True or false: The toilet seat is the dirtiest part of the restroom.

Regardless of what patrons may think, the toilet seat—unless visibly soiled—is probably cleaner than many other surfaces in the restroom and is a less-likely source of cross-contamination compared to other high-touch point areas in the toilet stall, such as the flush handle, stall door handles, or handicap grab bar. 

From urine- and mold-prone surfaces to tough-to-clean stains, here we explore some of the grossest and most difficult-to-clean areas of the restroom.

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Gross Area No. 1: The Toilet Bowl 

When cleaning the toilet, the focus should always start below the toilet seat, according to infection control expert J. Darrel Hicks, as it’s important to clean from the dirtiest area to the cleanest.

To get started, take a compact mirror and use it to look below the rim where the toilet’s water ports are located. This is the area that passes water when someone flushes the toilet. When you do this, you will probably see a buildup of mineral deposits, stains, or even black bacteria. Buildup like black bacteria is not only a source of germs and decay, but it can cause odor issues in your restroom, as well. 

Cleaning tips: When cleaning the toilet bowl area, make sure the bowl brush remains inside the toilet until you are done cleaning, Hicks says. Using the brush to clean the outside of the toilet will only bring more germs onto the toilet seat and outer bowl. If you are trying to remove a stubborn stain like hard water or rust, a pumice stick may come in handy. You may also want to try an acid-based bowl cleaner or a calcium, lime, and rust remover. 

Gross Area No. 2: Surfaces with Bodily Fluids 

While this gross area is pretty vague and can apply to a variety of restroom surfaces, the rule of thumb is pretty similar across the board: Leaving bodily fluids to rest on surfaces or in receptacles can lead to more bacteria growth and putrid odors. This applies to feminine hygiene receptacles—a commonly missed area, Hicks says—urinal mats and screens, or any other surface that is prone to urine, fecal, or blood exposure.

Cleaning tips: Clean early and often. Change feminine hygiene receptacles at least once daily, with increased frequency depending on your restroom’s foot traffic. Employees should check to make sure the bags have not leaked, and clean the inside of the receptacle if necessary. 

Change urinal mats and screens at least every two weeks. When replacing the mats and screens, write a date on when they next need changing. This will help to remind employees when it’s time to make a switch and provide a quality assurance checkpoint for supervisors during inspections. 

Of course, when cleaning any of these areas, make sure your employees have access to and are trained to use proper personal protective equipment, such as gloves. 

Gross Area No. 3: Grout 

Grout is prone to developing mold and other bacteria because of its exposure to moisture, whether from standing water, vapor in the air, or urine. This can lead to discoloration and odor control issues among other problems.

Cleaning tip: Avoid using mopping systems that leave moisture behind in the grout lines to prevent mold from coming back. Additionally, apply steam to the grout while using a brass wire brush to remove the mold. Last, improve air circulation in the restroom and any shower areas to help encourage drying of wet surfaces.