If you scroll through Instagram while in the bathroom, you're not alone. An estimated nine in 10 Americans have also picked up this habit—but it's time to develop a new routine.
While it might be a mindless way to pass the time as you brush your teeth or even use the bathroom, it's actually incredibly, incredibly gross. How gross? Dr. Kelly Reynolds, a professor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health, compares it to bringing food into the bathroom and eating it. Reynolds, who specializes in water quality, food safety and disease transmission, knows a lot about how cells in the bathroom travel, and it's not pretty.
Let's get the worst out of the way: Every surface in your bathroom becomes contaminated with microscopic cells and bacteria every time you flush the toilet.
"When you flush the toilet, fecal matter and microscopic droplets can be suspended in the air and distributed throughout the bathroom," she explains. According to Reynolds, these particles can spread up to six feet in any direction, most often two to three feet around the toilet. Think of your tiny apartment bathroom: what surfaces are within that distance? Probably a lot of them.
Not to mention that the phone is already pretty dirty without ever making it into the bathroom. A study at the University of Arizona found that your phone carries 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. We should worry about ingesting these germs. "You touch your face hundreds of times an hour," she says. "You don't have to have the phone next to your mouth; your fingers will get there."
Various germs, including bacteria and viruses, are spread from what goes on in the bathroom. Though they don't cause anything life-threatening, they can cause respiratory infections, stomach flues, or diarrhea if you're not careful about cleaning.
Does this mean you need to disinfect your bathroom every five minutes? Thankfully, no. "It takes hundreds of thousands of bacteria to actually make you sick," Reynolds says. "The more times you flush, the more buildup of bacteria you get." This means you should be diligent about disinfecting your bathroom at least once a week to keep the germ count low—if someone in your apartment or home is sick, Reynolds advises once per day.
Reynolds also advises being more mindful about technology in general. "A lot of people in my field are suspicious that infectious diseases are on the rise because we spend more time in doors and with technology," Reynolds says. "ATM buttons, grocery store checkout pads—those are readily contaminated with disease-causing organisms, and now we've basically got one of those in our hands all the time."
If you're cringing big-time, follow Reynolds' lead and start your day with a simple cleaning routine.
"I sanitize my phone daily with a disinfecting wipe—it's how I start my day at the office," she says. "[You could] sanitize your phone right before you eat—but as a routine, I don't even do that. We can't prevent all illnesses, but we can reduce our risk if we take some simple precautions."
One warning: When you wipe down your phone, make sure it's not too damp or it may damage the device.