The One Thing You Absolutely Must Do Before Flushing the Toilet

When you’re done doing your business, do you close the lid of the toilet before you flush? No pressure, but the answer could determine whether or not there’s poop bacteria chilling around your bathroom: on your soap; on your towels; on your toothbrush.

When you flush, the water in the toilet bowl mixes with waste — be it urine, poop, or vomit — and tiny particles of this mixture are emitted into the air. These droplets are known as toilet plume.

If you don’t close the lid on the toilet when you flush, this plume could settle onto nearby objects in your bathroom, according to a 2013 review of studies that recently resurfaced so we could cringe all over again.

Toilet plume isn’t just gross: It’s bad for your health. The droplets could contain traces of harmful bacteria like Shigella, E coli, C difficile — all of which are found in the poop and vomit of infected people and can survive for months, according to the paper. The study authors reasoned that toilet plume may help spread infectious diseases, though the subject needed more research.

In 2016, Business Insider‘s former tech site interviewed Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University, on the dangers of toilet plume. He said the plume can reach as high as 15 feet in the air — and aside from landing all over your bathroom, it can also land on you.

“If you have [unbroken] skin, you’re likely to be okay,” he said. But, uh, he also noted that certain bacteria, like Salmonella and Shigella, are transmitted when poop particles get in your mouth.

Thankfully, the solution to all this nastiness is simple: Close the lid of the toilet before you flush away your waste. If you’re in a public bathroom where the toilet has no lid, heed Tierno’s advice and “exit at the time of the flush.”

No matter what, Tierno said it’s a good idea to “make sure your cups and toothbrushes are tucked away.” Hey, even if you’re diligent about closing the lid, there’s no guarantee your three other careless roommates are doing the same.

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