How Dirty Are Toilet Seats? How to Protect Yourself at Home & in Public

Stop the spread of bacteria around your toilet bowl.

By Victoria Giardina
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This Will Make You Reconsider Flushing With the Toilet Lid Up… (3:00)

Most people use public toilets multiple times a day without stopping to think what kind of germs and bacteria are really lurking on them. Some face their potty faux-pas head-on (or quite literally, butt-off), by resorting to squatting instead of sitting. The real question is, how dirty are toilet seats, and should you be concerned of contracting harmful bacteria or illnesses? Even at home, the chance of having a perfectly clean porcelain bowl is extremely rare, so the best way to avoid catching germs on a toilet is by knowing how to protect yourself.

Listen, I'm not the only one who is grossed out by public restrooms. And, I'm certainly not the only one who goes through great lengths to avoid any potential contact with them. According to a bathroom behavior survey, 64 percent of Americans use their feet to flush public toilets, as pointed out by The Cut, 60 percent open the door handle with toilet paper, and 39 percent use channel their inner martial-arts sensei and use their elbows whenever possible. It just feels like pathogens are engulfing you in the stall. Yeah, not fun.

So, what do you have to know before you go? And more importantly, what are the germs you should be weary of, specifically? Here's what you need to know. 

The Flu

Nope, the flu isn't just caught in those frigid winter months. According to gynecologist Dr. Evelyn Minaya, the flu virus can lurk in restrooms. When you flush, the flu virus is being rushed up and spread among surfaces if it's already present.

That's not even the worst of it, because the flu and other viruses can live for two full days on nonporous surfaces. Make sure to sanitize your bathroom regularly (including your toilet seat, doorknobs, and sink) to avoid feeling under the weather with a viral infection. Here's a quick tip: If you, unfortunately, catch a case of the flu, Dr. Oz has the perfect rescue pack to bolster your immune system.

Hemorrhoids

Minaya says sitting on the toilet for a prolonged period of time can cause hemorrhoids — a.k.a. an itchy and uncomfortable nightmare that is the most common cause of rectal bleeding. Too much toilet time adds extra stress on veins in the lower rectum, taking about a week to rid the inconvenient symptoms

Don't take your cellphone in the bathroom with you either. Aside from it encouraging you to stay seated for longer, it can also accumulate germs (there is a claim that your cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat!). Use an antibacterial wipe to clean your phone every so often to lower your chances of catching something nasty. 

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

UTIs are the reason for 10 million doctor's appointments each year. There are some signs that you may have one, but could your toilet also be to blame? If you don't want anything to do with sitting on a toilet seat, squatting might not be the best option for your pelvic muscles, because it can cause UTIs. Minaya says when you stand back up there is still a bit of urine in your system because your lower body wasn't relaxed.

One way to prevent a UTI from happening is to line the seat with toilet paper so you can sit. Keep in mind that this is not the only way to prevent them — drinking lots of water and peeing after sex are vital

Shigella Bacteria

This form of bacteria can spread like rapid fire, especially when you forget to wash your hands after you flush. If caught, this stubborn bacteria can cause shigellosis, which is a toxic package filled with severe diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and other gastrointestinal distress that can last for about a week. 

Similar to the warning signs of E. coli, shigellosis occurs when a person's feces contaminate a surface (essentially, this can be anywhere in your bathroom — yuck!). So make sure you meticulously clean your bathroom space often.

Stomach Virus

Nobody wants a stomach bug. I would even take this a step further by saying nobody wants a bug period. But it can live on your toilet, just waiting for you to relax, enjoy, and take a seat. According to Cleveland Clinic, stomach viruses can live on nonporous surfaces for about two days (just like the flu) and can lead to a marathon of nausea. If someone has the stomach virus in your living space, it is even more common to catch it through the air. Make sure you thoroughly wash your hands, clean your toilet seat, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for extra protection.

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Article written by Victoria Giardina