Saturday, 3 September 2011

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Toilet Roll Holders (But Were Afraid to Ask)

We have received queries regarding our fierce obsession with covered toilet roll holders.  “Why,” the cry goes, “must they be covered?” “At home,” it goes on, “I just leave my bog roll lying around – is that wrong?”

Is this wrong?

 To explain our viewpoint on this matter, we shall once again escort you into the realms of literature, and reach for our favourite book, Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper by Wallace Reyburn (Pavilion Books, London, 1989).

“An interesting thing to note is that Crapper and other plumbers of his day lay themselves open to infection not only by direct contact during the course of their work [more on this in an upcoming blog update].  Crapper, perforce, spent a great deal of time flushing toilets, and one learns from a recent issue of Lancet that the water closet is a fine example of an aerosol.
Not visible to the naked eye, the spray sent out by a toilet has given hospitals cause for concern and in 1966 The Lancet carried a report on tests made in connection with the fact that ‘flushing a wash-down water closet produces a bacterial aerosol’.
[...] After the slit-samples were incubated for 24 hours, not only was the disturbing fact revealed that the average wash-down closet had sent out 37.5 colonies of bacterial contamination per 100 cubic feet.  Tests made with the seat cover down resulted in ‘a rather surprising finding’.  Far from the seat cover blocking the spray, the number of bacterial colonies jumped from 37.5 to 46.9.  Apparently the spray was forced out through the gap the rubber buffers create between the seat and the rim of the pan and this made the toilet into a much more efficient aerosol, like turning the nozzle of a hose to ‘jet stream’.
All of which makes a nice new thing for anyone with a contamination complex to worry about.” (p. 28)

Our favourite work of literature

Mr Reyburn’s is not the only brain to tackle this problem.  An online article by Sarah Tan gives us more information.

“[The aerosol effect] seems to have first been brought to light by University of Arizona environmental microbiologist Charles Gerba when he published a scientific article in 1975 describing bacterial and viral aerosols due to toilet flushing (2). He conducted tests by placing pieces of gauze in different locations around the bathroom and measuring the bacterial and viral levels on them after a toilet flush, and his results are more than just a little disturbing.
First is the confirmation of the existence of the aerosol effect, even though it is largely unrecognized. 'Droplets are going all over the place—it's like the Fourth of July,' said Gerba. 'One way to see this is to put a dye in the toilet, flush it, and then hold a piece of paper over it' (8). Indeed, Gerba's studies have shown that the water droplets in an invisible cloud travel six to eight feet out and up, so the areas of the bathroom not directly adjacent [to] the toilet are still contaminated. Walls are obviously affected, and in public or communal bathrooms, the partitions between stalls are definitely coated in the spray mist from the toilet (1). Also, toilet paper will be cleanest when it is enclosed in a plastic or metal casing; after all, it's subject to the same droplets splattering on it, and its proximity to the toilet bowl makes contamination potential obvious.

[...] There are also greater implications from the study of the aerosol effect than [the] simple grossness factor. Most obviously, bathrooms should be cleaned even more meticulously than before, with emphasis not just on and around the toilet, but equal emphasis on all areas of the bathroom because all areas are equally affected by the spray. Using the right cleaners is important because all-purpose cleaning solutions are not necessarily antibacterial, whereas most cleaners made specifically for restrooms are referred to as disinfectants or germicidal cleaners (1). Given that the sink area teems with bacteria, one must now be more careful about washing hands properly after walking into the bathroom for any non toilet-related purposes like washing your face and brushing teeth. Using a hair dryer can potentially be problematic in regard to bacteria counts because the effect would be largely the same as hot-air hand dryers, which actually increase the bacteria on hands by 162 percent, as opposed to paper towels, which decrease them by 29 percent (7). If you're still not convinced that bacteria exist in any significant quantities on your hands, consider that [the] kitchen sink actually harbors the most fecal matter in the average home, carried there by unwashed hands after using the bathroom (5). A tablespoon of bleach in a cup of warm water on the offending sink will fix the situation ... for the day.
To limit the scope of the aerosol effect, the simplest method is to close the lid on the toilet every time before flushing (5). This would also provide the peace of mind that while you are washing your hands for 30 seconds, microscopic, bacteria-laden water droplet[s] will not be descending upon your person. Unfortunately, most public toilets, including the ones in Bryn Mawr's dorms, don't even have lids for that option. Besides, given the large number of people who have used the toilet before you, it probably wouldn't make much difference. After washing your hands, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open the door to leave, in order to avoid being recontaminated (4). And today, get a new toothbrush and always, always keep it in the medicine cabinet or some other enclosed place after use (2).” (

 We imagine that quite a few of you, dear readers, are now paralysed with fear, and vow to a) have a colostomy pronto and never, ever, ever go to the toilet again, and b) ditch your best friend and start a deep and meaningful relationship with your hand-sanitizing gel.
However, there is no need to panic!
Hygeia, our patron goddess, has several handy hints and tips for dealing with your increasing toilet paranoia. We shall attempt to outline them in a handy list, easy to read even for hyperventilating, panic-stricken recent hygiene-obsessives.

Print This out and Put It on Your Fridge 
(Or, even better, have it tattooed on your forehead for the benefit of the hygienically challenged)

1) Wherever possible, put down the lid when flushing.
2) When installing a toilet roll holder, make it a covered one.
3) If possible, keep your toothbrush in a bathroom cabinet.
4) Don't bloody use hand-dryers!!! (Unless, of course, they're of the hygienic, Privy Counsel-approved variety (see below).)
5) Wash your hands.
6) Wash you hands.
7) Wash, and we really can't stress this enough, your hands.

(Information on how to wash your hands properly is available here.)

So what kind of toilet roll holder should one go for? Some of our personal favourites come from the Lake District, parts of which are laudably hygienic. For instance, Café Treff, home of the best toilet in England, has a toilet roll holder from the Swedish company Katrin, whose products have been awarded both the Scandinavian eco-label The Swan and the EU Ecolabel.

The Café Treff bog: a pattern toilet!

 Another good toilet-roll holder is situated not far from the best toilet in England, in the Hiker's Bar toilet at the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub, Langdale, which we reviewed the other day. It is the hygienic Smart One holder.

A commendably hygienic toilet roll holder

We also recommend, as an alternative to traditional air-dryers (paper towels are great but not particularly tree-friendly), the new hygienic, energy-saving ones. Two examples that we have come across are the Dyson Airblade and the Veltia Hand Dryer.

Woof! Fancy getting your hands on this one? Enjoy the toilets at Kennedy's in York!

To rub against this baby, get yourself down
to the Berrick Saul building at the University of York!

We hope that you now feel informed, reassured and hygienically competent. (If not, don't hesitate to e-mail us at

Related Reading
Thomas Crapper: The Silence of the Toilets
Thomas Crapper Day Greetings from Winchester
A Study of the Correlation between the Extremely Scary Toilet Aerosol Effect and Acute OCD in Toilet Bloggers

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