The Sh#t Hits the Fan
Posted by spritzophrenia on January 17, 2010
Taking a break from the slightly more serious topics recently, here’s something I wrote nearly 10 years ago, because we all love to think about bathroom hygeine. Warning, severely OCD handwashers might want to skip this:
Somehow, a genteel conversation turned to the perennial questions that profoundly influence male-female relations: the toilet seat. Do we leave it up or down? Men and women have fought long over the toilet seat position. Well, turns out we’re both wrong. The answer for both men and women is: Forget the seat. Put the lid down.
I was informed that New Zealand Consumer magazine recently published the results of leaving the lid up. I didn’t find the article with a brief search of their website, but I did open a can of germs, so to speak.
In 1975 environmental microbiologist Charles Gerber published a study which found that when a toilet is flushed countless water droplets shoot out. Apparently, every time you flush, invisible aerosolized particles from the toilet float as far as 2.4 meters (8 feet) away. If you have a sink with a toothbrush holder above it right next to your toilet, it is very likely, if you keep your toilet lid UP when you flush, that you are spraying a fine mist of bacteria all over your implements for oral hygiene. Not to mention breathing it in.
However, it’s not as simple as you think. The bathroom sink may be more infected than the toilet itself. Sarah Tan ventures tastefully into the details of surfaces, bacteria and hand washing, so rather than quoting her at length I recommend her entertaining and informative article.
And there’s more. Intriguingly, Professor Gerber discovered that the kitchen, not the bathroom is the worst place in the home for attracting bacteria. Believe it or not, the kitchen sink, and the dishcloth in particular, harbours the most fecal matter in the average home, carried there from the bathroom by unwashed hands. Gerber said “If an alien came from space and studied the bacterial counts, he probably would conclude he should wash his hands in your toilet and crap in your sink.” Cecil Adams writes, “talk with this guy for a few minutes and you realize that everything people think they know about household cleanliness is wrong. You think a guy’s apartment is bound to be germier than a woman’s? Uh-uh. Single men tended to have lower bacteria counts, since they never cleaned and thus didn’t spread the crud around.” Cecil’s humorous article is also worth reading.
But lest you fear returning home tonight, Gerber and his research team later found that the average office desk harbours 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat. This may not be as bad as it sounds; according to Tan toilet seats have been determined to be the least infected place in the bathroom (the environment is too dry too support a large bacterial population). Just don’t get too keen in killing those germs – misuse of antibiotics and other germ-killing agents may be doing us more harm than good according to a recent book. “We need to wash our hands, but we don’t need antibacterial products every time we wash our hands” author Kimberly Thompson, a Harvard scientist said. No comfort for the nosophobics among us.
Little did I know what a haven of filth and squalor my habitat is. Maybe those open dunnies you find travelling through Asia and the Middle East aren’t so bad after all. At least fecal coliforms aren’t regularly ejected into the atmosphere like a bacterial volcano. On second thought, maybe not. Think I’ll just live in a space suit from now on.
So, men and women alike, swallow that pride and help each other out. Flush with the toilet lid down, wash your hands, and get a new toothbrush.
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