Transmission of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in public washrooms: A systematic review

Sotiris Vardoulakis, Daniela A. Espinoza Oyarce, Erica Donner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The risk of infectious disease transmission in public washrooms causes concern particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This systematic review aims to assess the risk of transmission of viral or bacterial infections through inhalation, surface contact, and faecal-oral routes in public washrooms in healthcare and non-healthcare environments. Methods: We systematically reviewed environmental sampling, laboratory, and epidemiological studies on viral and bacterial infection transmission in washrooms using PubMed and Scopus. The review focused on indoor, publicly accessible washrooms. Results: Thirty-eight studies from 13 countries were identified, including 14 studies carried out in healthcare settings, 10 in laboratories or experimental chambers, and 14 studies in restaurants, workplaces, commercial and academic environments. Thirty-three studies involved surface sampling, 15 air sampling, 8 water sampling, and 5 studies were risk assessments or outbreak investigations. Infectious disease transmission was studied in relation with: (a) toilets with flushing mechanisms; (b) hand drying systems; and (c) water taps, sinks and drains. A wide range of enteric, skin and soil bacteria and enteric and respiratory viruses were identified in public washrooms, potentially posing a risk of infection transmission. Studies on COVID-19 transmission only examined washroom contamination in healthcare settings. Conclusion: Open-lid toilet flushing, ineffective handwashing or hand drying, substandard or infrequent surface cleaning, blocked drains, and uncovered rubbish bins can result in widespread bacterial and/or viral contamination in washrooms. However, only a few cases of infectious diseases mostly related to faecal-oral transmission originating from washrooms in restaurants were reported. Although there is a risk of microbial aerosolisation from toilet flushing and the use of hand drying systems, we found no evidence of airborne transmission of enteric or respiratory pathogens, including COVID-19, in public washrooms. Appropriate hand hygiene, surface cleaning and disinfection, and washroom maintenance and ventilation are likely to minimise the risk of infectious disease transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Article number149932
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


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