A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Things You Should Never Do in an Airplane Bathroom

Germs are potentially harmful in a normal bathroom. But put that bathroom in the sky, shrink it, and pump pressurized air into it and you've got the perfect environment for germs to thrive.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

1 / 11
airplane bathroom

Why there’s cause for concern

Breathing, drinking, and eating are essential for humans, and two of those acts lead us to the bathroom. Since most passengers will skip to the loo on a flight of a certain length, bacteria is bound to accumulate fast. Vice President of operations at Atmos Air, Tony Abate, tells Reader’s Digest there are three ways bacteria can spread: person to person, person to surface, and airborne.

How does that work? “Bacteria can attach themselves to fine dust particles which are so small most filtration systems cannot capture them,” Abate says. From there, they re-circulate into a space where they can be ingested by and infect people.” They can also deposit on and infect surfaces that people interact with—so watch for those hidden grimy surfaces. It’s not just the plane bathroom you need to be wary of—these are the dirtiest spots in the airport.

2 / 11
airplane toilets

Keep it clean

To prevent any odor from lingering, flush as soon as possible (be sure to close the lid first), Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing tells Reader’s Digest. “Also, make sure you didn’t use the last toilet paper roll. If you did, tell a flight attendant and be sure to warn the next person about to go,” Gallas says. “It’s an extra measure of flying etiquette and it makes the airplane lavatories appear nicer for the next person in line.” These are 10 other little rules of airplane etiquette all passengers should follow.

3 / 11
Airplane toilet. How to lock the door. Slide to lock (red color). No smoking. Copy space.

Exit strategy

Seeing that all surfaces carry germs, make sure to avoid making physical contact with the most commonly touched thing: the doorknob. Golden Rules Gal Lisa Grotts suggests using a tissue to open the door when you leave. “When I exit I do not stop until I reach the closest trash to dump the tissue without touching any surfaces,” she says.

4 / 11
Interior of airplane with passengers on seats and stewardess walking the aisle.
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Wait your turn

The last thing you want to be is last in line for the bathroom—especially when you have to go. Narrow isles make it hard to decipher who is actually waiting. “The lines are a bit blurred as there can’t be a formal queue as that might block the aisles,” Grotts cautions. “But it’s best not to wait until after a meal when everyone else will be lined up.” And you definitely will have to go after downing the one drink you should always order on an airplane.

5 / 11
Female passenger with lack of leg space on long commercial airplane flight. Focus on casual sporty sneakers.
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Barefoot and bacteria

Sure, it might feel nice to unleash your feet during a long flight, but unless you want to get sick, never walk around barefoot in a restroom or any part of a plane. “This includes socks,” Grotts says. “From broken glass to blood or vomit, people get sick.” Flight attendants cringe when they see bare or stocking feet because they know every reason why you should never take your shoes off in an airplane.

6 / 11
inside airplane bathroom

Don’t dilly-dally

If someone knocks, either you’ve been in there too long or the captain has turned on the seat belt sign, Grotts says. Do your business and only your business (plus washing your hands) and save applying makeup and checking your email for later. Extensive bathroom time is on the list of these 14 bathroom etiquette rules people break all the time—but shouldn’t.

7 / 11
airplane bathroom sink

Wash your hands thoroughly

Try to be quick with everything in the bathroom save for washing your hands. Because the pressure is on to rush back to your seat, many travelers forgo a proper hand scrub. If you didn’t learn your lesson in elementary school, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing for a full 20 seconds—yes, front and back—then rinse and dry. If you’re still thinking it’s not important, this is how bad it is to not wash your hands after using the bathroom.

8 / 11
beverage carts on airplane

Time your tinkle

Since space is so valuable on a plane, especially in the aisles, try to time your bathroom break at the best time to use the airplane bathroom. If you can manage, avoid going when meal and beverage carts have been wheeled out, Gallas says. He also suggests overnight fliers be courteous to their neighbors and avoid waking them up if at all possible.

9 / 11
Women's hands using wash hand sanitizer gel pump dispenser. BANNER long format
Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

Come prepared

Those who are careful to avoid germs don’t rely on handwashing only. When you get back to your seat, you may want to use hand sanitizer to be extra cautious, Abate says. Though hand sanitizer can be overused, this is one of the times you’ll be happy to have it.

10 / 11
airplane bathroom toilet flush button

Watch for the aggressive flush

Have you ever noticed the flush in an airplane is much harsher than normal? The aggressive flush throws particles, or droplets, into the air that can spread bacteria, viruses, and germs, Abate says. “The combination of that and the confined space of an airplane restroom makes for a much greater chance of these droplets either infecting a nearby surface, which then a person could contact and infect themselves or ingesting them directly and becoming infected.” An easy solution is to close the lid. Here’s exactly what happens when you flush an airplane toilet.

11 / 11
Photo of a lavatory in a commercial airplane.

Skip the squat

While it can be tempting to use the toilet seat covers or squat when it comes to airplane toilet seats, it’s best to sit down, Kalev Rudolph, health, travel, and lifestyle writer for ExpertInsuranceReviews.com tells Reader’s Digest. “Airplane bathrooms are most likely cleaned regularly by the crew. Add any turbulence to squatting while you do your business, and you will have a particularly precarious situation on your hands (or pants or…I won’t go on),” Rudolph says. He adds that most germ transmission comes from hand contact with other areas of your body. As only your behind touches the seat, the risk of picking up any germs is relatively slim, Rudolph says.

Isabelle Tavares
Isabelle Tavares is a journalism graduate student at the Newhouse School of Syracuse University and former ASME intern for RD.com, where she wrote for the knowledge, travel, culture and health sections. Her work has been published in MSN, The Family Handyman, INSIDER, among others. Follow her on Twitter @isabelletava.