It’s a scenario I think most women can relate to: you’re away from home and desperate for the loo, but when you get to a cubicle, you are too scared to actually sit on the seat. It looks disgusting, what if you “catch” something? So you do the ungainly, uncomfortable, knickers-around-the-knees squat, centimetres above the offending seat. Rather a thigh strain than catch something nasty, right?
Actually, wrong; this is one of those myths that we can 'bust' for you, and there are 2 elements to thinking about why sitting might not be that bad for you.
1. The physiology of squatting:
According to women’s health therapist, Brianne Grogan “The problem with ‘hovering’ over the toilet when urinating is that the muscles of your pelvic floor and pelvic girdle — your hip rotators, glutes, back and abs — are extremely tense. This pelvic girdle tension makes it difficult for urine to flow easily, often requiring you to push or ‘bear down’ slightly to make the urine come out quickly. Frequent pushing or bearing down to urinate can contribute to pelvic organ prolapse.”
Added to which, the stress of having to hover ever so slightly above the toilet seat can mean you don’t empty your bladder properly, and this can increase the risk of urinary tract infections like cystitis.
A health.com article in 2018 came to a similar conclusion: “When you don’t completely sit down, your muscles are not completely relaxed,” says Carol Figuers, PT, EdD, professor and director in the physical therapy division at Duke University School of Medicine.
“In order for the bladder to completely empty, the pelvic floor muscles have to be let go. As you squat over the seat, she says, your pelvic floor muscles are probably still 30% or 40% tensed. “When you stand back up, you’ll still have a little bit of urine left in there because the muscles didn’t completely relax”. With urine left inside your bladder, you risk an accidental leak if you jump, cough, laugh, or sneeze.
Rather than squat, carry a packet of antiseptic wipes in your handbag to give any less than pristine public loo seats a quick once over before you sit down, although that brings us to our second point....
2. The likelihood of "catching" something by sitting on a dirty toilet seat:
A 2011 study found that when the toilet is flushed, microbes quickly settle over a wide area, covering the toilet lid, floor and toilet paper holder. We call this the "Sneeze effect" and it's perfectly illustrated in our short video: The Journey of the Germ. That’s why it’s always important to shut the lid before you flush.
However... whilst many women are concerned about getting infections and STI's from a dirty toilet seat, in reality this is extremely unlikely. You would need to have an open cut or sore near the genital area, sit in the exact spot where the existing bacterium or virus is present, and they would need to be some sort of super bugs that can live outside the body, says Dr. Agarwal, a family physician.
More worrying are the germs that are spread across the bathroom from the "sneeze effect" and which settle far and wide. These pathogens are more likely to be transmitted to hands, and then from hands to the face (causing illness) or to other surfaces (cross-contamination).
The toilet seat is probably the least of your worries
And that's because research done by Initial has shown that one third of office workers take their phones into the toilet cubicle with them. if you're wondering why this is more of a problem than a dirty toilet seat, read our previous blog Do YOU use your phone in the bathroom? to find out.
Additional research by Initial showed that whilst 84% of people asked said they always washed their hands after visiting the bathroom, the results that we were able to physically monitor using our hand hygiene compliance solution, HygieneConnect, showed that the actual percentage of people washing their hands was nearly half of that. Which puts the real numbers well below 50%.
By failing to wash our hands, either correctly or indeed at all, those germs that have been distributed via the sneeze effect and then picked up on our hands in the bathroom will go on to be transmitted as we move around, from door handles to pens, to phones and laptop keyboards, to the office printer and kettle ...
But back to the bathroom. We do understand that no-one wants to sit on a dirty toilet seat, which is why Initial offers toilet seat cleaner in a spray. It's the perfect way to combat the sneeze effect or a failure in daily cleaning, by allowing users to clean the seat before use. Subtly fragranced, our alcohol-based solution dries quickly to leave the toilet seat clean and hygienic. Combined with hand washing and drying solutions in the bathroom, and a strategically placed hand sanitiser unit outside the bathroom (to use after you've touched the bathroom door handle) you can rest assured that you are disrupting the journey of the germ in your workplace.
Download our free bathroom etiquette posters for your workplace, and help ensure that no-one has to worry about squatting over a dirty seat in your office bathrooms. To receive insights straight to your inbox, subscribe to our blog.