Little kids, public restrooms, and handwashing? Talk amongst yourselves.

Amazon: Germ-X Antibacterial Hand Sanitizing Wipes - Premium Brand with Moisturizing Vitamin E - 100 Individually Wrapped Travel Packets - Large 6" by 8" ClothsWhy do the outfitters of public restrooms forget about the existence of children? Diaper-wearers do fine, but potty-trainers and preschoolers (and height-challenged older kids) contend with unreachable sinks, among other things.

Abigail asks:

I need advice regarding hand-washing and the tiny toilet-learner.

My 20 month-old son is TINY for his age (like the size of an average 12 month-old) but is potty training like a champ. I’d love to hear any solutions other parents have come up with for hand-washing while in public restrooms.

At home, he has a little stepladder, as standard kiddie stools are not high enough. (And I like the hack of the tub handwash.)

The problem is when we're out and about. I’d prefer he not lean his whole front up against the germy public restroom sink while perched on my thigh. I’m experimenting with holding/propping positions, but haven’t found any I like for keeping us both off the wet/nasty sink/counter. Also, holding/propping is becoming complicated by my belly which is rapidly expanding with another pregnancy.

Anyone have a great public restroom handwashing hack?

Great question. Potty training is a distant memory for me, but my 8 year-old daughter is also small for her age, so I still have to lift her to reach the soap in a few public bathrooms.

A few restrooms (I've only seen one or two) have these AWESOME fold-down steps under the sink that kids can use to stand taller. My hope is that this becomes a mainstream feature in a year or two. I mean, look how quickly those newfangled Dyson hand dryers have caught on! One can hope.

Amazon: CleanWell Hand Sanitizer Wipes Pocket PackTill then, I don't have a decent hack for this problem. I'm not sure there's much you can do beyond wiping down the restroom counter with paper towels (and a baby wipe or antibacterial wipe if you're concerned about germs) before propping your kid against the sink to wash his hands.

I guess one could skip the handwashing and go straight for the hand sanitizer, but I think that creates more problems than it solves. The handwashing habit is as important as the actual cleaning.

Also, alcohol-based hand sanitizer + toddlers is iffy as they still put their hands in their mouths and eyes. I like CleanWell's all-natural hand sanitizer; smells good, nice and gentle. (I reviewed CleanWell products years ago.)

What do you think, Parenthackers? Got a tip that could help Abigail?

More: Hacks for public restrooms and hand sanitizer


  1. K.C. says

    100% a fan of hand sanitizer here. 2 of my 3 kids are old enough to reach the faucet now, but I still encourage them to skip it in favor of the sanitizer. Young kids + water = mess!

    As far as establishing the habit, I’m okay with them having the habit of sanitizer instead of scrubbing. We just keep a bottle of gel at home for them to use.

  2. pekmez says

    When the sink is hard to reach, I have just skipped the sink – get my hands good and wet and use them (and/or paper towel) to wet my child’s hand, then get them good and soapy and repeat, then get them good and wet and use my hands to de-soap kid’s hand. Paper towels make this easier and more thorough, and it isn’t the very best hand washing they will ever get, but it reinforces the habit and it’s at least some soap+water on the hands.

  3. Jen says

    I’m with the hand sanitizer crowd when the sink is too high and too dirty. I agree that it can be a slippery slope in terms of not maintaining the hand-washing habit, but I think that if the child is old enough to potty train, then he is old enough to understand the (hopefully rare) exceptions to the rule and why they are so.

    I have had a hard time understanding the existence of public bathrooms that are in, say, a restaurant that has high chairs and other kid-friendly paraphenalia, like changing stations, but then places sinks and soap completely out of reach of a child under 4 feet tall. I’ve even seen one place with a kiddie-sized toilet seat where my son (age 5) could not reach the sink or soap.

  4. Holly says

    I know this isn’t what y’all want to hear, but: go to a developing country, use the public “bathrooms” there, and then come back. You’ll probably worry about it all a lot less.

  5. Johnna says

    My 3 year old perches on my thigh, and I put my non-dominant arm across the edge of the counter so she can lean on it instead of the counter. Before I started doing that, it was horrible trying to wash her hands because she was squirming so much because the counter edge was hurting her belly. It’s not awesome for my back, but she’s not fighting about having clean hands anymore, which is worth it to me.

  6. Christy says

    I usually put my child straddling my knee and hold her with my arm while she reaches for soap and water. It’s kind of like having a ventriloquist’s marionette, but I’m the one leaning on the sink. Basically, I don’t stress about it anymore, though.

    I’m not with the hand sanitizer crowd. The CDC has some good info on it: Basically they get some, but don’t get all the germs. Hand washing is much more effective.

    Related, but unrelated: SC ETV (pbs) partnered with SC DHEC to come up with a Wash Hands campaign ( that’s good for kids.

  7. chris says

    Sanitizer. We don’t touch ANYTHING. Paper towel to open door, lock stall, flush, etc. If you touch the faucet with your washed clean hand, you’re filthy again. If you touch to door handle with your clean hand, you’re filthy again. Proper procedure is to use a towel to turn off the water, then drying with another clean towel. How many of us (outside the foodservice/medical/preschool professions actually do this?

    So if you’re not touching anything in the bathroom, you’re not getting other people’s potty germs on your hands. You’re only dealing with your own germs. Sanitizer (in my opinion) handles that just fine. If you use it properly by using a good amount and vigorously rubbing until fully evaporated, you’re doing a pretty good job of cleaning up. If you do the same for your child’s hands, the amount of alcohol that may or may not be ingested is minimized/eliminated.

