Your Toilet Seat… Cleaner Than The Rest of Your House!
Would you chop your vegetables on your toilet seat? I think pretty much all of us would say No. But maybe we should think again. Dr Chuck Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, studies how diseases are transferred through the environment. This involves swabbing household items and measuring how many bacteria – and what sort – develop. He particularly looks for fecal bacteria such as E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
His studies have found that on the average toilet seat there are 50 bacteria per square inch.
“It’s one of the cleanest things you’ll run across in terms of micro-organisms,” he says. “It’s our gold standard – there are not many things cleaner than a toilet seat when it comes to germs.”
We should be more worried about other household items, it seems. “Usually there are about 200 times more fecal bacteria on the average cutting board than on a toilet seat,” he says. In the kitchen it doesn’t necessarily get there through actual contact with faeces. It comes via raw meat products or the viscera from inside of the animal, where a lot of the fecal bacteria originate.
Would Gerba be more inclined to chop his vegetables on a toilet seat then?
“It would seem a safer place,” he says. “Not that I would recommend it, but you might treat your cutting board a bit more like you do your toilet seat.” It’s because we all fear the dirtiness of the toilet seat so much that we regularly clean it, so perhaps this is the course of action we need to take with our chopping boards. But the filthiest culprit in our homes is the kitchen sponge or cloth.
According to Gerba, there are about 10 million bacteria per square inch on a sponge, and a million on a dishcloth. In other words, a kitchen sponge is 200,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat, and a dishcloth is 20,000 times dirtier. This is the same the world over.
“Always the dirtiest thing by far is the kitchen sponge,” says John Oxford, professor of virology at the University of London and chair of the Hygiene Council – an international body that compares hygiene standards across the world.
Its latest study examines samples from homes in nine different countries, and finds that 21% of “visibly clean” kitchen cloths actually have high levels of contamination. The cloths also fail the bacterial test which looks for E.coli. The study identifies fecal bacteria in other places around the home, and this varies from one country to another. Saudi Arabia has the dirtiest fridges, with 95% of the fridges in the study failing the bacteriology test for E.coli. And in South Africa, the dirtiest item is the seal in the bath, with almost two-thirds with unsatisfactory levels of E.coli and 40% for mould. “It’s always a bit delicate which countries are the worst,” says Oxford.
“We found that countries like Australia and particularly Canada are high up on the hygiene list… Countries near the bottom are fairly routinely, unfortunately, India and Malaysia.”
What about away from our homes? Gerba says the office is particularly bad.
“Many people don’t realise they’re talking dirty every time they pick up their phone, because they never clean it. “The average desktop has 400 times more bacteria than on a toilet seat.”