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Do Toilet Seat Covers Make A Difference?

Toilet seat covers are found in dispensers in restrooms the world over, but do they actually do anything? A toilet seat cover is essentially just toilet seat shaped piece of tissue paper that rarely stays neatly where it belongs. Unfortunately for the germophobes everywhere, science points to an answer of Not really.

The idea behind the toilet seat cover is that to protect the seated person from the potential contaminants left behind by previous patrons you can put a barrier between the sitter and the seat. In addition to creating a barrier, they are also designed to be flushable, water soluble and safe in any septic system. Unfortunately those properties are part of what can make them ineffective: While one side of most seat cover has a waxy coating, the seat cover is still highly porous in order to facilitate solubility, allowing for transfer of liquids if it's present on the seat.

As if this weren't problem enough, studies have shown that most users are using the seat covers incorrectly by placing them backwards, mostly because of confusion over how to position the cover. The proper positioning involves putting the tongue of the cover over the front of toilet seat to prevent clothing or skin from touching the lip of the toilet. The misuse of the toilet seat cover completely cancels out any protection one might have otherwise derived.

Ultimately though, seat covers are ineffective because they are not actually protecting any areas that are actually vulnerable to infection. For an agent to cause infection, bacterial or viral, it must enter the body. Our skin evolved to protect us from infection, meaning that having bacteria on your backside is no more dangerous than it would be anywhere else. You are exposing yourself to more danger by touching a toilet handle or a stack of paper towels, as your hands frequently go near your mouth.

Why bother with seat covers then?
The effect of seat covers is mostly psychological. And, while they remain ineffective when merely one is used, especially if it's placed backwards, and sometimes ends up all over the floor, providing them gives patrons a feeling of security and shows that your facility values their health enough to protect their bottoms and expect to see them in restrooms just like toilet paper and paper towels.