The People's Perspective on Medicine

Toilet Seat Sanitation Stirs Emotions

Do toilet seats pose a risk of disease or is your kitchen counter a more hazardous surface? Are there any steps you can take to prevent picking up germs?

We never fail to be amazed at how worked up people get about public restrooms and toilet seats. Many women are justifiably outraged about wetness. Denise shared her anger:

“Women who pee on seats are doing so because they do not want their bare bottoms (mostly thighs, actually) to contact a surface – even a dry surface – that has been sat on – or peed on – by others. Perhaps they should go in the men’s room and use a urinal.

“When I unsuspectingly sit on a wet seat (rare now that I look first) I am not so much worried about germs as I am wet and uncomfortable and put out that I now have to dry off my entire backside before I’m done. The preceding offender should wipe off the seat so I don’t have to. Come on, people!”

What About Germs?

Then there’s the whole issue of germs. Some people are convinced that they caught “something” from a toilet seat. One older woman reported that her husband contracted herpes from the facilities at their gym. She was adamant that her husband did not “mess around.”

Dermatologists insisted that was impossible and that no one ever caught herpes (or any other STD) from a toilet seat. Nevertheless, we have heard from other people that they caught herpes from gym equipment or bathrooms. A nurse shared this experience:

“I was taught in nursing school that one could not get herpes from a toilet seat. I have contracted herpes and my husband of 36 years remains free of the disease. Since I have had only one partner in my 57 years and he remains clear, I must assume that I caught herpes from a toilet seat.

“Intact skin makes it hard for a person to catch this disease. But I get occasional splits in the skin near the base of the spine, and this is where my herpes has appeared. I do not have vaginal herpes.

“Those of us who have the disease and have not had sex with more than one person in our entire lives are devastated to learn that we are carriers. Thank goodness for a wonderful physician and an understanding husband.”

Flushing Toilets with the Lid Down

Q. Your discussion of germ contamination from flushing toilets should be a non-issue. All people have to do is close the lid before flushing. Of course, covers are not air tight, but I doubt if much airborne spray would get out and cause infections in a normal home.

A. At the risk of reigniting the great bathroom battle, we have to disagree. Dr. Chuck Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, has singlehandedly reinforced America’s fear of public restrooms. He found that when a toilet is flushed, germs from the bowl are thrown into the air in a fine, invisible mist that eventually settles out on bathroom surfaces.

When we asked him the obvious question about closing the lid, he informed us that this would not solve the problem. The mist apparently lingers and the next person to lift the lid may get it in the face.

Of course in a normal home, where people are healthy, there is little risk of transmitting infection. But in a public restroom, flush handles, taps and door knobs may be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. Readers have suggested using a paper towel when touching these surfaces after washing hands.

Other Sources of Bacterial Contamination

Without becoming paranoid, consider that toilet paper dispensers can be a source of nasty germs. So can cell phones, kitchen sponges, counter tops and cutting boards. Money is dirty. So are light switches, computer keyboards, remote controls for TVs (in hotels and hospitals) as well as shopping cart handles. The best advice: wash hands carefully!

Many visitors to this website say we should not worry about germs. But norovirus can spread easily and cause severe diarrhea. This viral infection is NOT restricted to cruise ships. The CDC estimates about 20 million people suffer gastroenteritis each year. Most cases are caused by norovirus (symptoms include severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) and occur on land.

What’s your opinion? Share your own bathroom experiences below in the “ADD MY THOUGHTS” section. And please vote on this article at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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I sanitize restrooms on a daily basis. My question is directed for Sanitation Drying time on toilets. I was taught from another facility after you sanitize the toilet to leave both lids up for Sanitation Drying time. ………Thoughts…..Comments……….Please.

I tried to not get norovirus when my husband was sick with it, I cleaned disinfected the bowl of toilet and bathroom every time he used and I wear gloves and long sleeves while doing it or touching his food plate etc. I avoided coming near him and I still got it!

So is very very hard to avoid norovirus if you are around a person with it. Norovirus is resistant to even diluted bleach or disinfectant products for bathroom I found out on the internet. Better to be strong and avoid eating at dubious restaurants or raw food at bad highyine place. Also oysters and mussels can have the virus and I got more than once from eating it so now I stopped eating them usually.

i was never worried much about germs, until i started getting a vag bacteria infection after i travelled, couldn’t figure out why at first until it dawned on me as i was sitting on an airport toilet and it started flushing under me. such bad design. wastes water, and spreads germs all over ones delicate parts. annoying. I started carrying a small jar full of pads soaked in a hydrogen peroxide/distilled water solution to clean myself after. vag infections stopped happening.
solution: just stop the auto flush and hire a bathroom attendant. create a job for someone.

