Today I take a break from some heavy topics to settle an issue I’ve wondered about as long as I can remember.
For years as I was growing up, my mother cautioned me against perching my rear on a public toilet seat. It was unthinkable— you never knew who had been there before you. Why, one could pick up all sorts of horrible diseases!
This impression was heightened by those tissue paper toilet seat covers, available in all the finer public restrooms. Obviously, they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t needed for our safety. But they seemed so… flimsy. With my mind full of huge, anatomy-eating microbes, I wondered—could a simple layer of tissue really keep them at bay? Perhaps hovering was the better alternative.
Then as I grew older, I began to question a lot of the information (and misinformation) I received growing up. If my mother (God rest her soul) could be wrong about the edibility of guacamole (she told me I wouldn’t like it), and misguided about bread crusts (she claimed that not eating my crusts would stunt my growth), perhaps she didn’t know as much as I had imagined. Sure, she warned me about the hazards of toilet seats, but I wanted scientific proof.
Happily, the internet is full of useful (if not always reliable) information. I entered “What disease can you get from toilet seats?” into my search bar and pressed enter. I got over 1,300,000 results. Guess I’m not the only one wondering about this!
Much to my surprise, it turns out that toilet seats are actually remarkably clean. This was authoritatively claimed by several dozen doctors. It seems that most disease-causing organisms that could potentially be lurking on that hard, smooth surface die rapidly of exposure. Unless you have an open sore that is in actual contact with the same spot on the seat where the previous person left some germs, you’re not going to catch anything. And even then, it’s extremely unlikely.
Our desire to avoid touching a public toilet is more aesthetic than medical. That makes more sense to me. Even if it can’t hurt you, who wants to risk coming in contact with anything that might have been left behind? Yuck! Perhaps those paper covers make us feel more relaxed about using the facility. That’s fine with me.
There is a health risk in a public restroom, but it’s not from the toilet seat. It’s from the sink! When you consider that people turn on the faucets with their dirty hands, that makes a lot of sense. Faucets, handles, counters, door knobs—they all have more germs than the toilet seat.
Still, we don’t want to avoid the sink area—it’s important to wash our hands to keep from getting and/or spreading diseases. In fact, having contaminated hands is the way most of us get sick. Bacteria such as staph and E. coli, and viruses such as the ones that cause the flu, are all transmitted by touch.
The best way to deal with a public sink is to turn on the water, use a lot of soap, and wash for at least 30 seconds. Then use a paper towel to turn off the water so you don’t have to touch the faucet handles again. And please—while we all like to claim that we wash our hands after using a restroom, hidden cameras reveal that only about two-thirds of us really do. Now I know what I should get grossed out about!
I’m not going to ask about your toilet habits! Instead, what tall tales did your parents tell you?