Myth: Toilet Seats Are the Dirtiest Thing in the Bathroom
Oct. 14, 2005 — -- Few inanimate objects arouse as much universal germ fear -- especially among women -- as the dreaded public toilet seat.
"That's like the first rule -- don't sit on the toilet seat," one woman told "20/20."
Another woman described public toilets as being both nasty and filthy. And a man told us he would "rather go almost anywhere else than a public bathroom."
"Fifty percent of American women won't sit on a seat without some type of guard or without hovering," said Allison Janse, author of "The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu."
She admits she has spent years herself dangling over toilet seats, but now this self-professed germ freak is changing her attitude. She says paper toilet shields help your head more than your bottom, and those who hover often just leave a mess for the next person.
Mothers teach their daughters not to sit on a public toilet seat, but is this really a big source of germs?
"No," said Janse. "You're not going to get germs from your backside. You're going to get them from your hands."
To see if that's true, "20/20" asked Janse's co-author Dr. Charles Gerba to check our bathroom with his germ meter.
"Usually, actually the floor is the dirtiest, as you might guess," said Gerba.
The floor test revealed about 2 million bacteria per square inch. Gerba says that's about 200 times higher than a sanitary surface.
"This is pretty bad," said Gerba. "We consider that a fail. So you don't want to walk around barefoot in ABC News toilets."
Not surprisingly, the sanitary napkin disposal unit also failed the test and rated as the spot with the most germs in our ladies' room.
But our sink, an area that is usually a haven for germs, was found to be unexpectedly clean. The biggest surprise was found on the toilet seat.
"This is the cleanest spot so far," said Gerba.
Gerba defines a sanitary surface as something clean enough to eat off of, with no more than 1,000 bacteria per square inch. The toilet seat passed that test, but "20/20" reporter Don Dahler's desk failed.