10 'Harmless' Things You Should Really Wash Your Hands After Touching

Soap Dispenser
Some bacteria are happy to make their home in refillable soap dispensers. iStockphoto/Thinkstock

OK, let's get this straight. After you use the facilities -- especially public facilities -- you need to wash your hands, correct? But what do you do if the soap in the dispenser next to the sink carries as many germs as the toilet where you did your business? This isn't such a far-fetched question, according to some researchers at the University of Arizona. After sampling 132 refillable soap dispensers in public restrooms and restaurants, they found 23 percent were contaminated with viable bacteria, including Serratia marcescens, Enterobacter aerogenes and Klebsiella pneumoniae [source: Hoyle]. These are all pathogens, by the way, which means they're capable of causing disease.

More disturbing, the researchers don't think the germs are surviving in spite of the soap. They believe instead that the bugs are metabolizing chemicals in the soap to stay fat and happy. So where does that leave you when you're emerging from a public restroom stall? Look for dispensers containing sealed disposable bags, which tend to be bacteria-free. If they're not available, carry some alcohol-based sanitizer and use that on your hands. Using water with no soap, even hot water, will do little to remove bacteria from your skin.