It can be easy to ignore just how dirty public spaces are. We like to imagine that when we go out to eat, the people handling our food washed their hands. We want to believe that airlines actually clean out the waste tanks on a regular basis. But every once in a while, one can't help but wonder: just how often are public spaces cleaned? Are public bathrooms cleaned? Are public trains and buses cleaned?
Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is often no. Public spaces can go days, weeks, months, or even years, without ever being properly cleaned. What are some of the dirtiest public spaces? How about the cleanest? How many germs are you being exposed to be simply existing in the world? The answers to these questions may surprise you - and totally gross you out.
It's a common belief that airplanes are a hotbed for disease. After all, you're in an enclosed space, squished up against another person who may or may not be dropping used tissues onto the ground. Bad news: airplanes are even dirtier than you may have thought. There often isn't much time between flights to do any significant cleaning - in most cases, nothing gets done besides some light vacuuming and trash collection. Surfaces might get wiped down, but when this happens, it's typically just the first class seats. Coach seats are often untouched. Deep cleaning of an individual aircraft may happen as infrequently as every three months - and in the late 90s and 2000s, it could be once a year.
Another particularly gross thing about airplanes is that the waste tanks aren't always emptied and cleaned between flights. Generally, they wait until the tank is full. An A380 plan can hold 554 lbs of human waste, so it may be several flights before a change occurs.
Public bathrooms aren't exactly known for being bastions of cleanliness, but how dirty are they, exactly?
Most public bathrooms are regularly cleaned, but a lot can get in the way of doing a thorough job. 58% of hygiene professionals claim that lack of time is the main thing preventing them from doing an optimal job, while 45% claim that the real problem is excessive foot traffic - it's hard to clean a toilet while its in use, after all. Other problems include lack of cleaning supplies and lack of training.
The result of these difficulties is that, unfortunately, public bathrooms aren't always clean. Particularly dirty spots include faucets, toilet handles, and feminine hygiene trash cans.
Chicago's mass transit system is used by thousands of people every day. As a result, even the most diligent CTA employees have a hard time keeping the vehicles clean. Each train car and bus is spot cleaned at the end of the day, while a deeper cleaning occurs every two weeks.
Despite these efforts, more needs to be done to create a clean and safe experience. One of the biggest issues is actually the upholstered seat inserts, which are difficult to thoroughly sanitize. Right now, the CTA uses water vacuum cleaning machines to sanitize the seat inserts, but this may not be enough. The vacuum takes care of the visible filth, but may not address anything microscopic.
While no one expects the fast food experience to be fancy, most people at least expect it to be clean. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. In a survey of 1,000 fast food restaurants across the USA, 1,755 critical violations (or, factors that could contaminate food) were found. 613 of these restaurants had at least one violation. Some of these violations were blatantly disgusting. According to Dateline:
In a Chicago Wendy’s, inspectors found a dead rodent decomposing on a rat trap. At a California Taco Bell, someone bit into a taco, only to find chewing gum. An inspector in Texas found a worm in a Wendy’s salad. At a Hardee’s in Florida, a customer was handed a cup of soda with blood dripping from it. There was blood on her change as well.
While these incidents are dramatic, they're actually not as dangerous as less visible issues, like the presence of potentially deadly viruses and bacteria.