Since taking our newspaper to the toilet is just so 1950s and, considering how Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are currently dominating the world… it’s not entirely surprising that most of us choose to use our phones during that precious toilet time. In fact, chances are you’re reading this article as on your toilet seat this very moment.
Bottom of the story is, we’re all guilty of this particular vice (don’t you dare deny it). However, it does beg a pertinent question- is this really a sin we should worry about? Well, unlike you, Science did give the matter some thought, and it’s out with a verdict.
Spoiler alert: In case you happened to miss the title; it’s not good news.
I Know It’s Not Entirely Hygienic, But It Can’t Be THAT Bad… Right?
Yes, we understand that being alone on the toilet can be a rather tedious; some may say even lonely, experience. However, by using the phone on that throne, you’re exposing yourself as well as your loved ones to dangerous bacteria like E. coli, shigella, campylobacter, staphylococcus, streptococcus, and salmonella, which can make you sick.
According to a general physician, Dr. Anchita Kumar, “There are water and air particles that harbor in the little creases of the phone. And phone covers and cases are usually made out of rubber, which is a warm and comfortable breeding ground for bacteria (1).”
Not only are bacteria on the menu, but you’re also risking the spread of certain viruses like hepatitis A and the common cold virus, which can very easily transfer and adhere to solid surfaces like your smartphone.
The biggest worry is that after finishing your business, you clean yourself, touch the flush handle and proceed to lock or make contact with your phone without ever washing your hands with soap. But, even if you avoid that by simply leaving your phone on the side as you finish your cleaning routine, it could still expose you to dangerous bugs. Well, oops!
Wait, So How Do I Protect Myself?
The most sensible option would be to NOT take your phone with you to the loo. Really, people, it’s not too much to ask for at this point.
Though your toilet may seem rather sparkly clean, it’s not. Your flush, the tap, that door handle, your toilet paper roll holder even the lock are all particular danger zones swarming with dangerous pathogens. So, why risk it?
But, if you’re still determined to brave the wrath of microorganisms then English food safety expert Dr. Lisa Ackerley, CMCIEH FRSPH, advises that you vigilantly monitor your behavior (2).
“Read the book or phone in your right hand, then transfer it to the left,” says Dr. Ackerley. ‘Wipe with your right, flush with the right, carry the book or phone out in your left hand without touching anything else and then wash your hands.’ She stresses on always being aware just where your hands touch.
‘If you wipe your bum then pick up your phone, you may as well not bother washing your hands because all the bacteria you put on your phone will end up back on your hands,’ explains Dr. Ackerley. She further goes on to add that they could be your germs but they could also very well be someone else’s germs lingering on the flush. This is even more of a hazard in public restrooms.
Director of biomedical science degrees at Queen Mary’s University London, Dr. Ron Cutler, however, has a more all-or-nothing approach. “Basically, you just shouldn’t (take your phone into the toilet) if you are at all concerned about the transfer of viruses and fecal contamination.’
According to Dr. Cutler, the level of contamination that you expose yourself to will vary with the location of the toilet. Such behavior in a toilet that happens to be located in a small office with just a few employees may not potentially be that much of a problem. However, if it’s a washroom on a cruise ship or at a hospital that you’re visiting, then the chances of dangerous and different viruses circulating are significantly upped, creating a whole different ball game.
Dr. Cutler says it’ll take a few days. Phones have a tendency to heat up, which provides a nice breeding ground for bacteria. If you happen to have a sweet tooth, then Dr. Cutler says leaving a sticky coating on your phone is an even better home for bacteria.
‘The levels are, generally speaking, quite small. But you can contaminate your hands pretty badly without trying too hard,” explains Dr. Cutler. Um, yikes?
After reading the above information, if you feel like simply investing in a biohazard suit, I feel you. But experts say merely desisting from bringing your phone along with you to the toilet, monitoring where you touch and always maintaining hygiene should be enough. Your early morning Twitter rant can wait but your health can’t. Be safe!