How To Survive Potty Training In Public Restrooms As A Germaphobe  

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, "Ask a Clean Person", debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we've launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings. 

What do you do about potty training on-the-go and public bathrooms? I am a complete germaphobe and we are now at the stage where my two-year-old daughter will ask to go when we're out and I'm just freaking out. I am carrying disposable toilet seat covers, a fold-up potty seat, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitiser, but man, this is a lot (and we live in NYC, so all of this is in my purse right now and my back will be broken). What can be done about this?

I'm going to level and say that this is a tricky one to try to solve. There are basically two questions going on here. The first is, "Can I manage down all this stuff?" The second is, "How can I make public restrooms not-gross?" I don't have great answers to either! But I do have answers, even if they aren't the best ones.

Let's start with the stuff: I think that's the right stuff to have. The one thing that might be negotiable is the fold-up potty seat (stay with me here), but that depends very much on your child and how scared she is of the whole process of going potty on the toilet.

From a tactical perspective, you can put her sideways on the seat, which will keep her from falling in, but not all kids will allow that and obviously you don't want to traumatise your poor kiddo by making them sit on a big person's seat if they're afraid to do so.

If your child definitely needs the portable seat, there are models that are lighter weight and more compact than others, such as this one, that may help to relieve the burden on your back.

The rest of the stuff - the disinfectant wipes, hand sanitiser and seat covers - are pretty much non-negotiable, especially given Mum's germophobia. Fortunately, those things aren't overly heavy or bulky, especially if you switch to the disinfectant wipes that come in a packet rather than a canister.

Given that, for the time being, it's probably a good idea to switch back to using a nappy bag, since it will be roomier and is designed to distribute the weight of its contents.

As for handling a public bathroom as a germaphobe, I'm not going to try to talk you out of your germaphobia, but there are some things you can try to manage the anxiety you feel. Give the toilet seat a once over with one of those disinfectant wipes, put a seat cover down, and use a piece of toilet paper or a paper towel to cover the flusher, door locks and handles, and taps.

Now, none of these things are necessary - washing your hands after using the bathroom is more than sufficient to clean away any germs you may have come in contact with - but I'm also not here to talk you out of the fear you feel.

Speaking of hand-washing! This is a good opportunity to teach your child good hand-washing habits, and it's a good opportunity to brush up on your own hand-washing skills. So! As a reminder, the CDC recommends holding you hands under water, lathering with soap, and scrubbing both the back and front of your hands, as well as in between your fingers and underneath your fingernails, for 20 seconds before rinsing and drying.

This is a good topic to toss out to the group: What tips and tricks do you have for potty training on-the-go? What products can you not live without? Have you overcome germaphobia and, if so, how did you do that? And, what portable potty seats would you recommend?

Our own Michelle Woo mentioned the Potette, which she says comes in handy when you're at a place where bathrooms are hard to find - or exceptionally disgusting.


    Now, none of these things are necessary - washing your hands after using the bathroom is more than sufficient to clean away any germs you may have come in contact with - but I'm also not here to talk you out of the fear you feel.Bring your wipes, your covers, layer toilet paper or whatever you feel you 'have' to, knowing full damn well that it doesn't make a lick of difference. (The things you learn rooming with a microbiologist...) But for the love of God, whatever you do, don't let your fears make it worse: don't encourage or even allow that 'hovering' shit. That only causes even worse mess for those who come after.

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