It’s no secret that the surfaces in a public restroom are rife with germs. In fact, there have been quite a few science-y studies on the topic, which again and again work to dispel any notion that bathrooms are clean places to hang out in. But is the habit of lining the seat before sitting on it a good idea, or is it a waste of time?
For starters, the notion that simply flushing a toilet sends out something called a toilet plume full of aerosolized germs that basically coats all of a bathroom’s surfaces is enough to make you want to avoid all toilets and restrooms forever, but as you know, life doesn’t work that way, and when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Some people think that lining a toilet seat with toilet paper (or a provided disposable toilet seat cover) is the way to go when out in public. After all, if there is something in between your tush and the germy toilet seat, you’ll be A-OK, right?
Well, not necessarily. If you’re not immunocompromised or if you don’t have broken skin in that area that can actually transmit bacteria from a dirty toilet seat into your bloodstream (like a cut, a crack or other open wound), there isn’t much of a point to lining a seat with toilet paper. For example, you can’t catch crabs from toilet seats, and other STIs are also likely impossible to transmit via cold, hard porcelain.
There are also oodles of other bacteria present on toilet seats, including those that can cause illness in humans. So why isn’t this a public health crisis? Why hasn’t someone made an official recommendation on this topic?
While, yes, there are gross bits that can hang out on toilet seats, lining the seat doesn’t make a difference because your skin can shrug it off pretty well. Our skin is actually our largest organs, and in addition to keeping everything inside and looking nice, it is a pretty kick-ass barrier between our innards and the germy outside world.
Also, consider that bathrooms are one of the most commonly cleaned areas, both in your home and in public places such as retail stores and restaurants. The sad truth is that many of the objects we touch on a regular basis, such as cellphones and keyboards, can harbor way more gross bacteria than a toilet seat. If you’re not paper-lining literally everything you touch, from doorknobs and faucets to your phone, then there really isn’t much of a point to lining the seat of your crapper.
The best way, then, to avoid picking up garbage germs when you’re using the toilet is to avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes while on the pot and then washing your hands thoroughly after exiting the stall.
The CDC says that scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds and then rinsing well with clean running water is the way to go. Of course you then have to navigate out of the restroom, potentially putting yourself in contact with germs of gross people who don’t wash their hands (or wash their hands well). Grabbing a clean paper towel to open the door with is perfectly fine, but some modern restrooms are upping their game by providing doors you can open with your feet or doing away with doors altogether.
As far as the rest of your germ-ridden life experiences, just remember to wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food and eating or touching your face, mouth or nose — no matter what you’ve been doing beforehand. Because if they’re going down the drain, you’re not sticking them in your mouth, and that’s a good thing.