Ladies, how many times have you gone into a public toilet and went "eww"? The floor is soaked with puddles. There are toilet paper clumps turning gooey everywhere. And someone has left drops of... something on the toilet seat.
Left with no choice, you cringe and pull down fistfuls of toilet paper. As long as you layer the seat with toilet paper, you'll be well-protected from the germs... right?
Why you really shouldn't
It sounds counter-intuitive, but you come into contact with more icky germs when you put toilet paper down.
In a study of toilet sanitation published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers analyzed the effects of toilet plume on germ distribution in toilets. Toilet plume refers to the aerosols—liquid or solid particles suspended in air—that spray out when you flush your toilet.
This plume resembles a "toilet sneeze", said Dr Charles Gerba. And the researchers found this unseen spray to be surprisingly powerful when they put viruses and bacteria inside toilets and flushed them.
"It looks like the 4th of July with rockets going off from inside the toilet," Gerba said. This unsavoury explosion of toilet water, the researchers found, caused microbes to settle on surfaces all over.
This means extra large helpings of germs landing on the nearest object to the toilet bowl: the toilet paper dispenser, plus its long, trailing roll of toilet paper. Toilet tissue dispensers had a whopping 150 times more bacteria than toilet seats, researchers found.
It's the bare toilet seat, according to the study, which is surprisingly the cleanest area in your toilet. One reason why, the researchers say, might (ironically) be women's habit of wiping the toilet seat or covering it with toilet paper.
But another reason, according to Business Insider, is your toilet seat design. Toilet seat surfaces are designed to be tougher for germs to cling to, making them less of a breeding ground for infectious diseases.
How to maximise germ protection in the toilet
So mums, it turns out we might want to teach our girls (and boys, till they get older) not to layer the seat with toilet paper.
This is probably easier said than done. I might know, intellectually, that it's more hygienic, but my inner germaphobe can't help but freak out at the thought of my bum touching the bare porcelain.
Fortunately, there are additional ways you can keep your little ones safe from germs and bacteria. Here are some useful hygiene practices you can pass on to your kids:
1) Put the toilet seat down
Before flushing, close the toilet seat cover to prevent toilet plume from escaping. Ta-da, icky germs contained!
2) Don't touch the toilet paper dispenser
The researchers advise to touch only the paper you're going to use. Germs thrive more on typical dispenser materials than on toilet paper itself.
For example, stainless steel, according to Gerba, enables 30-50% of microorganisms on it to be transferred to your hand.
3) Touch as little as possible
It's likely that the whole cubicle was sprayed with germs at some point. The researchers narrowed down the heaviest splash zone for toilet plume: within 3 feet or 0.9m of the toilet bowl.
To put this in perspective, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) guidelines state that toilet cubicles should be around 0.9m wide and 1.5m deep. So make sure your little ones' curious fingers aren't touching all about on a bathroom trip.
4) Wash your hands
This goes without saying. Get your little one to lather up with soap and water, scrubbing for as long as it takes them to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice over.
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