This Bathroom Behavior Could Be Spreading 3,600 Coronavirus Droplets

Flushing the toilet with the seat up could create clouds of viral particles.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, scientists have been looking at ways to slow the spread of the virus—just as we have worked to keep ourselves safe. There are so many potential methods of infection that it can feel daunting, but thankfully, the more we know about how coronavirus spreads, the better able we are to stay healthy. In fact, one new study looks at how something we do multiple times of day could actually transmit COVID-19, and includes an easy way to prevent infection: putting the toilet seat down. Otherwise, flushing the toilet could release thousands of coronavirus particles into the air.

In a study published June 16 in the journal Physics of Fluids, researchers looked at whether or not the "turbulence" caused by flushing a toilet would be enough to propel aerosol particles—potentially carrying the virus—out of the bowl. The results were alarming: Nearly 60 percent of particles reached high above the toilet seat. And that could mean "large-scale virus spread."

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As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, "The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in the feces of some patients diagnosed with COVID-19." Whether or not transmission through feces is possible is still unknown, though the CDC believes the risk is low. Nevertheless, scientists have not ruled out the possibility—which could make flushing the toilet with the seat up a careless proposition.

Researchers found that flushing "can create a cloud of virus-containing aerosol droplets that is large and widespread and lasts long enough that the droplets could be breathed in by others." The study used 6,000 particles, of which almost 60 percent—close to 3,600—ended up in the air. Those particles could then be inhaled, but droplets could also land on surfaces, which might be touched by others.

close up of hand lowering toilet seat

While this would certainly be an unusual way of contracting COVID-19, it's not impossible. And the risk is higher for shared toilets, whether in a family home or in public restrooms. As study co-author Ji-Xiang Wang of Yangzhou University said in a statement, "One can foresee that the velocity will be even higher when a toilet is used frequently, such as in the case of a family toilet during a busy time or a public toilet serving a densely populated area." That velocity would increase the spread of potentially infected droplets.

If you're worried—or simply grossed out—by the idea of a cloud of viral particles in your bathroom, the simplest solution is to lower the toilet seat before flushing. The study says that doing so "can basically prevent virus transmission." The researchers also recommend cleaning the toilet seat before use in case viral particles have settled on it, as well as washing your hands thoroughly to get rid of any viral particles you may have picked up from the toilet handle. And for more ways to stay healthy, This Easy-to-Remember Trick Can Help Keep You Safe from Coronavirus.

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