Public toilets are unfortunately a brutal necessity. Whether you are on a long car journey or just in a shopping centre, at some point we have to use one of them. So how do you choose the cleanest toilet cubicle in such a place?
Actually, nobody likes to use a public toilet. They are often messy, dirty and have unpleasant odours. However, some research explains that in every public toilet there is a toilet that is cleaner than others.
According to research, human psychology plays a big role in our preferences, and among similar items, people often choose the ones in the centre. According to this psychological phenomenon called "centrality preference", which cubicles do you think are the most preferred? After reading this content, you will reorganise all your public toilet habits.
Research on centrality preference gives us an idea about the most frequently used toilet cubicle.
Although there are not many studies on this subject, at least the existing ones are enough to show us our habits in public toilets. One of these studies was conducted by Nicholas Christenfeld in 1995 and published in the Journal of Psychological Science.
Christenfeld examined the behaviour of people on the beach along the California coast in public toilets. At first, he thought of using a notepad and pen to note which stall they entered, but realising that this would be rude, he decided to make use of toilet paper. He also asks for help from the toilet attendant and notes how often the toilet paper is changed.
As a result of the research, he finds that 60 per cent of the toilet paper rolls are consumed in the middle stalls of the four-stall toilet and 40 per cent in the other stalls. This centrality preference study shows that people use the middle stalls more often in public toilets.
An American student, with two years of observations, offers more than just centre stalls.
Jennifer Cullison, a PhD student in human behaviour, worked as a cleaner for two years. After her observations, she says that people usually choose the right between the right and left cabin preferences.
Cullison recommends always using the toilets on the left in public toilets and explains that toilets reserved for the disabled should be avoided.
There is also a test from the TV series MythBusters on this subject.
Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman conducted a test years ago and found that the cubicle closest to the door was the cleanest of all, at 44 per cent.
In the programme, they sterilise all the cabins thoroughly and then number them from 1 to 4. The first cubicle is the one closest to the door, while the fourth cubicle is the furthest away. During the research period, 119 men used the toilets and only 23 of these men preferred the first cubicle and 24 preferred the fourth cubicle. The second cubicle was visited by 38 men and the third cubicle by 34 men, proving the theory of centrality preference.
Not only that, the programmers also looked at the bacteria levels. As a result of the swabs they took, 162 bacterial colonies were observed in the first cabin, while the third cabin had the highest bacteria levels with 290 colonies. Although the second cabin has the highest number of visitors, 267 colonies are seen here, and 231 colonies are seen in the fourth cabin.
The first cabins are not preferred for privacy reasons.
Another study shows that the cabins closest to the door are preferred (usually by women) for privacy reasons. Considering that the middle cabins are just a panel, we can say that privacy is not really provided.
There are also some points to keep in mind.
Assuming that the cleaning staff are aware of these studies, or even if they have only observed them themselves, they may be cleaning the first cabins less. It should also not mean that the first or last cabin is cleaner than the middle. Maybe someone who enters the first cubicle makes more of a mess than someone who enters the others?
The cubicles are not the dirtiest place in public toilets.
A 2019 study published in Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control sampled 55 different public toilets for the presence of pathogenic bacteria and found 52 species living on various surfaces.
Here comes even more frightening. More than 97 per cent of these species are resistant to at least one of the most common antibiotic agents. And we have even worse news. Most of these bacteria are found on paper towels and door handles, while hand dryers are saturated with microorganisms.
The faeces test on the floors shows that we should never put our personal belongings on the floor. So be you, when you enter public toilets, tuck your bag under your arm and take care of your needs that way.