I personally hate the fact that more and more public toilets are being converted to auto flush. I totally get that some people do not flush the toilet after use BUT these toilets flush even when you are still squatting over them, without warning, sending God knows what not only into the air but into ladies delicate parts. The water flushes with such force the mist flies up and all over you. Can something be done to have some manual toilets for those of us that never forget to flush. Disgusting !!!

Seems few public toilets now have lids–nothing to close !

If you aren’t going to sit on the seat, kindly raise it. Think of others following you, especially children.

I am quite sure MRSA can be transmitted on toilet seats. Best to cover the seat with clean toilet paper or not sit on it.

If more thought and consideration were put into the design of ladies’ restrooms, perhaps we wouldn’t get as worked up. Case in point: Just yesterday, I used a restroom at a fast food restaurant in Beckley, West Virginia. It was one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. My knees practically touched the door and the toilet was so low it might as well have been a hole in the floor. When ladies have to do gymnastics just to relieve themselves, it’s no wonder there’s pee on the seat.

I notice that the people who are most susceptible to bacteria-borne illnesses are the ones who constantly use hand santizers, Clorox wipes on surfaces, and are plainly in terror of everything not completely sterilized. I wash my hands with soap (but usually less than 10 seconds) after using the restroom, don’t own a bottle of hand sanitizer, and invoke the 5-10 second rule if something edible (like a cookie) hits a floor, etc. I’m rarely ill or suffer stomach viruses or other nasty maladies. I suspect it’s because I’ve developed a healthy immune system over the years by not being a germ-o-phobe.

The toilet seat discussion has been going as long as can remembered. The one issue that was addressed in a “Sanitation Seminar” is the door handle in a restroom which carries every germ imaginable. Use the paper towel or Kleenex to open and close the doors. Don’t stuff the paper back in your purse.

I get so angry at women who pee on the seat! I agree that they should just raise the seat as the men do and straddle. It is bad manners to leave a dirty seat, especially when the light is dim and you can’t see the wet spots.

While I do try to be careful in bathrooms, both at home and away, these conversations do remind me of the “good old days” before everyone had bathrooms. (I grew up in the depression years) How we stayed healthy may have been due to many things. Our lifestyle was active and by need, we walked, played and worked outside also. Maybe the sun and the breeze did it. Out diets were simple, the fruit and vegetables our mothers preserved, potatoes and squash from our own gardens and etc. Also once a week baths in front of the old kitchen stove. Of course this may all just be some big miracle. Still, I LOVE MY BATHROOMS.

“If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat; wipe the seat!” There is nothing (well, almost) grosser than sitting down on a toilet seat that has urine on it from a previous occupant. I do look, but sometimes the lighting is inadequate. Yuck! PLEASE just sit down, or dry it off. Were you raised in a barn?

When using public toilets I raise the seat, lean on my thighs and never touch anything else since most public toilets are self flushing . Then I really wash my hands very thoroughly when I am finished.

I am glad for public toilets because I am out and about so much. I don’t fear getting germs from them (because I handwash well!) but I am frustrated by wet toilet seats, either from splashing water or careless prior users. Primarily I am annoyed by the tiny spaces with doors-opening-inward that pass for public toilets in the USA. A decade ago I used a public toilet in France that had plastic that automatically covered the seat with fresh plastic when flushed. There are innovative ways for more sanitary public toilets, especially for women, that are never explored in the USA. And certainly the stall spaces should be bigger in size, especially in airports where keeping an eye on your carry-on luggage is a concern.

Carol — adequate public restroom facilities are not unknown in the US. I have been in public restrooms where the stalls were spacious, the toilets were high enough to not inflict pain on my arthritic knee when sitting, and yes, I have even been in restrooms that had the automatic toilet seat cover thing. It’s a matter of how much thought and consideration is put into the design of the restroom. Too many businesses treat restrooms as an annoyance, something they HAVE to provide, due to law, rather than something they WANT to provide for the convenience and comfort of their customers.
Take a look at the restroom in the businesses you frequent, and you will probably have a pretty good idea of their general attitude towards customers.

