It turns out that closing the toilet seat lid after doing your bathroom business isn't just common courtesy, it's more sanitary. Why, you ask? Two words: toilet plume. If you thought the idea of germs spreading from your toilet flushing was a myth, think again. This disgusting and somewhat ridiculous-sounding phenomenon is very real — and it has the potential to wreak havoc on your household.
What is a toilet plume?
The National Center for Biotechnology Information lists potential health risks associated with "toilet plume," or the aerosols produced by the flush of a toilet, like the transmission of sewage-related infectious disease. In other words, whenever you flush the toilet, tiny particles of toilet water — which are loaded with microscopic amounts of fecal matter, urine, and who knows what else — get sprayed all over your bathroom at the same time that water disappears into the abyss that is the sewage pipe. Gross!
“[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, told SELF.
Just how far-reaching is this "wide range of air space," you might be wondering? Well, according to Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University, it's far enough to make you gag. Tierno told Tech Insider that "aerosol plumes," have the potential to reach as far as 15 feet in the air. And toilet plume particles don't just swirl around the bathroom and then disappear; instead, the tiny microscopic germs (hello, E. Coli) can make themselves nice and cozy right on your counters, faucet, mirror, and sink.
Let this all "sink" in for a minute: Your bathroom is getting sprayed with bacteria-laden water every single time you flush an open toilet. Now, do you keep your toothbrush in a stand on the sink right near your toilet? How about your hairbrush, or your towels? Err, you might want to throw those out — especially your toothbrush — and grab new ones. Better yet, let's just tear the walls down and build a new bathroom altogether, shall we?
OK, that's a little extreme and most likely unnecessary. Thankfully, we have two pieces of news that will make you feel better. First, while these these puffs of germ-filled air could make you sick, the chances are actually small, according to Richard Watkins, M.D. “Not all germs are pathogens, but all pathogens are germs,” Dr. Watkins told SELF. “Whether toilet plume makes people sick is controversial and not conclusively proven.” That's a relief!
And the second bit of good news? You can avoid the toilet plume in your bathroom with one simple move: Making sure you close the toilet's lid every single time before you flush (and reminding your family to do the same). It may take a bit of time to make it habit, but it's much better than spraying your bathroom with bacteria several times a day, wouldn't you say? We would.