Here's why you need to close the toilet lid when you flush

Close the lid first.
Close the lid first.  Photo: Shutterstock

There is nothing us mums love more than being proven right. (Oh sure, happy healthy kids, blah blah blah but you know what I'm talking about.)

For years I've been telling my kids to close the toilet lid before they flush. With no evidence to back me up, I just assumed the germs and general grossness of the toilet was splashing all over the place when that button got pushed.

And in public toilets that have no lid? Turn your back to the flush. Simple.

And now, my years of toilet nagging have been vindicated because of something called toilet plume.

Sure, it sounds like a jaunty hat, but it's something much more disgusting.

Toilet plume happens when you flush the toilet and tiny particles of toilet water – and anything else that might have just been deposited in your toilet – get sprayed all over your bathroom…and you.

"[Toilet plume] is easily transmitted in a wide range of air space when you flush the toilet," said Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona in an interview with SELF.

It's basically like you've just got married and your toilet is excitedly throwing poo confetti.

And according to Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University, that spray can reach as far as 5 metres. That means that unless you're living in Mariah Carey's house, it's reaching all over your bathroom.


That means it's on your towels, your mirror, your taps, your sink – and possibly your toothbrush.

Let's take a moment to let that sink in.

But before you freak out about the fact that your entire life is covered in poo, there is some good news. The chances of toilet plume actually making you sick are tiny.

Dr Richard Watkins explained to SELF that although toilet plume contains germs, "not all germs are pathogens, but all pathogens are germs. Whether toilet plume makes people sick is controversial and not conclusively proven." 

Of course, if poo was completely free of the risk of illness, none of us would be washing our hands, and we could all go around licking toilet bowls, so it's still possible you're flushing pathogens like E. coli, norovirus, and salmonella all over the place.

According to SELF, there hasn't been enough research done yet on how frequently toilet plume transmits illness, or how easily it can make us sick. What we do know is that the closer and more direct your contact with pathogens, the more likely you are to get sick. (Okay, so probably better not lick that toilet bowl.) And toilets in places like hospitals where there are lots of sick people – and toilets with "greater flush energy" – are more likely to cause you grief.

So the bottom line (sorry) is that toilet plume might not make you sick, but it's still pretty gross, and it costs you nothing to close the lid when you flush.