I understand not wanting to sit on a wet, public toilet seat, but ladies!!! Be considerate of others!! Don’t leave used toilet seat covers or toilet tissue covering the seat for the next person to clean up! I don’t want to touch what you have left behind from YOUR behind?! Clean it up!

My thoughts are with poster, Carolyn. I grew up in a household of brothers who had served in the military. They were taught no one gets diseases from the toilet seat. However I too, get aggravated when I sit in someone else’s pee. I get tickled at the women who make an issue of using the paper toilet covers or straddling the stool yet, they will have a one night stand without thinking about what disease they may encounter. The secret is wash those hands, with SOAP, wash those hands!!!

One thing that received no mention and that women need to keep in mind is that their vulvar area can be splashed with the contents of the toilet while they are sitting there. Many infections are transmitted this way because one is getting a direct hit so to speak.

If wet toilet seats for females were our only concern for contamination in the public restrooms!! So many of those toilets have self flushing mechanisms and sometimes they will flush 2-3 times while you are sitting on it! This flush sprays a mist and probably millions of germs all over your bottom! You can actually feel the misting pressure. I too have just
been diagnosed with genital herpes. My husband is clear and it
has not shown up in my blood tests yet. I am convinced it’s from one of those toilets since I have only 1 sex partner.

I frequently use public toilets due to a urinary frequency problem. There are often visible body fluids (pee, feces, blood) on the public toilet seats I use. When I heard Dr Oz say you can’t get anything from public toilet seats, I started sitting on the seats again. I started again to get the staph aureus pimples. I think that not all women’s immune systems are that strong. Some are more susceptible to skin infections in that area. Also, as I get more arthritic, it is getting harder and harder to pee squatting and not sitting on the toilet. So I try to wipe the toilet with a sanitizing paper when I have to sit down on a public toilet.

Some times water on the toilet seat can be from the toilet itself. I know I’ve experienced the annoyance of having to wipe the seat before using it (mentally grousing at the previous user, of course). Then, when I flushed the toilet I’ve noticed that the seat has water sprinkles on it again (and I didn’t cause the sprinkles!!) Maybe it depends on how powerful the flusher is…the more powerful, the greater tendency for water in the bowl to splash back up onto the seat. I stopped worrying about toilet seats after reading, back in the ’90’s, that there are more germs on an office desk, phone, computer keyboard than on a toilet seat (and very little on toilet seats at that).

I read with interest the comments from the nurse about herpes. I had a similar incident while assigned to a ship in the U S Navy. At the time, I was not sexually active but had acquired growths or warts on the foreskin of my penis. When I went to sick bay, the Corpsman told me that I had venereal warts. When I told him that I was not having sex, we deduced that when I used the toilet, my penis touched the front of the toilet and picked something up. When a man sits down on a toilet, his penis has no choice but to touch the porcelain or metal area in front of him while voiding. That’s the only conclusion we could come up with. Since then I have put toilet paper there after sitting down in a public bathroom. After a week of treatment, the warts disappeared. The next day compartment cleaners were sterilizing all the toilets in the area. So, I agree with her if the germ is strong enough. Thankyou for your time.

Finding pee on the toilet seat from the previous user does not seem to be as much of a problem as before for some reason. I have never understood why ladies who do not want to sit do not lift the seat and straddle just the bowl. Easier to do, as the bowl is not as wide as the seat and it prevents them from leaving the dribble behind on the seat.

Have to agree with Carolyn. When I had sciatica and spinal stenosis so bad that I couldn’t sit on a toilet, I found that straddling the bowl to pee worked perfectly. Why are we women sitting, I thought. And standing seems to do a better job of emptying the bladder.

Here’s the thing: There are NO toilet lids in a public bathroom, so if one wants to flush – in the very cramped cubicle – a woman has to position herself to 1) reach the handle and still 2) cower in a corner to avoid the deluge of spray. Even if it is an “automatic flusher” one must get the heck outta Dodge ASAP to escape the anticipated spewing of dirty potty water.

I wouldn’t want to touch a toilet seat in a public bathroom. If the seat is up, for whatever reason, I use my foot to put it down. I also use my foot to flush the toilet. Toilet paper could be used.

One of the dirtiest places in a public bathroom is the door latch. I use toilet paper to open the latch.

Eve, you are “right on” concerning having to be agile (and vigil) enough to avoid all sorts of contamination in the ladies’ room.
My worst peeve is when I accidentally sit on a wet seat; now I spend more time than I want to in the stall making sure the seat is dry. Ladies! Get with it!

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