Featured on Tonic. Vice's health channel. Author: Ryan Brown, URMND Founder and CEO
The Scenario: It’s a Saturday night and a boisterous gathering with your boys is officially underway. Brown liquor is flowing, weed is being passed, and a giant speaker that doubles as a coffee table is blaring Migos. You check your phone and the woman you’ve been communicating with for weeks texts you and says she’s going to stop by with friends. Excitement, nervousness, and said brown liquor makes you have to pee.
You walk into "your friend's" bathroom, flip the light switch, and you see the scariest and most mold-ridden piece of porcelain to have ever been regularly occupied by three almost thirty-somethings. The sheer sight of this is enough to make forensic scientists yell, “what fucking human being lives here?” And now, eligible women are minutes away from possibly experiencing this cesspool themselves.
The Facts: The concept of a toilet is disgusting regardless of how many times you clean it. It is a device that sits on the floor that collects your shit multiple times a day (if you are me). But there are other household items that are much more disgusting than a questionable toilet. The cellphone that you constantly touch and put against your face is apparently ten times dirtier than your toilet seat. The desk where you spend a lot of time during the day and where you are eating food is filthy AF. The sponge that you use to clean the items you put in your mouth is fucking gross as well. Even though there is a common misconception that you can get sexual-transmitted infections from putting your cheeks on a dirty seat, that has been debunked.
The Worst That Could Happen: Your homie gets a highly unappealing moldy ring around "his" toilet. That bacterial fungus comes from stagnant water from people not flushing enough and it causes that bacteria to grow over time. For the extra dirty I-dont-give-a-fuck people out there, of course you get urine and fecal particles around the seat and the floor, which is less than desirable.
“The extreme risk of getting an infection is more likely to happen if you are touching the filthy toilet surface with your bare hands and touching your mouth and then touching your food, which I would hope that is not what people are doing,” says Allison Agwu, professor of pediatric and adult infectious diseases at the John Hopkins School of Medicine. Your friend doesn't have any kids but I imagine you'd want to keep the little buggers' hands away during grown-potty-training.
Here’s the thing, though: Even if you’re not touching the toilet surface, flushing sends particles of whatever is in there—poop, pee, puke (the hangover struggle is real)—shooting up to three feet in the air. And that invisible fountain of gross contains bacteria that could lead to an infection.
What Will Probably Happen: Agwu asserts that the toilet ring of doom likely isn’t going to destroy your health. “Debris will hang around the top of the water and bacteria grows. But unless you are drinking this moldy water or letting it splash in your face, the risk is not very high,” she says.
“We have all these nightmares about toilets being so nasty and gross, but unless you are eating off the toilet where you are exposed to salmonella or have this big cut on your body that allows bacteria to get into you, you should definitely be more worried about the person that doesn’t wash their hands,” says Agwu. You will also not get a sexually transmitted infection, she says. You may get fecal matter on your hands or clothing—which is gross—but it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a full blown infection unless what gets on your hands is from an infected person.
What To Tell Your Friend: Even though it is possible to get an infection from a disgusting toilet seat, it is also just as likely to die of embarrassment that the potential bae and her friends assumes you—um, I mean, your friend was raised by unhygienic wolves. Agwu says that cleaning your toilet once a week (and probably more if you have roommates) is the baseline when it comes to cleanliness. But there are other issues in the bathroom that you should worry about as well.
“In all honesty, the surfaces are definitely what you should be more worried about,” she explains. The sink, the floor and the handles are more than likely more gross because you are touching them frequently with your hands and feet. “Just please at the bare minimum wash your hands if you absolutely refuse to clean your toilet for whatever reason.”