It might come as a surprise, but the most dangerous room in your home is not the kitchen, even with a hot stove and all the sharp knives. According to the Home Safety Council, the most dangerous room in any home is usually the bathroom, judging by the number of serious and fatal accidents that occur in bathrooms each year. Falls are the leading injuries, thanks to wet surfaces, but bathrooms also contains other dangers, including sharp objects, medications and germs that can cause injury and illness. The elderly and children are most susceptible to injuries in the bathroom, but anyone can be hurt or get sick if you don’t take certain precautions.
Because falls are the greatest danger in the bathroom, experts recommend taking precautions to limit the risk. These include adding no-slip bathmats in the shower and securing rugs with non-skid pads or backing. Adding some padding to protruding objects, such as the tub faucet, can also decrease the risk of serious injury in the event of a fall, and adding grab bars and handles can help you keep your balance. Keep in mind that a grab bar is different than a towel bar — towel racks are rarely strong enough to handle the force of a falling adult, and will almost always pull out of the wall under the weight of the average adult.
Beyond avoiding slips and falls, store potentially dangerous items appropriately. These include cleaners, medications and sharp objects, such as razors and scissors. Even an adult can be seriously hurt when he or she reaches into the medicine cabinet and encounters an improperly stored razor blade, or accidentally takes the wrong medication because it’s not kept in the right place.
Chemicals that are often stored in the bathroom are cause for concern. Bathroom cleaners, for example, often contain powerful ingredients to kill germs and bacteria. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients cause harmful fumes and may irritate the skin or eyes. Other common bathroom basics, including shampoo, soap and even shower curtains, may contain chemicals that can be harmful when inhaled or cause other problems.
Of course, forgoing all soaps and cleaners altogether isn’t practical, but before you buy, do some research and read the ingredients. Choose soaps and shampoos that do not contain formaldehyde, for example, and consider making your own bathroom cleaner from environmentally friendly and safe ingredients, such as vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. In fact, a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water will effectively clean most surfaces, while hydrogen peroxide or a mixture of vinegar and baking soda will clear clogged drains without harsh drain cleaners.
In terms of shower curtains, one study indicated that curtains made from certain plastics can actually release harmful chemicals into the air, while other studies refuted that claim based on limited evidence. In either case, a plastic shower curtain can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and mold, so replace the liner regularly, or any time you see mold or stains growing on it.
Bathrooms are inherently germy places, but there is a lot you can do to prevent the spread of the bugs that make you sick. Regular cleaning is important, of course, as is taking steps to prevent cross-contamination. Give each member of the family his or her own set of color-coded towels, and keep toothbrushes at least an inch apart from each other to prevent the spread of germs. Use paper cups — and a dispenser — to prevent germs from settling on a re-usable ceramic or plastic cup.
How you use the toilet can also make a big difference in limiting the spread of germs around the bathroom. While studies differ on how much spray actually comes from the toilet each time it is flushed, your best bet is to close the lid before flushing to prevent the release of germs into the room. Some toilet designers are exploring new ways to make the bathroom essential healthier overall (more about that can be found here), but until the new commodes hit the market, following basic hygiene principles will reduce the likelihood of a bathroom-borne illness.
Staying safe and healthy in the bathroom is relatively simple. Regular cleaning, simple safety adjustments and taking steps to prevent the spread of germs reduces the likelihood of trouble — and allows you to focus on other things, like enjoying a relaxing soak in your sparkling clean tub.
About the Author: A former public health nurse, Charlene Weeks devoted her career to helping people stay healthy and avoid injuries. Now a popular blogger, she provides cleaning, safety and health tips to parents via her own blog and national parenting and home magazines.