    I did this long before the kids and have no problem teaching it to them. They’re great handwashers at preschool and at home. They also know that in public bathrooms, we use sanitizer. It’s not skipping or undoing healthy habits, it’s making decisions about which situations warrant which type of action.

  8. lem says

    potty training made me hate public restrooms. but here’s what i do (i hope you can visualize). have you and him face the toilet, pick him up with his back toward you, and hold his dangling feet between your knees. you can then hold him across the chest with one arm and then with the other, help him aim for the toilet seat. i hope this helps!

  9. Eric Fogle says

    One thing that has worked for me is to raise one of my legs and make a “chair” out of my knee. My kids can sit on my knee and we both can use the sink to wash our hands.

    Once they get a little bit taller, the side of the sink is usually easier for them to reach than straight on.

    Good luck!!

  10. Jean says

    We just use wet-ones if I have them, or, if not, plain old baby wipes. Hand sainitizers and antibacterial products are really not necessary, IMHO.

  11. says

    Like Eric, I’m a knee-chair fan, but doing it while pregnant could be disastrous.

    When I was in the same position/condition we used alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It’s only a few months of variance, and pregnancy is already hard on your back.

  12. Shelly says

    My 6yo DD is very short – like 3yo height. I got tired of the knee-chair act and it always seemed to hurt her belly anyway (and get her all wet). I started looking out for enough counter space and actually lifting her up to kneel on the counter. Then she can lean over and wash hands. Of course she’s kneeling on the germy counter, but I figure germs on the knees are less gross than germs all up her chest and arms. I make sure her shoes hang off the edge.

  13. Cat S. says

    I used a position we called ‘Luggage Boy’. Basically you tuck the child against your hip in a superman pose – feet to the back. Your hip takes some of the child’s weight, your arm across his chest the rest. Where your child’s body rests on your hip depends on your child’s body shape, but it’s somehere on their torso. Your other hand is free for helping to wash. It also works well for using water fountains without soaking their shirt.

  14. Lori says

    Honestly, I don’t understand when everyone got so scared of germs! I’d love to see what everyone’s husband does with the kids in the men’s bathroom. The horror!!!

  15. Jasi says

    if you eat out at all please understand that all this obsession on clean hands only goes as far as the 3-5 other people handling your food behind the scene. please don’t make your kids nuts too. overreacting and fear are huge problems in this country. we don’t need more mania. just wipe down the counters to keep shirts dry and do your best to encourage good hygiene.

  16. Jasi says

    oh and btw, when toilets flush they spray fecal particles into the air. it’s on your clothes if you enter a rest room. and likely on your toothbrushes too if you keep them in the bathroom. enjoy!

  17. says

    While I tend to agree about the germ issue (don’t think it’s a big deal), telling people to “not worry about it” followed by talk of spraying fecal particles doesn’t really help matters. Everyone’s got different comfort levels around this stuff, especially with their kids.

  18. Leigh Ann says

    If you have your child step on your foot (not your toes) up near where the bow is/would be, you can “rock” your foot back onto your heel and lift them nearly without effort. Their feet are small enough to fit side by side on one of yours. You can use your hands to steady them by the shoulders if necessary. When they have both feet planted solidly, they tend to stand pretty steady just as if they were tall enough. I use this method all the time at work in an elementary school. Try it!

  19. Justin says

    Depending on the height of the child, you could throw down your rolled-up coat, the diaper bag, a book bag, some rolls of toilet paper or whatever else is lying around as a step-stool.

    (If you stack up the toilet paper on their side (holes up and down), it’s slightly more sturdy and slightly less dirty for the toilet paper).

  20. Jennifer says

    I’m no germ-a-phobe and have no fear of germs in the bathroom, but to save the unnatural and uncomfortable contorsion to creatively lift a child to wash, if there is a counter, plop them on there then they can ust lean over and wash that way. works wonders and they are my attentive captive for face wipes and quick hair fixes as necessary (and also captive audience where i usually remind them of further instructions when necessary)

  21. amy says

    We tried the knee-chair, but I’m just too short for him to reach the sink without it being really awkward and uncomfortable for both of us.

    I’m not sure if the “Luggage Boy” position and what I do are the same thing, but we call it “Airplane style.” First, I turn on the water, then I scoop up my son and lay him across my arms so my left arm is under his hips and my right arm is under his armpits. He then squirts the soap himself, rinses and turns off the water.

    It saves his belly from getting crushed and wet and me from contorting myself into an awkward position.

  22. La Rêveuse says

    If it’s a place you go often, request a step stool. I did that at Kohl’s for the family bathroom, and got one.

  23. Sue says

    Great hack! The AWESOME folding steps that you are referring to are called Step n Wash. We saw them for the first time on vacation at SeaWorld last week. I just told the manager at our WholeFoods about them today and he said he will add them to the restrooms asap. He couldn’t believe he had never heard of it. You know a mom had to have come up with this idea!!

  24. Becky says

    I actually have a decent hack for this. It requires that you bring a piece of rubbery shelf liner or something similar in your bag. Most restaurants have stackable plastic booster seats. Take a booster into the bathroom with you and set it on the floor upside down with your piece of rubbery shelf liner underneath to stabilize it. Need more height? Stack another upside-down booster seat on top. As long as you have the nonskid thing between the upside-down booster and the floor, a young child can use this to reach the sink in a pinch.