Using a Public Toilet 🚻 A Ritual 

You walk into the restroom and smell that first waft of stale piss, but that doesn’t stop you. No. You are on a mission to sit and expel solid waste. You rush to the toilet not knowing who or what has sat on it before you. You don’t even know if the toilet has been cleaned recently.

It doesn’t matter. There’s a golfer trying to bore its way out and you absolutely must use this toilet.


You enter the restroom to the pleasant scent of Pine Sol and walk to the nearest stall. A heavenly sight awaits you as you open the stall. The water is still dyed a deep blue from the cleaning detergent used by the janitorial staff. You’re the first person to use this toilet today, and it’s as clean as it’s ever going to be.

This is a virgin toilet! 

Regardless of how clean the toilet may be, you still have a cleansing ritual to perform before your cheeks will touch that seat. The ritual is:

  1. Grab some toilet paper and wipe the seat. Some people use sanitizer to clean the seat.  
  2. Use even more toilet paper to cover the seat.  
  3. Only when the seat is covered to the point it looks like a flat bird’s nest, do you sit to lay your rotten “eggs”.

Don’t lie, you’ve done this ritual.

We all have our reasons for doing it. It may have been a learned habit from walking into public restrooms and having to clean the seat so many times. Maybe you remember missing the bowl yourself and are pretty sure everyone else pees on the seat too. Or maybe you’re a germaphobe and feel an extra compulsion to clean the seat. My father drilled it into my head that public toilets were disgusting sources of disease. 

Some restrooms have those thinner than paper seat covers mounted on the wall. Those seat covers are psychological constructs designed to keep people from wasting valuable toilet paper. They’re so flimsy you run the risk of destroying the cover while trying to get it out of the holder. You end up wasting not just the liner, but the precious few seconds remaining before that gofer runs out of your hole.

Lifting the Seat

If there’s no urinal and you only need to pee (and if you’re male), it’s polite to lift the seat so you don’t dirty it when the next person uses it. This type of situation is becoming more common now that unisex public toilets are appearing in restaurants and coffee shops.

But I don’t want to touch that thing, and then touch my junk!

If we bother to lift the seat, we use our feet which are protected by “germ-proof” shoes. We balance on one foot and use the other to lift the seat. It sort of looks like a martial art’s fighting stance.


We all share the same cleansing ritual to help put our minds at ease about using a public toilet of dubious cleanliness. We clean the seat, cover it, and sit on it. And once we’re comfortable, or are sitting and there’s no turning back, most of us will whip out our phones to brows our news feeds.

Who knows, you may be reading this story while on the pot!

The Myth about Office Cleanliness

Photo by cottonbro on

I remember seeing a morning news report about how dirty our offices are during the mid- to late-1990s[1]. I was a pre-teen at the time, so I can’t remember the specific details of the report. But I recall the news segment showed a close-up of a cleaning lady scrubbing a desk and washing a phone receiver, while the reporter described the reality of office housekeeping. I think the report told viewers that office housekeepers are only responsible for cleaning the floors, restrooms, and café areas of an office building.

That revelation goes against our fantasy image of the housekeeping staff diligently cleaning every nook and cranny in the office. If you still have that expectation, I’m here to burst your bubble and confirm the cleaning services at our offices don’t clean much. The staff typically does not clean the surface of your desk or dust things like your computer monitors, and the floor is likely the dirtiest surface in your office.

Vacuuming the floors, emptying wastebaskets, and cleaning restrooms are obvious tasks housekeeping staff will perform in any office building. If the building is owned by a single company, you can count on the staff cleaning any cafés or dining areas, and probably the communal refrigerators once a week too. If you work in an office building with many different businesses, they may only clean the restrooms on each floor.

They will not clean your desk!

They don’t clean your desk because it’s too much of a liability. The staff could accidentally vacuum something up, or move a stack of papers, or accidentally do something which disrupts business the next day. So, cleaning the desks are too risky when it comes to reportable complaints and lost items. As a defense against such claims, the housekeeping staff or contracting company, can simply say they don’t clean the desks unless there is a visible spill. If the housekeeper does clean your desk regularly, then you’re the rare exception.

We should remember that many of the housekeepers are contractors, and they need to move quickly from room to room, and floor to floor to make money. It can take an entire night for a team of housekeepers to do a standard cleaning in a skyscraper with over 40 floors. Many family-owned, small business contractors have several smaller buildings they need to clean each night, so it makes sense for the cleaning staff to avoid our desks. It’d take forever for them to do their jobs, and they can’t make as much money in the process.

This means your keyboard and mouse are still teaming with germs since the last time you cleaned them. Your phone may still have the same germs or makeup residue from the last person who used it too. This is normal, and it’s your responsibility to keep your work area clean.

Unfortunately, I’ve worked at a few locations where the cleaning staff has consistently missed the floors at the office, which is their primary responsibility. And Covid-19 has made this worse by forcing the staff to focus on cleaning high-contact surfaces and forget the floors altogether.

At one job, I occasionally noticed the same toasted marshmallow flavored jellybean on the floor, next to my desk, for almost a year. At that same job, I misplaced a Bluetooth adaptor and probably dropped it on the floor. I tore my office apart looking for that adaptor but couldn’t find it. As I threw away the jellybean, I jokingly concluded that, of all things, the adaptor got sucked up by the vacuum.

At another office, I had to sit on the floor to search for a document the mail department threw into the shred bin. I could visibly see hair on the floor and sometimes felt small debris of what could have been dirt or food particles. When I finally found the accursed document, I noticed my black slacks managed to pick up every single hair and dust particle in the area. I had to use a few sheets from a lint roller to make myself presentable again.

It may not be the individual housekeeper’s fault.

I used to work late at my current office before the pandemic forced us to work from home and I remember seeing the housekeeping staff vacuum each room during those late nights. This leads me to believe that it may not be the individual cleaner’s fault the floors are so dirty. I think it’s likely the vacuums are broken, or the vacuum-bags are full. The staff may be so focused on running the vacuum as quickly as possible, they may not notice the things they’re leaving behind.

So now you know your office may not be as clean as you think it is. Your desk hasn’t been cleaned since the last time you personally cleaned it, and the floor is likely even dirtier.

You should forget the “5-second rule” the next time you drop a chip, or other scrap of food at work.

[1] There were only a couple channels we could receive on the antenna TV, so I had to have seen the report on either Channel 11 or 13 (respectively: CBS and ABC).