One Major Side Effect of Flushing the Toilet, Says Science

The COVID pandemic made many of us much more vigilant about keeping our homes clean, particularly those “high-touch surfaces” like light switches, door handles and remote controls. Even before that, you were probably giving the bathroom plenty of attention in your regular cleaning routine, just out of necessity. But you might be overlooking two particular items in the bathroom—and how you use them on a daily basis has the potential to make you sick. Read on to find out how—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.

The Perils of The “Toilet Plume”

If you’re like many households, you might have fought a few battles about the toilet seat, specifically about it being left up or down. Science says it’s a good idea for the lid, at least, to be closed whenever you flush. 

A very sound reason: The “toilet plume.” 

“Scientists have found that in addition to clearing out whatever business you’ve left behind, flushing a toilet can generate a cloud of aerosol droplets that rises nearly three feet,” reported the New York Times. Those droplets may linger in the air long enough to be inhaled by a shared toilet’s next user, or land on surfaces in the bathroom.”

That’s disgusting in any year, but particularly concerning in the COVID era: In simulations, toilet plumes were found to “carry infectious coronavirus particles that are already present in the surrounding air or recently shed in a person’s stool,” the Times added.

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Bathroom Surfaces Can Harbor Germs

Think of all the places in the three-foot radius where a toilet plume might deposit germs. You’d be forgiven for shuddering when you remember that some of them are proximate to your mouth.

In a study on household germs, the global public health and safety organization NSF International tested 30 surfaces in 22 homes for bacteria, yeast and mold, including six surfaces in the bathrooms. The researchers found that “while 27% of toilet seats contained mold and yeast, 64% of toothbrush holders did,” reported Time magazine. “Of the toothbrush holders, 27% had coliform (an indicator of potential fecal contamination), and 14% had staph.”

When’s the last time you cleaned your toothbrush holder? Thought so. “The toothbrush holder often has many of the factors germs need,” Lisa Yakas, a microbiologist at NSF International, told Time. “It is dark, damp and not cleaned as frequently as it should be.” 

You’ve likely guessed where fecal contamination in the bathroom comes from: The toilet, specifically the plume generated when it’s flushed with the lid up.

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How to Stay Healthy

To protect yourself and your loved ones from illness, it’s probably good policy to ensure your toilet is always flushed with the lid down. It’s also important to regularly clean surfaces that may attract bacteria and viruses: the toilet, sink, faucets, handles—and that toothbrush holder. Scrub it with dish soap and water, or pop it in the dishwasher every so often.

As for your toothbrushes, soaking them in 3% hydrogen peroxide or Listerine can kill up to 85% of harmful germs, experts say. (Just keep them out of the dishwasher; the high heat can make them melt.) And replace them regularly: The American Dental Association recommends every three to four months, or when they’ve become matted or worn. And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss these 13 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Killing You.

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