Health Hazards in Residence Dorms: Showers, Kitchens, Mattresses & Other Risks of Shared Student Living

It’s your first day in college! You’re imagining more freedom, interesting new classes, the dorm life, partying with your friends. If you’ve thought about health at all, it’s to dread the frosh fifteen. Very few students are concerned about the health challenges they may be exposed to in dorms… but they should be. University residences are a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses, mold, dust and dust mites, and in some cases, much worse (see below: PCB contamination in SUNY dorms).

Your Mattress

Most university dorms have durable futons that will survive years of wear and tear. Unfortunately, after a few semesters, these futons are infested with dust (mostly dead skin cells), bacteria and viruses from their previous occupants, as well as dust mites – to which some people are allergic. Some students choose to bring their own futon or pad to place atop the dorm futon for health and cleanliness reasons.


Carpets are another home for dust and all kinds of germs. Even if residence carpets are cleaned often and thoroughly (and most aren’t), there will still be contaminants. New carpeting is even worse, since they gas off, releasing toxic chemicals into the building.

Heating System and Vents

How old is your residence building? The more beautiful and historic it is, the more antiquated and/or filthy its heating system and air vents may be. Cleaning and updating ventilation systems can be very expensive and it’s not done often enough, allowing the spread of dust, mold, and viruses throughout the building. Old buildings may also be more vulnerable to toxic mold.

Cold and Flu

It goes without saying that where dozens of people live in close proximity, colds, flu, and other infectious disease spreads easily! As winter cold and flu season approaches, be sure to take precautions to boost your immune system.

Res Kitchens

The worst sites of contamination in dorms are often the kitchens. Whether they are shared within an apartment or a wing of a res hall, kitchens may go without being fully cleaned until students move out and the next year’s residents move in. By April, that’s eight months of accumulated dirt and germs! If you use a shared kitchen, make sure to bring your own dishes, pots, and utensils and keep them clean to avoid catching something from contaminated surfaces.

Washrooms & Showers

Washrooms in residence dorms are cleaned frequently – thank goodness! However, like a gym or other public showers, it’s a good idea to use a pair of flip-flops or shower shoes to avoid catching athlete’s foot (a foot fungus) or anything else from shower or washroom floors.

Toilet paper on public toilet seats never goes amiss. And try to avoid laying your toothbrush or other personal toiletries on public surfaces. Simple steps can go a long way in preventing the spread of the flu, other viruses, and bacteria.

Worse – PCBs in SUNY New Paltz Dorms

Occasional dorms will be a source of health problems far more serious than those discussed above. Read on for details on the public controversy over PCB contamination in residences on the New Paltz campus of the State University of New York. Try googling the name of your residence building and see if you dig up any dirt.

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