We have a rule in our house that you must put the toilet seat down after peeing or pooping. It decreases the gross factor of sharing a family toilet, and is just common courtesy, in my opinion. And as a woman who lives with three males, it minimizes the chances of me going to pee in the middle of the night and practically falling into the toilet bowl because both seat and lid were left open.
It hasn’t been easy getting everyone to follow the rules, but I think we’re good. (Now, if I could get my youngest to start aiming his pee inside the toilet bowl, I would be one very happy girl. But, alas, we can’t have it all, can we?)
However, it turns out I ought to take our toilet closing rule a step further and begin to insist that everyone close the toilet a tad earlier—namely, when they flush. The reason why? A little something called toilet plume.
Yep, it’s a thing, and brace yourself: it’s really freaking gross.
Basically, every time you flush the toilet and the water gets forcefully swirled down the hatch, small particles of toilet water—that also happen to contain microscopic amounts of piss, shit, and whatever other junk you let out—get sprayed all over your bathroom.
Yes, I’m totally serious. Here’s your barf bucket. I’ll even hold back your hair.
“[This plume] is easily transmitted in a wide range of air space when you flush the toilet,” Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Arizona, explains in an interview with SELF.
And just how, ummm, far-reaching is this “wide range of air space”? Well, according to Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University, it’s quite a lot. Tierno tells Tech Insider that toilet plume can reach as much as 15 feet of the surrounding area.
Fifteen freaking feet. Welp. That’s bigger than my entire bathroom.
And, as you probably guessed, toilet plume doesn’t just swirl around your bathroom and then retreat. Nope, it lands its ass (sorry, had to) on your stuff and sits there, gracing your bathroom in a fragrant potpourri of jizzy poo.
Nothing is immune to it, including your sink, your faucet, your mirror, and yep, even your toothbrushes.
OK, but besides the yuck factor (which is probably enough to make most of us instruct our families to immediately start closing the toilet while flushing), how harmful is this turd perfume in actuality? Can it get you sick?
It could, theoretically, but the chances are small, say experts.
First of all, although toilet plume contains germs, it’s important to remember that not all germs make you sick, as Richard Watkins, M.D., explains to SELF. “Not all germs are pathogens, but all pathogens are germs,” he says. “Whether toilet plume makes people sick is controversial and not conclusively proven.”
However, it can’t be disputed that sometimes our butt sludge does contain viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, especially if we’ve been sick. So lovely pathogens like E. coli, norovirus, and salmonella are certainly sometimes present in the toilet plume that gets sprayed every-fucking-where each time we flush.
Still, according to SELF, there simply isn’t enough research (yet) about how frequently toilet plume transmits illness, or how easily aerosolized germs can make us ill. The closer and more direct contact you make with the pathogens (say, licking a toilet bowl, or whatever suits your fancy), the more likely you are to get sick. And toilet plume from somewhere like a hospital, which is swarming with sick people, and were toilets have “greater flush energy” might increase the likelihood of illness.
Bottom line? Toilet plume might not always make you sick, but it could. And why take any chances? Your best bet is to just close the seat when you flush, experts agree.
“It is a good idea to lower the seat, especially if the bathroom is used by multiple people,” Tierno tells Tech Insider. But even with the seat down, says Tierno, you might also want to make sure that you’ve tucked away your bathroom cups, toothbrushes, or anything else that might touch your lips at some later point in the day.
So there you have it. Nothing to completely lose your shit about (ha, ha), but you might want to start instituting the “close the lid when you flush” rule at your house. I know everyone will argue and resist at first, but it will be worth the fight.
And really, what a fantastic feeling it will be to be assured that your kibbles and bits will stay inside the toilet and you can just go on your merry way, confident that you are not covered head to toe in deuce juice.