Did you know that toilet water is contaminating your bathroom every time you flush with the lid open? The “toilet plume,” as it’s called, is full of germs (and particles) from poop and pee.
NYU professor Philip Tierno has said that the plume can aerosol up to 15 feet in the air. When you flush, that stuff deposits itself on every surface in the bathroom, including your toothbrush, hairbrush, towels, phone, and anything else that's lying around. If that’s not gross, I don’t know what is.
How long has this been going on?
Scientists have known about this phenomenon for a long time. Back in 1975, Charles P. Gerba wrote about Microbiological Hazards of Household Toilets in the Applied Microbiology journal. Scientists are still researching the subject in the 21st century. Okay, since those papers are not light reading, let me summarize for you.
While there’s no direct evidence that the toilet plume in your own bathroom will make you sick, the potential exists, and it may increase as the number of people using the bathroom increases. Don't think multiple flushes will take care of the problem, either. The germs persist in the toilet until you clean it.
What can I do about it?
The solution is simple: always shut the lid before you flush. While male members of the household may object, remind them that it takes one second and keeps the bathroom a whole lot cleaner. Then, whenever you swab the toilet with disinfectant, be sure to wipe the seat and the inside of the lid with antibacterial wipes. To stay safe, even with the lid down, protect your stuff—don't bring your phone into the bathroom, stash your toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, and change out your towels ridiculously often, at least twice a week.
But what about using public restrooms?
Those public toilets rarely have lids, and even if they did, you probably wouldn’t want to touch them. So, knowing what’s in the air, you should minimize your time in there—do your business, and plan for a quick escape. Before you leave any restroom, always lather your hands well. Wash for at least twenty seconds, and rinse with warm water.
After you wash your hands, you may want to avoid the hand dryer. It works by pulling in bathroom air, loaded with bacteria and viruses, and blasting it all over your clean hands. Eww, am I right? Germaphobes—start carrying hand sanitizer. And if you’re buying a new toilet for your home, consider a low-flush model. Not only will it save water, it will help prevent the dreaded toilet plume.