, E-Co

Is Your Toilet Infecting You?

Your toilet seat: it’s the germiest thing in the house, right? Surely if anything in the house is going to make you ill, it’s the loo seat. Well, while it’s true that toilet seats do come into contact with an array of germs, a (clean!) toilet seat does tend to be less germy than some of the other things in your house, such as your towels and doorknobs, your computer keyboard, and even your beloved mobile phone – which probably also visits the bathroom with you (although that’s probably a subject for a separate blog!).

Your toilet seat is (hopefully!) cleaned more often and more thoroughly than a lot of other areas of your home, probably with bleach and other powerful cleaning fluids, and so on average a toilet seat has around 50 bacteria per square inch. It sounds like a lot, but it’s a mere drop in the ocean when you consider that your kitchen sponge, yes the one you use to wipe down your sides and ‘clean’ the areas where you prepare your food, has around 10 million bacteria per square inch.

However, despite squeaky clean toilet seats perhaps not being the festering factory of germs you had imagined, they are still there, and they can be quite nasty. Common toilet seat germs include faecal bacteria, MRSA, salmonella, norovirus, shigella, E.Coli, hepatitis, influenza and streptococcus – a variable cocktail of infectious bugs.

Thankfully, most of the transmission of these microorganisms that are found on your toilet seat relies on the faecal-oral route – in other words, they have to find their way into your mouth.

Tasty.

Washing your hands thoroughly after using the toilet is of course one of the top ways you can reduce the risk of your toilet seat making you sick. Other ways to prevent to spread of bathroom-related germs include:

  • Closing the lid before you flush
  • Cleaning the toilet and bathroom surfaces thoroughly and routinely and with a product including at least 10% bleach
  • Not touching your face or putting your fingers in your mouth if you haven’t washed your hands

So far, so; ‘common sense’, but with the recent COVID-19 pandemic making us more aware of the spread of infectious diseases than ever before, should we be worried about the risk of contracting the virus when we use public toilets, or use the facilities of our friends and family?

While there haven’t been any confirmed cases of people catch COVID-19 through exposure to the virus from faeces of urine, it’s hard not to assume that there must be some risk – particularly when you think about thousands of aerosol droplets that are able to rise up to a metre into the air every time a toilet is flushed with the lid up. These aerosol droplets don’t remain liquid indefinitely. Some will land on surfaces (such as the toilet seat, towels and surfaces), but some will stay airborne long enough to evaporate and become droplet nuclei; small dry particles that are light enough to remain airborne for a long time – until they are breathed in by some innocent bystander.

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Toilets are a daily and unavoidable necessity – but are they a particularly dangerous one then, if we follow the rules of closing the lid before we flush, and making sure we wash our hands? Well it’s certainly going to cut back on a lot of the risk of infection, and interestingly, it’s the flushing with the lid down that stops the majority of the viruses going down the faecal-oral route, even when compared to hand washing. Studies have concluded that a waterless flushing system could be the key to reducing the risk of pathogen transmission, but of course the introduction of waterless toilets would take time, and no doubt be an expensive process.

So, for the time being we are reliant on our own good hygiene habits to prevent getting sick after using the toilet. Not a huge problem when it comes to our own toilet at home, but let’s go back to public toilets for a second and loo seats that have come into contact with the bottoms of people we may never meet in our lifetime rather than those we share personal bonds and maybe even genetics with. 

Public toilet seats are much more of a hotbed for bacteria, and you are much more likely to pick up an infection than you are from your toilet at home. The cleanliness and hygiene of public bathrooms is out of your control, as is whether or not other users wash their hands or put the seat down before they flush. The idea that you can get an STI from a toilet seat has long-since been debunked, so while disease isn’t likely, a bacterial infection is still a possibility, but largely down to the ‘toilet plume’ that contains the aforementioned nasties such as norovirus and E.Coli that can be released when the loo is flushed.

Simply sitting on the toilet seat itself isn’t a huge risk because the pathogens in human waste are gastrointestinal pathogens, so unless you make a habit of licking toilets, the only real risk other than breathing in airborne bacteria is from touching surfaces that are ripe with bacteria and viruses and then putting your hands near or in your mouth and ingesting them. The only real situation where sitting on the toilet seat alone could make you sick is if you happened to have an open wound like a cut or scratch on the area that comes into contact with the loo seat. Bacteria getting into an open wound means the potential for an infection, but again, the risk is minimal. If you have a good immune system and no wounds on your bum, your skin will do a pretty good job as the body’s first line of defence against infection…beyond that, always put the lid down before you flush, give your hands a good scrub…

And maybe leave your mobile phone in a different room.

