Should you flush the toilet with the lid closed? What research says about the so-called toilet plume and if it’s actually something to worry about.
Warning: This post contains bathroom and poop talk. If you’re easily grossed-out, you may want to stop here!
Ok, you’ve been warned…
Lid Up or Down?
When you flush the toilet, do you leave the lid up?
If so, or if you’ve never given much thought to it (like me), the following information will likely make you stop and think before flushing from here on!
I’ve scrolled by articles in the past about the “dangers” of what’s known as a “toilet plume,” as well as how flushing the toilet with the lid up can spread bacteria. My first thought was that they were simply articles written for shock value and it wasn’t really much to worry about.
So I decided to read up a little more and see if the toilet plume is even a real thing.
Oh man…I’m almost sorry I did!
Does Flushing the Toilet Spread Bacteria through the Air?
Turns out the research is pretty clear on this: when you flush the toilet, a spray of microscopic particles shoots up into the air — this is known as “aerosolization.”
According to an extensive 2013 review of prior studies on the subject, “potentially infectious aerosols may be produced in substantial quantities during flushing.”
This burst of toilet particles during flushing has been given the nickname “toilet plume.”
Incredibly, a toilet plume can spread up to 15 feet after a flush and those particles can stay in the air for hours.
What surprised me most is that the American Journal of Infection Control piece went on to explain, “aerosolization can continue through multiple flushes to expose subsequent toilet users.”
That means that if other people in your household flush with the lid open, germs from previous users will spread anyway, even if those previous flushers shut the lid on their turn.
But what’s even in a toilet plume? Do we really need to be that concerned about it?
What’s in a Toilet Plume?
The 2013 review lists the following as potential inhabitants of a toilet plume:
- Harmful bacteria — Shigella, E coli, and Clostridium difficile are harmful bacteria that are potentially found in fecal matter. The CDC estimated in 1999 that as many as 79,000 people get sick from e coli each year.
- Norovirus — This is a highly contagious virus that causes unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. One of the ways norovirus is spread is through touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching your mouth or face.
- Flu Type A — Even in cases of Flu A without gastrointestinal symptoms, the virus can shed in feces.
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis — While this won’t be a concern in most households, it’s could be something to think about for anyone who works in the health care field or around potentially infected persons.
- SARS — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS for short, gained a lot of attention in 2003 when it spread throughout much of the world. It’s not a common disease, but since the virus can live in the feces of an infected person for two days or more, it could be a potential issue during another outbreak.
Keep in mind that the above must be present in the fecal matter of a toilet user in order to be present in a toilet plume.
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The Good News
There’s no conclusive evidence showing that diseases are transmitted through the so-called toilet plume. However, research suggests that it could contribute to the spread of some infectious diseases and scientists recommended further study.
While it’s definitely a yucky thought, it’s probably not going to cause any life-threatening issues in your home. The same might not be said for places where sick people are present, such as hospitals.
The best thing you can do is to encourage your family to be diligent about shutting the lid before they flush, every time they flush.
Because who really wants to take a chance? Plus, once you’ve read about bathroom germs spraying onto your toothbrush, you can’t unread it.
The following steps are pretty easy to take, and can greatly reduce the chance of a toilet plume spreading nasty particles in your bathroom:
- Always close the toilet lid before flushing
- Use toilet bleach tablets to kill germs
- Keep toothbrushes safely tucked away or covered
- Keep individual hand towels in a drawer for drying hands after washing
Related: Click here to try our germy hands experiment which shows kids how germs spread and healthy hand washing technique!
What About Public Bathrooms?
Many of the toilets in publish restrooms don’t have lids, so what do you do in that case to prevent the spread of germs?
About all you can do in a public bathroom situation is get dressed and ready to exit the stall before you flush. That way when your toilet plume hits the air, you’re already on your way to the sink to wash your hands.
I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys using a public restroom, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Just do the best you can!
The Verdict: Keep the Lid Closed!
I stand corrected — the toilet plume is a real thing.
While I’m not going to go crazy worrying about clouds of germs floating around the bathroom – germs are everywhere after all – I will be closing the lid from now on!
Related: How much bacteria is on the floor in your home?
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