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We've already seen a few questions about toilet hygiene but these styles of questions/myths more or less assume that toilet seats are the bottom of the hygienic barrel. Is this true?

To wit, I have personally heard the following places and objects compared to toilet seats in such a way as to lower the perceived hygienic status of the objects. If toilet seats aren't really that bad, than the usefulness of these comparisons is questionable.

  • Sponges,
  • fingernails,
  • kitchen countertops,
  • floors or walking around with bare feet,
  • and so on.

With the goal of providing a baseline for toilet seat hygiene, how germy is the typical seat? How does this compare with regards to a typical standard of cleanliness?

To fit this topic into less subjective terms, here are three potential phrasings of the question:

  • Compared with all other surfaces in a typical private residence, is a toilet seat above or below the average measure of hygienic quality?
  • Compared with other publicly accessible surfaces, is a toilet seat in a public restaurant above or below the average hygienic quality?
  • And the kicker: How do public gas station toilet seats fare against other gas station surfaces?
  • Depends on how effective the cleaning is. Mind you, I certainly wouldn't consider a busy public toilet to be a stellar example of cleanliness, and I've wondered about catching some undiscovered disease that was left behind by a previous patron (I really don't want something like this named after me). – Randolf Richardson May 31 '11 at 20:13
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    Most toilet seats are in plastic, which is a really inhospitable environment for most kind of germs. I may look later (quite late here) but I had read somewhere a paper about how in fact they were quite clean. Handles in public buses had more and stranger things over them. – Zenon Jun 1 '11 at 3:09
11

According to the Mythbusters, there are many things we come into contact with daily that have more potentially harmful germs than toilet seats:

In a nutshell, first they compared 8 objects via a swab-petri dish-incubate-test for colonies method and here were the rankings from WORST (most microorganisms) to best (fewest):

kitchen sponge (most colonies)
money
light switch
computer keyboard
hotel remote
shopping cart
cell phone
toilet seat (fewest colonies)

In a second test they had a microbiologist re-rank those colonies on the harmfulness of the organisms present, with the following results:

kitchen sponge (most nasty)
money
light switch
computer keyboard
toilet seat
cell phone
shopping cart
hotel remote (least nasty)

For more detail, see this: http://mythbustersresults.com/hidden-nasties

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    But the kitchen sponge doesn't cause illness, does it? The germs are washed off the dishes with the soap? – endolith Jun 1 '11 at 19:09
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    Germs are not necessarily washed away with soap -- see articles.cnn.com/1996-03-13/tech/…. Basically, unlike a counter, which is a hard surface (easily cleaned), a sponge is a nice soft living space. Researchers have found that of 1000 sponges/dishrags tested, 1/5 had salmonella bacteria. And microwaving sponges doesn't necessarily kill them: cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/07/health/healthy_living/… – lintqueen Jun 2 '11 at 13:37
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    Why don't people who use sponges get sick constantly then? They'd pretty quickly be abandoned and removed from the market if they were unhygienic. – endolith Jun 2 '11 at 14:09
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    Our bodies are pretty good at fighting off bacterial infection under normal circumstances. – DJClayworth Jun 3 '11 at 17:22
3

Toilet seats are nothing special. That have that "ick" factor when people think about them, but in fact other places are worse. Here's a reference:

For instance, Gerba, a microbiology professor in the University of Arizona's soil, water and environmental sciences department, warned that bacteria such as E-coli and salmonella can be rampant in kitchen sinks, on counters and on cutting boards, often spread by sponges and dishrags contaminated by meat or poultry. Or as he puts it, ``There are a hundred times more bacteria on a cutting board than a toilet seat, so lick a toilet seat rather than a cutting board.''

3

I remember hearing about this a while back, particularly, in contrast with the kitchen counters. This 2007 article claims, that kitchen counter ranks with toilet as a pathogen paradise, and some even go so far as to claim that a kitchen counters may be more loaded with bacteria than a typical toilet seat.

But apparently, this may be a myth. According to this interview with Gillian Fraser, from the University of Cambridge, who ran a little experiment against a toilet seat and kitchen counter, the sample taken from the toilet seat actually contained more bacteria than the sample from a kitchen counter:

So there you go, in our test we found many more bacteria on a toilet seat than we did on a kitchen work surface, and even some indication that the bacteria that were there could survive inside your intestines

So, while this may not be conclusive evidence to rule that they are extremely unhygienic, toilet seats certainly aren't the cleanest places at home :)

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