Why Do Bathroom Toilets Have Lids? – But Public Restrooms Don’t?

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More than just giving us a place to sit on when while trimming our toenails, or something to fight over who left the seat up, our toilets have lids for a few good reasons.  

Why Do Toilets Have Lids?

Bathroom toilet with lid
Bathroom toilet with lid (Image: sferrario1968)

Toilet lids keep us and our bathroom surroundings clean. Aside from reducing funky smells, they prevent us from getting sprayed on when we flush down our waste.  

Although invisible to our eyes, tiny droplets and aerosols are produced each time we flush the john. They’re also known as “toilet plumes“, and they’re dispersed in the air, spread on the toilet seat and lid, onto the surrounding floor, and all nearby surfaces. They can even splatter on our legs while we stand by the commode. These plumes carry all sorts of microbes including ones that are potentially infectious: gastroenteritis-causing bacteria, protozoa, and especially viruses that can be present in poop, pee, and even vomit. A microbiologist from New York University said such aerosols can even reach as high as 15 feet, able settle on surrounding surfaces like the TP roll, the shower curtain, the sink, and even your toothbrush sitting on the countertop. These harmful bacteria can survive for up to several hours.

Although the chances of getting infected from plumes and contaminated surfaces are very low, it’s still an excellent idea to put the lid down before flushing the toilet.

If there are children in the house, toilet lids can protect them from falling into the bowl. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), open toilets are hazards for toddlers aged three and below who can fall headfirst into a bowl. Young children, curious as they are, may also find it fascinating and way too irresistible to drop a toy in there, just to see what happens when it flushes down the drain.

Other members of the household likely to find themselves in trouble with the john?  Our little furry friends. Believe it or not, our pets see toilet bowls as a big water dish or a refreshing pool to play in — especially during hot summer days. Keeping toilet lids down will keep them from drinking, splashing, and even getting trapped in a bowl whose water is soiled or laced with strong cleaning agents.  

If your toilet sits right next to the bathroom counter, the lid will also protect things from falling into the bowl in case we drop them. A bar of soap, a toothbrush, medicines, cosmetics, or a roll of TP can slide from the countertop or drop from our hands as we reach for them from the cabinet or shelves. And yes, it’s even possible to drop even our cell phones. Believe it or not, such accidents happen to people more often than not.

Finally, comfort and aesthetics do play a part. The toilet simply feels better if there’s a warm, snug seat on it. They look better, too. If you consider the many kinds of seats available in varying shapes, materials, and features — heated, cushioned, lighted, raised, soft-closing — the toilet can end up being not just an apparatus for answering the call of nature, but one that provides some amount of comfort and relaxation.

 

Why Public Toilets Usually Have Open Toilets (No Lid)

Public Toilet
Public Toilet (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In much of the United States, public toilets don’t have lids. This is due to several reasons.

First, toilet seats can be unhygienic. Each public toilet may be used by dozens of people any given day. Seats get soiled, splattered on, and handled by countless users in between cleanings. They’re simply a hotbed for microbes. It’s only logical for business owners and public administrators to do away with them to avoid the proliferation of germs.

Maintenance-wise, it’s also easier and quicker to wipe down bare porcelain. They’re made of hard, non-porous ceramic glaze which can take any kind of harsh chemicals. Whereas toilet seats, made of wood or plastic, are more porous and can more easily absorb moisture and germs. Toilet seats also have nooks and crannies that need detailed and time-consuming scrubbing.

Another reason is economics. Public toilets don’t have lids because they cost a lot to replace. And they need to be replaced quite often. With numerous users bearing down on them every day, toilet seats crack and hinges snap. 

Some people, afraid of using their hands to touch unsanitary lids, use their feet to kick them open instead.

Others, particularly foreigners from Asia, Africa, and Southern and Eastern Europe, tend to squat when doing their business. This brings further punishment on the seats, which have to bear the added weight.

Eventually, toilet seats and lids break. Repeatedly. That’s why business owners and city administrators no longer see the need to replace them every time they crack and skip the lid altogether. 

How to Use Lid-less Public Toilets

extra large, wide toilet seat
Heavy-duty commercial toilet seat often used in public restrooms.

If you’re out and suddenly find yourself having to use a public toilet with no seat, follow these tips to maintain good hygiene:

  1. Use a paper seat cover or spread some layers of TP on the seat before you sit.  
  2. Ladies, consider hovering instead of sitting, especially if you’re just there for number 1. You can place your hands on each wall for balance and support.
  3. Step away as soon as you flush.
  4. Wash your hands immediately afterward.
  5. Try not to crank open the door with your bare, newly-washed hands on your way out. Use a paper towel or your elbow instead.
  6. As much as possible, keep a pack of antibacterial wipes in your purse or glove compartment so you can wipe toilets before using them when the need arises.

 

Featured Image by Victoria_Borodinova

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