Why is the toilet seat the gold standard for germs?

Google that phrase, and you will come up with lots of hits.

The following is a partial list of things that have been found to have more germs than a toilet seat:

Kitchen cutting boards, sponges and sinks, refrigerators, spatulas, pet food bowls, clean laundry, smartphones, electronic tablets, computer keyboards, carpets, faucet handles, handbags, can openers, ice served in restaurants, menus, reusable shopping bags, TV remotes, home and office desks, beds, money, credit cards, light switches, drapes, showerheads, bathtubs, pillows, toothbrushes, gas pump handles, shopping carts, steering wheels, restroom floors [shocking], door knobs, elevator buttons, car (particularly Uber and Lyft) seats, ATM buttons, supermarket shopping carts, video game controllers, airplane seats, tray tables armrests, and toilet handles.

How did the toilet seat become the gold standard for comparison? An Internet search did not turn up a definitive answer, but I think it may be related to the word “toilet” implying dirtiness.

A 2012 BBC News story pointed out that the toilet seat’s reputation is unfair compared to say, a cutting board or a kitchen sponge. One researcher was quoted as follows: “[A toilet seat] is one of the cleanest things you’ll run across in terms of microorganisms. It’s our gold standard — there are not many things cleaner than a toilet seat when it comes to germs.”

Why is it so germ-free? Because of the fear of bacteria on a toilet seat, it probably is cleaned more frequently than most kitchen items.

Among the many clickbait articles, only a few, such as this one from a website called Global News explain why you shouldn’t worry when you see alarming headlines about germs. Only a small fraction of bacteria — about 0.1 percent — cause disease.

Many bacteria are found on hands. That’s why they need to be washed frequently. In fact, hands are another thing harboring more bacteria than toilet seats.

Since hands touch most of the objects listed above, bacterial contamination should not be surprising.

So relax about “More germs than a toilet seat.” Meanwhile, the army of microbiologists swabbing things and publishing disingenuous papers marches on.

Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon who blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.  This article originally appeared in Physician’s Weekly.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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