Raw photos show how many droplets and aerosols come out of the toilet every time you flush

Water spewing from the toilet bowl, made visible using powerful lasers.Jean Crimeld

  • Scientists have used lasers to show what really happens when you flush.

  • The footage showed a large plume of tiny drops of eau de toilette shooting through the air.

  • It’s unclear whether the plumes could carry dangerous microbes, an expert said.

Scientists have shown how water squirts out of the toilet bowl after a flush, using powerful lasers to illustrate what we normally can’t see.

Scientists have known for some time that tiny, invisible drops of water leak out of the toilet bowl after every flush. But this is the first time scientists have shown this to happen in real time with lasers.

The video below shows glowing green droplets as the laser bounces off them. A cloud of smaller droplets, called aerosols, floats farther in the air, carrying toilet water through the lab.

A side-by-side view of the effect shows that these water drops are invisible to the naked eye.

The results of their observations were published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

“The very first time we did it, our jaws dropped,” John Crimeldi, study author and professor of engineering at the University of Colorado, told Insider.

He said his team “had no idea and no reason to expect” the plumes to go as high and as far as they did.

There may be more than bad smells in the spray

For now, there is no reason to be overly concerned. People go to the bathroom without getting sick all the time.

It’s possible the spray is carrying microbes, Joshua Santarpia, a microbiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told Insider in an email.

The problem is that we just don’t know.

“It’s actually incredibly difficult to demonstrate the mode of transmission, let alone the source, in most cases,” said Santarpia, who studies disease transmission by aerosols.

Scientists believe there are good reasons to assume that toilet feathers could be involved in some outbreaks. But the evidence does not definitively show that toilet water squirting into the air made anyone sick.

A photo shows green-colored aerosols escaping from the toilet, glowing in front of a laser

The lasers reveal the aerosols coming out of the toilet after each flush.Jean Crimeld

Until that question is answered, there are simple steps that not only protect you from any potential bad things, but could also improve your bathroom manners.

If there is a lid on the toilet, close it. This limits the height and spread of larger droplets, Santarpia and Crimeldi said. A marginal benefit is that it should limit the spread of odors.

Wearing a mask in public restrooms is also “advisable for a variety of reasons,” Santarpia said.

“Public bathrooms can be confined spaces with widely varying air exchange rates, so masking protects against human-to-human aerosol transmission, which is more likely in a small, poorly ventilated room, as well as contact with any potentially infectious aerosol from toilet flushing,” he said.

Designing a Jetless Toilet

Crimeldi hopes her study will help people rethink toilet design, ventilation and disinfection.

Unless they need to be adapted for a specific purpose, such as in space, on airplanes, or in areas where there is no running water, toilet design has not changed much over the years. during the last decades.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Crimaldi said.

“You go to the toilet, you rinse the handle, the stuff disappears, you’re like, ‘boom, this works great!’ Then you look at the videos we took and you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe not so good!’” he said.

The video could also help raise awareness about this issue so that it is taken more seriously.

For example, many public buildings in the United States do not have covers on their toilets.

“I can tell you it fundamentally changed my relationship with toilets. I look at them warily now,” Crimeldi said.

“I can kind of see in my mind these clouds of aerosols that fill the whole room.”

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