On average, us Brits spend around 11 days in our bathrooms each year, making the cleanliness of them a hot topic. But have we become obsessed? And are we right to worry about the microbes lurking around in there? We have carried out extensive research into bathroom cleanliness.
- Interest in bathroom cleanliness has risen by 75% in 5 years
- Toilet paper on the toilet seat could potentially increase the number of microbes we come into contact with
- The biggest contributor towards bacteria found in bathrooms is shedded skin, not faeces
- It's not possible to catch an STI from toilet backsplash
- Bathroom sinks host 250,000% more bacteria than toilet flush handles
HAVE BRITS BECOME OBSESSED WITH CLEANING THEIR BATHROOM?
We examined Google Trends data from the past five years in respect to bathroom hygiene, and found that:
- General Google queries related to bathroom cleanliness have risen by 75%
- Spikes in Google searches have also become apparent across cleaning techniques and products, for the following areas:
- “Toilet cleaning” (+ 76.2%)
- “Cleaning showers” (+69%)
- “Cleaning sinks” (+50%)
In addition, queries associated with cleaning bathrooms, toilets and showers, have increased in the UK over the past 5 years:
- ‘Bathroom cleaning hacks’ (+5,000%)
- ‘Flash bathroom liquid cleaner’ (+5,000%)
- ‘Mrs Hinch cleaning’ (+5,000%)
- ‘Mrs Hinch toilet cleaning’ (+5,000%)
- ‘Eco friendly toilet cleaner’ (+5,000%)
- ‘Shower cleaning tools’ (+5,000%)
- ‘Bathroom ceiling paint’ (+500%)
- ‘Best way to clean bathroom tiles’ (+130%)
- ‘Remove limescale from toilet’ (+110%)
- ‘How to clean bathroom tiles’ (+90%)
- ‘How to clean bathroom grout’ (+90%)
- ‘How to clean bathroom’ (+80%)
HAVE INFLUENCERS CONTRIBUTED TO A RISE IN CLEANING?
Many brands attribute the rise in cleaning to the proliferation of social media influencers, including ‘Mrs Hinch’, and micro-influencers, such as Cleaning With Mario.
With 2.5 million followers, Sophie Hinchcliffe has popularised cleaning, sharing her tips with her loyal fans.
Trends related to these ‘cleanfluencers’ includes:
- Google searches related to Mrs Hinch’s cleaning advice have surged since 2018, peaking in March 2019, following a sharp dip – which coincided with Sophie’s maternity break
- According to industry reports, 30% of people claim that social platforms influence them to clean more regularly and buy more cleaning products.
Mrs Hinch search data since 2015:
Brands have directly cited Mrs Hinch as the direct influence on an increase in sales for:
- Mould & Mildew Blaster, Astonish Cleaning Products (+15%)
- Spin Mops, Vileda (+98%)
- The Pink Stuff, Star Brands (+350%)
Incidentally, the general cleaning interest in bathrooms has also been ticking up in the US and on a global basis.
The clear story is that we are becoming more concerned about keeping our bathrooms, toilets and showers clean. This study, by Easy Bathrooms, highlights some key facts about bathroom hygiene, germs, bacteria and cleanliness.
REVEALED: THE COMMONLY-GOOGLED CONCERNS ABOUT BATHROOM GERMS
What are the UK’s main concerns about the common bacteria found in bathrooms?
Bathroom retailer, Easy Bathrooms, investigated the obscure questions that people regularly ask Google, related to the common bacteria found in bathrooms.
Using Google Autocomplete data, Easy Bathrooms found the areas which people are most concerned about.
FEAR 1: BACTERIA IN TOILET WATER
With backsplash, people are afraid of bacteria which they believe to be found in toilet water, including HIV, UTIs, hepatitis and other infections and viruses.
According to search data, questions which accrue an average of 10 searches per month each include:
- ‘Is toilet splashback dangerous?’
- ‘Is it bad if toilet water splashes on you?’
- ‘Hepatitis toilet water splash’
- ‘Bacteria found in toilets’
- ‘Is it bad if toilet water splashes on you?’
- ‘Toilet backsplash infection’
It’s not possible to catch an STD from toilet water. That’s because most pathogens that cause STIs can’t live outside of the human body for very long without deteriorating. Once bacteria and viruses start to break down, they're no longer able to infect you.
FEAR 2: GERMS ON THE TOILET SEAT
People believe that putting toilet paper down on toilet seats can be an effective way to stop bacteria spreading to their bum.
The fear of using public toilets is coined ‘paruresis’.
Common Google searches (which have an average of 10 searches per month) include:
- ‘Toilet paper on seat’
- ‘Should you put toilet paper on the seat’
- ‘Is it worse to put toilet paper on the seat’
- ‘Do you put toilet paper on the seat’
- ‘Itchy rash from toilet seat’
For a long time, people thought toilet seats were covered in germs and nasties and that we could pick up all kinds of horrible gastrointestinal infections from them.
- Given their special shape and their particularly smooth surfaces, toilet seats actually prevent bacteria from settling on them.
- In fact, a study by Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona in 2009, found that the paper dispensers in public bathrooms carried 150 time more bacteria than the average toilet seat.
- His studies have shown that, compared with the average toilet seat, where there are about 50 bacteria per square inch (6.5 sq cm), there are about 10 million bacteria per square inch on a sponge, and a million on a dishcloth. The average high chair is home to 147 bacteria per square centimetre. Mobile phones harbour 1,479 per sq. cm of bacteria. The human skin surface has about one million bacteria on each square centimeter (cm2).
