We’re all guilty. Bathroom time has become a time to respond to texts and check our Instagram likes. In fact, a good amount of you are probably reading the mobile version of this article while sitting on the toilet right now.
It lets you take a break from work or school that lasts about 10 times longer than it should. Plus, you get shit done…while you get shit done. So it’s a win-win and actually super productive, right?
But if you think about it, using a phone on the toilet is probably the most unsanitary you can do.
Toilets (especially public ones) are covered in germs, bacteria, and fecal matter…so, poop.
“Bathrooms are covered in germs, pathogens, and enteric bacteria (from the intestinal tract), mostly from fecal matter,” says Gerba. According to the experts, the most contaminated surfaces are the door and toilet handles, the faucet, and the floor — in fact, studies found that one-fourth of purses had fecal matter from resting on bathroom floors.
Even if you wash your hands, you can still touch a germ-coated surface like the faucet or door knob and recontaminate yourself. The amount of germs or bacteria in the bathroom really depends on how often it’s cleaned and sanitized, which you can control at home. But with public restrooms where so many people are bringing in germs and bacteria…not so much.
There’s also aerosolized dirty toilet water EVERYWHERE, including that toilet paper holder everyone rests their phone on.
“When you flush the toilet, water with feces and urine sprays about six feet in every direction,” says Reynolds. And the aerosols increase with every flush, so if it’s a public bathroom, there is dirty toilet water coating literally everything — especially the toilet paper dispenser, because it’s right next to the toilet bowl.
Any surface that the aerosols settle on can transmit things between people, says Reynolds, so every time you set your phone down, it becomes contaminated with germs and fecal matter. Not to mention that it’ll pick up whatever the last person placed on there, says Gerba, which could’ve been dirty toilet paper, used sanitary pads, etc. You really never know.
These germs can transmit norovirus, salmonella, E. coli, and other diarrheal illnesses — which is why we wash our hands.
Studies at University of Arizona showed that 9 out of 10 phones had a potential disease-causing microbe, and 16% tested positive for fecal matter. So when you use your phone in the bathroom, it essentially becomes a mobile germ carrier. “The average person uses their cell phone for two hours a day, so it’s very easy to recontaminate your hands and transmit the germs to yourself or someone else,” Gerba says.
So it’s best to part with your smartphone for five minutes and use the bathroom for its intended purpose.