We all have our own methods to make us feel comfortable about using the loo – especially public ones, which may not be as clean as the ones we use at home.
Some people squat, hover, or even cover the toilet seat in lots of toilet roll. But which method is more hygienic?
We spoke to three experts for their thoughts on the most hygienic way to sit on the toilet, and here’s what they had to say.
It’s probably not a good idea to cover the toilet seat with toilet roll, because that actually increases the surface area of germs.
Raymond Martin, the managing director of the British Toilet Association (BTA), told BuzzFeed “placing toilet paper on the seat actually increases the surface area for germs to multiply and therefore is considerably less hygienic”.
And if that isn’t slightly worrying enough, the toilet roll itself might actually be covered in microbes, especially if it is placed close to the toilet and isn’t covered.
“If it is an exposed roll that might have encountered hands that are gripping it while a strip is being ripped off and those hands aren’t very clean then there is a chance that they may have transferred germs to the roll,” Laura Bowater, professor of microbiology at the University of East Anglia, told BuzzFeed.
“Also, an exposed roll sat near to a toilet may get splashed with faecal microbes during flushing, especially if the lid isn’t closed. Flushing can create splashing opportunities that will enable small water droplets to be transferred through the air and land on toilet rolls and the toilet seat."
If you want to avoid coming into contact with any seat bacteria it's probably a good idea to learn how to hover or squat.
"Hovering over a toilet while taking a leak is the most hygienic way to use the toilet,” Bowater said. This is because bacteria and viruses spread via something called fomites.
Bacteria and viruses spread via objects that can carry microbes on their surface. "When that surface comes into contact with us, [the microbes] transfer from that surface to us,” Bowater said.
It’s simple really. If you avoid touching the seat, you therefore avoid transferring microbes from the toilet seat and then on to your skin.
But that’s not the only reason hovering over the loo is a good way to empty your bowels. “Research has shown," Bowater said, "that the majority of cultured bacteria found on a toilet seat are actually the bacteria we have on our skin and not faecal bacteria… Not too surprising really."
So by hovering we’re also avoiding transferring our own microbes on to the toilet seat.
Clean the seat with flushable antibacterial wipes, or install a seat sanitizer unit in your bathroom.
Martin said the BTA has played a key role in getting more British toilet providers to install a seat sanitizer unit close to the toilet.
“This allows users to spray the seat before use and thereby eliminate a large percentage of germs,” he said. “Many people in other countries carry disinfectant wipes with them for the same purpose."
If you don’t have a seat sanitiser or antibacterial wipes handy, Martin said squatting is probably the most suitable way to use the toilet. He’s not a big fan of hovering, though. “That just leads to accidents and discomfort,” he said.
Flush the toilet with the toilet seat down to minimise “toilet plume”, which hurls bacteria into the air.
Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Pittsburgh University, told BuzzFeed that when you flush the toilet, the force of that flush can sometimes cause the liquid, debris, and particles from inside the toilet to be suspended in the air and land on other surfaces within the bathroom.
This is known as toilet plume, and it can sometimes include bacteria and viruses that might be present inside the toilet as well.
“It’s not a big amount, and may not even be visible to the human eye, but it does happen when you flush the toilet because of the force,” Adalja said. “It does depend on the size, and type of toilet you use, as some toilets produce plumes and others don’t."
If you have to sit down on a public toilet seat, it’s probably not the end of the world.
“A lot of people get very nervous about how dirty, or not dirty, their bathroom is,” Adalja said. “In the grand scheme of things you have to realise that bacteria dominates this planet and they’re everywhere, and the vast number of bacteria poses no problem to anybody. It’s only a small proportion of bacteria that causes a problem.”