Send your question to Umbra!
Q. Dear Umbra,
My wife was recently horrified to learn that I don’t use toilet seat covers when I make use of a public restroom. I’ve read that bacteria counts on toilet seats are actually minute compared to commonly used office devices like phone receivers. Should I waste a little more paper and use a seat cover, or is it OK to sit down on the commonly used throne and feel like I’m saving a tree?
Steve in Kansas
A. Dearest Steve,
It’s great that you think about things like saving trees while you’re on the commode. But your wife’s horror is warranted. Imagining the intimate flesh of the one you love pressed against some public surface is unsettling — but not for the reasons she might think. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first …
Your wife will be delighted to know that a study [PDF] of 72 public restrooms, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that gonorrhea is not spread via the toilet seat. Give that finding a round of applause. (Note: Clap joke may have been in poor taste, but was intended.) What’s more, according to the Centers for Disease Control, diseases such as syphilis, HPV, bacterial vaginosis (for the ladies), HIV, crab lice, and other things one might worry about picking up in public restrooms can NOT be contracted from a toilet seat. (Many viruses, bacteria, and organisms die once they hit the air or leave their hosts — or shortly thereafter.)
But don’t you go cozying up to a public toilet seat just yet, Steve. Surprisingly, a good reason to keep your tender loins away from public perches are the industrial cleaners used to disinfect them. The perches, that is. People, especially children, can get dermatitis from those harsh cleansers.
And there is one other thing. It does seem that you can contract pinworms, the most frequent worm infection in the United States, from “poor toileting hygiene;” that is, a toilet seat with pinworm eggs on it. That, right there, Steve, is reason enough to hover. Do it for yourself. Do it for your lover!
So, will a seat cover save you? I’m sorry to say I don’t have a definitive answer. What I do know is that plastic automated toilet seat covers do utilize resources for their manufacture and disposal. Toilet paper itself is incredibly resource intensive, which I wrote about here.
So, here are a few alternatives.
Bring your own reusable toilet seat with you wherever you go! People commute to work each morning with their Kindles and reusable coffee mugs. Why not your very own toilet seat, cleaned by you, for your cheeks only? Kidding!
Okay, Steve, what about this one: Give it a shot, go ahead and squat. Us girls do it all the time. Squatting puts you at a safe distance from the toilet seat. It’s also a good, multi-tasking exercise; you can strengthen those quad muscles while you evacuate (yes, that’s clinical language for #1 and #2). Just make sure you hover with care. You wouldn’t want to leave traces behind on the seat or floor. Squatting works wonders, but if you’re a slow goer, try placing a square or two of toilet paper on the edge of the seat before sitting down. That should at least make your wife and your buns a little more comfortable.
For ladies out there who, unlike you, Steve, aren’t built to take a stand, there’s the Female Urination Device (FUD). Many brands of reusable FUDs with clever names like “You go girl,” “Shewee,” and “P-Style,” make it possible for women to avoid the toilet seat problem by peeing upright.
Or you could get yourself a stadium pal and never have to use a public restroom again.
May you squat and prosper, Steve. Just make sure to wash your hands when you’re done reading this. Apparently, your keyboard really may be dirtier than a public toilet. Try giving it a good cleaning with a micro-fiber cloth dabbed in a bit of white vinegar.