Body Odd

Sorry, germaphobes. Toilet seat liners are pointless and here's why

June 18, 2014 at 10:47 AM ET

If nature calls when you can’t enjoy the comfort of your own throne, what’s the best way to take care of business in a public restroom, where countless strangers have taken a bare-bottomed seat before you?

“There’s always that burning question,” Craig Melvin said on TODAY Wednesday. “Do you hover, or do you cover?”

“Which means, do you even bother with one of these?” he asked, holding up a paper toilet seat cover.

Video: An infectious disease specialist says toilet seat liners are more for providing comfort rather than preventing disease. Toilet seats aren’t “a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents,” explained the specialist.

Although it was once believed that you could catch a gastrointestinal bug or sexually transmitted disease from a toilet seat, research has proved otherwise, according to the Huffington Post. The seat covers that so many people reach for may provide comfort rather than disease protection.

"That’s because toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents — you won’t catch anything," Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told HuffPo.

The bacteria often found on toilet seats are common skin microbes that most people already have, so they pose little risk, according to experts. And, every toilet flush puts germs into the air — aerosolized toilet funk can be propelled as far as 6 feet — meaning that even the toilet paper itself is likely contaminated. That's a big reason you should always flush with the lid down.

But with the good news that you need not worry so much about your bum, there are still plenty of places where germs lurk. The simple step of washing your hands goes a long way toward protecting yourself from falling ill.

Among the germiest places:

  • The kitchen sink, where you rinse raw chicken and other foods that carry a germy risk. The sink drain is filled with bacteria, along with the sponge, basin and faucet handles. Sinks should be cleaned twice a week.
  • Airplanes, including the bathrooms, window shades and tray tables. Those tiny bathrooms with their hard-to-clean parts can harbor a huge number of germs. If there’s no toilet lid, turn your back when you flush.
  • Your cellphone. Cellphones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats, according to Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona.
  • Wet laundry, most notably, underwear. When you move those pairs from the washer to dryer, E. coli germs can get on your hands. Just a single germ-carrying pair can taint the whole load and the machine. To help combat the spread, keep your washer running at 150 degrees, and use bleach on your whites and wash underwear separately.
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