Do paper toilet seat covers work?

By Trystan L. Bass Posted Mon Jun 6, 2011 2:07pm PDT More from Green Picks blog

Most every public restroom in the U.S. offers a dispenser of paper covers to "protect" you while sitting on the toilet. But from what? And why? Isn't this just a waste of paper?

If the toilet seat is wet, that disposable paper cover will immediately get wet as well. Your backside won't be kept dry or clean. So this can't be the reason people use them. It's more effective to use a tissue to wipe off any moisture, if necessary.

Disease not spread via toilet seats

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)What protection can a layer of thin paper provide? According to multiple medical experts, it's virtually impossible to catch a disease by sitting on a toilet seat. The Center for Disease Control reminds Americans that you can't catch sexually transmitted diseases, whether pubic lice or HIV/AIDS, from toilet seats, because the organisms that spread such diseases simply cannot live on the surface of the seat.

On WebMD, Dr. Abigail Salyers, president of the American Society for Microbiology, states: "To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet seat -- unless they were having sex on the toilet seat!"

Dr. Brian Robert Thornton, a microbiologist and professor at the University of San Francisco agrees: "Toilet seats are actually not a source of contagion. Even though they seem gross, they're touched by a part of you that stays in your pants all day. You need to worry more about your orifices."

As the Columbia University's Health Promotion Program sums up: "Because toilet seats are not major culprits in spreading disease, paper or plastic seat covers offer little more than peace of mind."

Computers covered in more bacteria than toilets

In fact, you have more to fear from bathroom faucets, counters, and door handles than from commodes. Or at your desk -- computers are consistently covered in more bacteria than toilets.

A 2004 study compared typical offices in four major U.S. cities and found that the computer keyboards were covered in 3,300 bacteria per square inch and the computer mouse had 1,700 bacteria per square inch. The cleanest surface tested in the offices was the toilet seat, which had only 49 bacteria per square inch. A different study in 2008 had similar results. Computer keyboards were five times as dirty as toilet seats, according to a microbiologist.

So, forget the paper toilet seat covers and save a few trees. But remember to wash your hands after using the toilet and especially after using the computer!


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