I’ll admit, when the idea of rating area restrooms came up, I wasn’t sure I was into it. Icky, yucky bathrooms with floors that stick to the soles of your shoes and smell funny? You can keep them, thanks. Public restrooms have long been something I loathe. The germs and unsanitary conditions generally associated with public loos are the things my mom repeatedly warned me about throughout childhood. Never sit on or touch the seats and always flush with your foot were the golden rules for using public thrones. Today there are additional germ-contacting precautions, like first grabbing paper towels to turn the sink off and open the door. (Don’t get me started on the dilemma presented by eco-conscious restrooms with hand dryers and no paper towels. Panic.)

So, when I checked out a host of area restrooms recently as part of a Sun Journal effort to locate the best Twin City flushes, based on reader suggestions, I was pleasantly surprised — they were clean. Really, they were impressive. There are some very nice public bathrooms in Lewiston-Auburn. Unique, well-decorated, orderly and innovative; some are certainly worthy of mention. Of the 20 public restrooms (and portable toilets) I visited, nearly all of them were more than acceptably clean.

My tour of L-A restrooms had me considering what exactly a clean bathroom has to have. I decided that clean means all surfaces are free from grime, which, thankfully, not one of the 20 restrooms had. Toilets, sinks, counters and mirrors need to look as though they have been wiped clean recently — no watermarks, shredded toilet paper, hair or other refuse can be strewn about. Floors and waste receptacles have to appear tidy as well, though I did let a paper towel or two go, since it was likely due to someone’s carelessness rather than a sign of neglect. I even took note that nearly all of the 20 bathrooms had two-ply toilet paper; a relief to most women.

The highlights of our search:

• Kohl’s restroom in Auburn has decor that is eye-catching; Rol Orianne Coty of Greene said it even tops the now defunct Jimmy’s restaurant of Auburn, once known to have the cleanest bathroom in town.

• Marco’s and Fishbone’s are simply elegant, DaVinci’s color scheme and space show off its spotless appeal, and Gritty McDuff’s prison-grade, stainless steel toilets, urinals and sinks are just plain cool to look at (though I will say the stall doors are heavy).

• I was directed to She Doesn’t Like Guthrie’s in Lewiston for restrooms any mom would be proud of. I was told owner Randy Letourneau’s mother, Tina, keeps them spotless. To my eye they certainly looked as though they’d pass the white-glove test. “She’s our secret weapon,” said daughter-in-law/co-owner Heather Letourneau.

• Fuel’s ladies’ room was complete with flowers, while the newly remodeled TJ Maxx revamped its outdated, drab bathrooms with earth-tone wall and floor tiles, new stalls and new toilets. Both facilities were clean, fresh smelling and reduced my preoccupation with germs by nearly half.

• Even McDonald’s in Lewiston was in the hunt, having been recommended by a reader (and the SJ’s own Mark Laflamme). Definitely clean, but what I liked most were the high-powered, sci-fi-looking hand dryers. These things actually dry your hands in seconds. Compared to typical hand dryers, these are open at the top. Everyone has to check these out, really.

• Everywhere, automated sinks, toilet flushers and paper towel and soap dispensers are slowly taking the place of older, manual fixtures. Frankly, the fewer times my hands have to touch surfaces in a public restroom, the better.

In the end, I found that there were restrooms that excelled in at least one category, though most of them ranked well in my mental tally of points for doing very much the opposite of grossing me out.

The results

Best decor: It was a close call between three establishments, but ultimately I decided on Marco’s for its color scheme and attractive set-up.

Best amenities: Whether this amenity is actually the best or not is strictly up to preference, but the “turbo” hand dryers at McDonald’s Cafe in Lewiston are incredible. I dare you to argue that with me.

Simply, well … simple: Fishbone’s atmosphere, as well as the owners’ expectations that all employees pick up anything they see out of place, prove that clean doesn’t have to be complicated.

Roomiest: Another close one, but DaVinci’s in Lewiston had both ample stall space and overall bathroom space.

Cleanest: I would have to say hands down that each time I went into TJ Maxx’s newly remodeled ladies’ room I was always impressed with how spotless it was.

Most unique: Gritty McDuff’s bathrooms are both trendy and smart, as the toilets are stainless steel and the surfaces can be hosed down for maximum sanitation. The heavy metal doors are a bit cumbersome, but overall this bathroom is truly unique.

Impressive surprise: Kennedy Park’s Port-o-johns — recommended by one reader — gave me the biggest shock of them all: They were spotless and absolutely absent of the typical, outhouse-like smell. And the hand-sanitizing station for little hands had my germ-wary mind cheering.

Have a recommendation of your own? Go to the end of this story at www.sunjournal.com and share with readers.

Useful bathroom facts:

A 2004 California state science fair project found that people leave a public restroom with more bacteria on their hands than they went in with. Of the eight areas in a bathroom the group tested, the paper towel dispenser and toilet were the most contaminated. — http://www.usc.edu/CSSF/History/2004/Projects/S1321.pdf.

Hover or sit? The risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or other such problem is next to nil, according to several germ authorities online, but there are other more obvious reasons a person would opt to hover. The people who used that toilet before you may have been in a rush or simply didn’t care to aim properly, and no matter how many times I hear that urine is sterile, I am not about to let my bottom come into contact with it. Hover it is.

Do you wash your hands after using a public restroom? Most people will say they do, but in random screenings people have been witnessed leaving without a glance at the sink. To prevent the spread of germs, take a minute to wash and dry your hands properly; germ phobes everywhere will thank you.

Have an iPhone? You can download an application that locates public restrooms for you at http://www.have2p.com/have2p.

For more bathroom facts and information visit www.restroomratings.com and www.thebathroomdiaries.com.

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