Can You Get Sick from Toilet Seats?

The answer will have you second-guessing taking the time to protect your bum.

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We know you probably use a toilet seat cover or some toilet paper on public toilet seats in an effort to ward off any germs. Sorry, but a thin, flimsy piece of paper isn’t going to protect you against germs. But don’t worry too much; there isn’t a high chance that a well-used public toilet is going to be the source of your sickness.

Why do we even use toilet seat covers?

The reason that many people feel the need to use toilet seat covers is because it was once believed that toilet seats were a way of transmitting gastrointestinal and sexually transmitted infections. But, according to TIME, there isn’t much actual evidence to prove that. So now, those liners continue to be used in public bathrooms so that people feel a little bit cleaner when relieving themselves.

Can you get sick from toilet seats?

“Toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents—you won’t catch anything,” Dr. William Schaffner, MD, and a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center told HuffPost.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t any germs on toilets. The majority of the bacteria on toilet seats are common skin microbes, which most people already have, so they don’t pose a risk. Also, whenever you flush the toilet, germs are released into the air (they can travel as far as six feet!).

But should you find the restroom that you’re in doesn’t have a toilet seat cover to be found? Don’t sweat sitting directly on the toilet, because the toilet seat cover wasn’t likely to stop germs anyway. More important for you to know? These unspoken etiquette rules for using a public bathroom.

“Toilet seat covers are absorbent and bacteria and viruses are tiny, able to pass through the relatively large holes in the cover’s paper,” Kelly Reynolds, a public health researcher at the University of Arizona, told USA Today. So a toilet seat cover doesn’t stop germs from spreading, but it’s unlikely you’ll get sick from your bum touching a toilet seat anyway.

That said, germs are essentially lurking all over the bathroom, and the best way to protect yourself from them is to wash your hands. Using soap and warm water to scrub your hands can go a long way.

Can you get the coronavirus from toilet seats?

It is very unlikely that you would catch the coronavirus from a toilet seat. Diarrhea is not a common symptom of COVID-19 and even if the virus could be transmitted this way, you wouldn’t catch it from sitting on a toilet seat. You would catch it from touching the toilet seat and then not washing your hands. But there is still a lot to learn about this virus so it’s extremely important to wash your hands regularly and disinfect items that you touch regularly.

How to properly use a toilet seat cover

So toilet seat covers do provide a barrier of sorts, however slight. But people make several key mistakes that compromise the effectiveness of the toilet seat cover, Lifehacker reports. Here’s what to avoid:

  1. Tearing off the flap in the middle and throwing it out.
  2. Putting the cover on wrong, so the flap hangs down in the back, not the front.
  3. Not poking the flap out. The point is to have the flap dip into the water, so it will be whirled away when you flush, no hands needed.

So, next time you go to the bathroom, feel free to skip the toilet seat cover. Besides, there are other things you touch every day that you don’t realize are crawling with germs.

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is the Assistant Digital Managing Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. When she’s not writing for rd.com or keeping the 650+ pieces of content our team produces every month organized, she likes watching HGTV, going on Target runs, and searching through Instagram to find new corgi accounts to follow.