Toilets and bathrooms are often viewed as unhygienic. Toilets are the breeding ground for so many bacteria, viruses, and other types of microbes that cause infections. In reality, many of the things that we have learned about bathrooms and bathroom hygiene are not supported by scientific evidence.
- Toilet Seats are Unhygienic: In reality, toilet seats are significantly cleaner than the desks that we use at work and school. The average work desk is 400 times dirtier than the public toilet seats. Other objects that are dirtier than toilets include keyboards, cell phones, toothbrushes, refrigerators, carpets, pillows, and money. But why? We frequently clean toilets, but do not often wash phones, pillows, or desks. Furthermore, we spend only a few minutes every day on the toilet, whereas we often spend hours on desks.
- Toilet Seat Liners Prevent Disease: The availability of toilet seat liners in public restrooms was introduced in the 1920’s when Mary and Joseph Brewer patented the invention after arguing that toilets spread infectious diseases. In actuality however, toilets do not spread as many diseases as most people think. Many STD’s like HIV and herpes are unable to survive outside the body. In fact, by the time you sit on a toilet seat, most microbes will not be able to infect you, even if the toilet was recently used by someone else.Your skin is a natural barrier against such diseases. There are some microbes, like streptococcus and E. coli, which can still infect you, but only if you touch your dirty hands to your eyes or mouth. A quick hand-washing after using the toilet will prevent such infections.
- Hand Sanitizer is Useful: In reality, most hand sanitizers are largely useless. Of course, if you don’t have soap and water after using the bathroom, definitely use hand sanitizer. Sanitizer, however, is not an alternative to hand washing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends only using hand sanitizer with more than 60% alcohol — anything else may be ineffective.
- Antimicrobial Soap is the best type of soap to use: Antimicrobial soap does kill bacteria, but in 2013, the FDA released a study that suggested antimicrobial soap was just as effective as plain soap. But how are the two different? Plain soap does not kill bacteria the way that antimicrobial soap does. Whereas the latter kills bacteria, ordinary soap lifts bacteria and germs off the skin and forces it to be washed away with the water. Scientists believe that antimicrobial soaps should only be used in hospitals because triclosan, an ingredient in antimicrobial soap, can create drug-resistant bacteria and may alter hormonal regulation in children.
Although many of our established habits are not scientifically sound, it is still important to take precautions. Washing your hands before leaving the bathroom is a nearly guaranteed way of ensuring protection against microbes With winter on its way, basic hygiene can prevent the flu and norovirus (stomach bug).
Tanvee Varma ’18 is an online columnist for The Wellesley News. While she is not studying towards her degree in Economics, she enjoys reading and spending time at the Science Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.