. Yes - it’s important for kids to build up their immunities and get dirty and I understand that this is normal behavior for kids. Some public bathrooms, however, are a whole different ball of wax and “dirty” does not even slightly underscore the conditions found there. For this reason, I think it’s best for parents to err on the side of caution.


Koen May 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm

This post lets me think u would be afraid in ANY public bathroom, mostly washing your hands is enough. The stories about disgusting bathrooms are so widly spread, but i never seen any that are so groose that u need to do more than wash your hands, don’t let your mind think it is super dirty and for sure don’t let your kids think the same. Anyways i don’t believe the really dirty bathrooms are in places where u shouldn’t bring your kids anyways.

So: don’t make your kids afraid about a bathroom and a bit of dirt, don’t make them overprotected.


Josef Cook May 31, 2013 at 3:02 pm

@Koen, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess you don’t have any kids of your own. I have 3 children under 5 (4yo twin boys and a baby girl), and I’ve taken them (the boys at least) into more frightful restrooms than I can remember.

Your comment about “the really dirty bathrooms are in places where u shouldn’t bring your kids anyways” is as comical as it is offensive. But perhaps your 8 years as a youth organization monitor haven’t included any +5 hour roadtrips with cries of “Daddy I gotta POOP!” while cruising at 70 mph down the interstate. Trust me, you take what you can get. I’ve taken my boys one at a time into bathrooms where the only entrance was on the back of a gas station or through a moldy 5-And-Dime stockroom. The bathrooms are sometimes barely big enough to turn around in, and the walls around the toilet are covered in what I can only assume are years’ worth of dried urine. YOU go train your kids’ immune systems there all you want. I’ll practice not touching anything.

That’s not to say that the bathrooms in retail stores are cesspools of filth and disease. For every restroom that I’ve been forced to use with my kids that made me wretch, there have been a dozen that were as clean as my own home. But even in the good ones I’ve come across the occasional flecks of dried excrement on the toilet seat or sticky residue around the stall floor.

My kids are neither afraid of dirt nor public bathrooms, as evidenced each time I catch them trying to crawl on the floor between the stalls to “visit” each other. But I’ve trained them to wash their hands before they leave and tried to make them conscious of noticeable filth and encourage them to avoid contact with it.

While I don’t make them touch everything with a napkin, I do exercise care and promote proper hygiene. And while some of Samantha’s tips may seem extra-cautious, I certainly wouldn’t classify any of them as “paranoid and alarmist” (@Lori).

@Lori, regarding the restrooms at your local Wal-Mart, sneak into the men’s room post a quick pic back here… When my boys drop their “25-cent super-bouncy ball” and it rolls behind the toilet in the last stall, I’ll call you to crawl around on the floor and fish it out.

Finally, @Samantha, kudos on the tips. #5 is by far the wisest advice any parent can get on this topic. As a relatively new parent myself, I can’t count the times we’ve gotten a mile from the house to hear “I need to potty!”

And you forgot to mention my favorite public restroom tip for boys: “Stand on my shoes.”

This serves the dual purpose of elevating short legs to reach the sometimes high urinals in men’s rooms, as well as keeping their feet out of puddles on the floor (great when you know they’ll be climbing back over your car seats a few minutes later). I’ve even managed to navigate restrooms this way with one of the boys BAREFOOT (carrying them to the toilet, of course).

Color me overprotective…


Samantha May 31, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Wow - Josef: thank-you so much for the insight and perspective. I couldn’t have said it better myself. As a matter of fact, you’ve said exactly what I’ve thought about public restrooms and kids, but clearly a lot more succinctly than I did, as my writing on the topic has been called “OCD,” “alarmist” and “paranoid” amongst other things.

I can see how the perspective that I displayed may be misconstrued but it’s only when you’ve had to manouevre a feces-infested gas-station toilet out of sheer necessity, not choice, that yreally get to understand where the “paranoia” comes from. Thanks for laying things out so clearly :)

Lori May 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I agree with Koen here! If your intent was to teach about proper hygiene, you could advise parents to instruct their kids on proper hand washing technique and environmentally responsible use of disposable paper towels. Your article just comes off as paranoid and alarmist.

You are right that SOME public bathrooms are an abhorrent filthy cesspool, but the average ones at your local Walmart won’t be.


Samantha May 30, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Hi Lori,
Yes, my intent was to highlight the importance of proper hygiene but also as a reminder that as much as a person may do their best to teach their children good habits, their best efforts may be quickly for nothing when encountering some public bathrooms. Sure, many are okay but lately I’ve been to too many that are just gross…hence the workaround strategy. Whatever works, right?


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