- Generally academic researchers, such Charles Gerba, place more emphasis, when quoted by press, on cleaning smartphones down (daily wipe), sorting bed sheets (weekly) and kitchen sponges (changed weekly).
FEAR 3: BACTERIA SPREAD BY TOILET FLUSHING
People seem to fear the nasty bacteria spread by lid-less toilet flushing.
Common Google searches include:
- ‘Can you get STD from toilet water splashing’
- ‘Can STDs survive in toilet water’
- ‘Toilet flush germs’
- ‘Does flushing the toilet spread germs?’
Lidless toilet flushing is actually a legitimate concern, as a Harvard Health study suggests.
- Each time a lidless toilet is flushed, it aerosolises a fine cloud of microbes which may disperse over an area as large as six square meters (65 sq. ft).
- This is often the reason that some bathrooms keep the toilet and sink in separate areas, to avoid spreading germs from the toilet bowl to toothbrushes.
- The public’s fear about this is expressed in YouTube videos, such as Sky One’s ‘Can toilet germs really reach your toothbrush? - Duck quacks don’t echo’, which gained 203,000 views.
FEAR 4: CATCHING STDS AND INFECTIONS FROM A TOILET
Another area people are concerned about, indicated in Google searches, is STDs and infections.
- ‘Can you catch crabs from a toilet seat?’ (30 searches per month)
- ‘Can you catch chlamydia from a toilet seat?’ (100 searches per month)
- ‘Can you catch thrush from a toilet seat?’ (40 searches per month)
- Abigail Salyers, PhD, president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), sets these fears to rest: "To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STDon the toilet seat -- unless they were having sex on the toilet seat!"
WHICH AREAS OF A BATHROOM HOLD THE MOST BACTERIA?
There are many misconceptions when it comes to the biggest hotbeds for bathroom bacteria to breed. From a young age, we have been programmed to believe that the toilet seat would take the top spot when it comes to lingering germs.
But our study findings reveal that this isn’t the case – with the sink, radiators and taps being the biggest problem areas.
By collecting data from numerous sources, including studies from the past ten years, we have ranked the following areas of the bathroom, by bacteria per sq. cm:
- Sink (50,000)
- Radiator (1,200)
- Tap (1,000)
- Hand rail (360)
- Toilet roll holder (220)
- Floor (200)
- Side wall (170)
- Bathroom bin (150)
- Toilet seat (150)
- Under the toilet (80)
- Toilet flush handle (20)
- Bathroom mirror (9)
- BioCote-treated soap dispenser (0)
Read more from Charles Gerba, Professor of Microbiology at University of Arizona.
Analysing the data from Professor Gerba’s studies:
- Interestingly, sinks host 4,000% more bacteria than the next most-infected area; which are bathroom radiators
- Sinks also hold 250,000% more germs than a toilet flush handle; an area which many people avoid skin contact with, using toilet paper as a barrier
- For a long time, people believed that toilet seats were covered in germs and nasties, which is ironic given that their particularly smooth surfaces actually prevent bacteria from settling on them – making them cleaner than the eight other tested areas of the bathroom.
- Surprisingly, the bathroom bin – which often comes into contact with items we associate with bacteria – had 20 bacteria per sq. cm. less than the bathroom wall; an area most people don’t wipe down that regularly.
- The study also found that you are twice as likely to encounter harmful germs in a woman’s bathroom. Contributing factors included that women tend to bring in more children, stay longer and interact with more surfaces in the bathroom than men do.
SKIN VS GUT VS URINE BACTERIA
During our research, Easy Bathrooms also unearthed a study from the University of Colorado, which looked into the different sources of bacteria found on bathroom surfaces.
- On 9/10 surfaces, most of the bacteria – more than 50% - was made up from skin-based microbes, rather than bacteria from the gut (faeces) – which is the germ that most people are concerned about.
- Only one surface – the toilet seat – had a higher percentage of faecal matter than skin germs present in the bacteria, but still only represented 30% of the overall make-up of microbes on the surface.
- The third largest contributor to bathroom bacteria, was urine. It accounted for 10% of bacteria found on soap dispensers – which, shockingly, is a similar level to that found on the toilet seat.
WHAT'S THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO RID SURFACES OF BACTERIA?
Marco Mendoza Villa, a PhD at the School of Biological Sciences in Bristol carried out a study in 2018.
Taking swabs from different areas of the bathroom – which hadn’t been cleaned for a week – he discovered which surface areas were the most infected with bacteria.
- The most affected was the shower tray, with 72% of its surface area covered in pathogens. The sink had 71% of its area covered, shower head 32% and taps 43%.
- The door handle – which many people often avoid touching – had the lowest percentage of bacteria, with just 0.9% of its surface showing microbes.
- The bathroom floor had 23% of its area affected, with five different kinds of bacteria present, the most prominent of which was Salmonella.
He discovered the most effective ways to eliminate such bacteria:
- Bathroom wipes only reduced the infected area on the floor by 7%, relative to bleach which reduced it by 99.4%.
- Bleach was the most effective cleaning product. It removed 89% of the pathogens on the shower tray, relative to cream cleaner which actually made it worse, spreading the bacteria around rather than removing it.
- Shower cleaners were poor at removing bacteria, only reducing the number of bacteria by 50% on relevant surfaces, such as the tray and shower head.
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