By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 21 August 2009)
Is it possible to catch diseases from a public toilet seat? Thankfully, the answer is “probably not” in the case of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Most microorganisms that cause STDs can’t survive for long outside the human body, and because a person’s genitals don’t make contact with the toilet seat, STDs are unlikely to be transmitted this way. President of the American Society for Microbiology Abigail Salyers notes that to her knowledge, “no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet seat” (WebMD, 2009). In fact, the typical office workstation contains 400 times as many germs as the average toilet seat because it’s cleaned far less often.
There Are Illnesses That a Person Can Catch in a Public Washroom
There are a variety of nasty germs that may be found in public washrooms, including everything from E. coli to the common cold, and flush handles, taps, towel dispensers, and doorknobs are actually more likely to transmit these infections than toilet seats. Keeping this in mind, the risk of infection can be reduced by:
- Flushing the toilet with a shoe or paper towel rather than a bare hand
- Leaving the stall immediately after flushing, before the mist from the flush disperses and settles
- Washing hands thoroughly (20-30 seconds, including under fingernails) with soap, or using hand sanitizing gel if soap is not available
- Using a paper towel to turn off taps
- Pushing the outer door open with a foot or turning the knob or handle with a paper towel
While the STD risk is minimal, parasitic infections such as pinworm and roundworm may be transmitted via toilet seats. As with other types of infection, good hygiene is the best defense. People are just as likely to pick up parasites on their hands from other bathroom surfaces and inadvertently infect themselves as they are to catch them from toilet seats, so regular hand washing is the key to prevention.
Squatting Above the Seat (Hovering) Increases the Risk of Urinary Tract Infection
Many women who are afraid of toilet seat germs hover above the seat, but this is a risky strategy. Hovering prevents complete voiding of the bladder, which can lead to painful urinary tract infections, and those who hover are likely to pick up germs from other bathroom surfaces anyways. Wiping the seat and covering it with toilet paper is a better approach than hovering.
Toothbrushes Are a Significant Source of Bathroom Germs in the Home
Many people focus on toilets but show little concern about work stations or other major gathering places for germs, such as their own toothbrushes. Among the most germ-infested items in the average bathroom, toothbrushes acquire germs from users’ mouths, neighbouring toothbrushes, and other nearby objects. To reduce toothbrush germs:
- Choose a toothbrush with a light-coloured or translucent head (these harbour fewer germs than dark-coloured heads).
- Store toothbrushes an inch or more apart.
- Buy a new toothbrush every couple of months and after suffering a cold or flu.
- Don’t share toothbrushes.
- Put the lid down before flushing the toilet if the toothbrush is stored in the open (flushing toilets spray a fine mist that can reach up to 20 feet).
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a qualified medical practitioner.
- O’Connor, A. (2007). “Can Toothbrushes Spread Disease?” and “Do Toilet Seats Spread Germs?” Never Shower in a Thunderstorm: Surprising Facts and Misleading Myths About Our Health and the World We Live In. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
- Snyderman, N.L., MD. (2008). “The Biggest Breeding Ground for Germs in Your Bathroom Is Not Your Hairbrush” and “You Cannot Catch Sexually Transmitted Diseases from Toilet Seats.” Medical Myths That Can Kill You: And the 101 Truths That Will Save, Extend, and Improve Your Life. New York: Crown Publishers.
- The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. (8 March 2006). “Ladies, Take a Seat for International Women’s Day: Physios Say Stop Squatting over Toilets or Risk Bladder Infections.” CSP.org.UK.
- WebMD. (2009). “What Can You Catch in Restrooms?”