Your toilet seat: it’s the germiest thing in the house, right? Surely if anything in the house is going to make you ill, it’s the loo seat. Well, while it’s true that toilet seats do come into contact with an array of germs, a (clean!) toilet seat does tend to be less germy than some of the other things in your house, such as your towels and doorknobs, your computer keyboard, and even your beloved mobile phone – which probably also visits the bathroom with you (although that’s probably a subject for a separate blog!).

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Your toilet seat is (hopefully!) cleaned more often and more thoroughly than a lot of other areas of your home, probably with bleach and other powerful cleaning fluids, and so on average a toilet seat has around 50 bacteria per square inch. It sounds like a lot, but it’s a mere drop in the ocean when you consider that your kitchen sponge, yes the one you use to wipe down your sides and ‘clean’ the areas where you prepare your food, has around 10 million bacteria per square inch.

However, despite squeaky clean toilet seats perhaps not being the festering factory of germs you had imagined, they are still there, and they can be quite nasty. Common toilet seat germs include faecal bacteria, MRSA, salmonella, norovirus, shigella, E.Coli, hepatitis, influenza and streptococcus – a variable cocktail of infectious bugs.

Thankfully, most of the transmission of these microorganisms that are found on your toilet seat relies on the faecal-oral route – in other words, they have to find their way into your mouth.

Tasty.

Washing your hands thoroughly after using the toilet is of course one of the top ways you can reduce the risk of your toilet seat making you sick. Other ways to prevent to spread of bathroom-related germs include:

  • Closing the lid before you flush
  • Cleaning the toilet and bathroom surfaces thoroughly and routinely and with a product including at least 10% bleach
  • Not touching your face or putting your fingers in your mouth if you haven’t washed your hands

So far, so; ‘common sense’, but with the recent COVID-19 pandemic making us more aware of the spread of infectious diseases than ever before, should we be worried about the risk of contracting the virus when we use public toilets, or use the facilities of our friends and family?

While there haven’t been any confirmed cases of people catch COVID-19 through exposure to the virus from faeces of urine, it’s hard not to assume that there must be some risk – particularly when you think about thousands of aerosol droplets that are able to rise up to a metre into the air every time a toilet is flushed with the lid up. These aerosol droplets don’t remain liquid indefinitely. Some will land on surfaces (such as the toilet seat, towels and surfaces), but some will stay airborne long enough to evaporate and become droplet nuclei; small dry particles that are light enough to remain airborne for a long time – until they are breathed in by some innocent bystander.

Toilets are a daily and unavoidable necessity – but are they a particularly dangerous one then, if we follow the rules of closing the lid before we flush, and making sure we wash our hands? Well it’s certainly going to cut back on a lot of the risk of infection, and interestingly, it’s the flushing with the lid down that stops the majority of the viruses going down the faecal-oral route, even when compared to hand washing. Studies have concluded that a waterless flushing system could be the key to reducing the risk of pathogen transmission, but of course the introduction of waterless toilets would take time, and no doubt be an expensive process.

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So, for the time being we are reliant on our own good hygiene habits to prevent getting sick after using the toilet. Not a huge problem when it comes to our own toilet at home, but let’s go back to public toilets for a second and loo seats that have come into contact with the bottoms of people we may never meet in our lifetime rather than those we share personal bonds and maybe even genetics with. 

Public toilet seats are much more of a hotbed for bacteria, and you are much more likely to pick up an infection than you are from your toilet at home. The cleanliness and hygiene of public bathrooms is out of your control, as is whether or not other users wash their hands or put the seat down before they flush. The idea that you can get an STI from a toilet seat has long-since been debunked, so while disease isn’t likely, a bacterial infection is still a possibility, but largely down to the ‘toilet plume’ that contains the aforementioned nasties such as norovirus and E.Coli that can be released when the loo is flushed.

Simply sitting on the toilet seat itself isn’t a huge risk because the pathogens in human waste are gastrointestinal pathogens, so unless you make a habit of licking toilets, the only real risk other than breathing in airborne bacteria is from touching surfaces that are ripe with bacteria and viruses and then putting your hands near or in your mouth and ingesting them. The only real situation where sitting on the toilet seat alone could make you sick is if you happened to have an open wound like a cut or scratch on the area that comes into contact with the loo seat. Bacteria getting into an open wound means the potential for an infection, but again, the risk is minimal. If you have a good immune system and no wounds on your bum, your skin will do a pretty good job as the body’s first line of defence against infection…beyond that, always put the lid down before you flush, give your hands a good scrub…

And maybe leave your mobile phone in a different room.