Are You Storing Your Toothbrush Wrong?

You’d never bring food into the bathroom, leave it on the counter, flush, and then eat it. So why do we do that with our toothbrushes?

By Alina Clough2 min read
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There’s just something a little icky about bathrooms. No matter how clean you keep them, they’re never quite the type of place you want to settle down and have a snack. Though some have windows, they’re typically small and poorly ventilated, and all the fans in the world won’t change the fact that, deep down, we know they’re a little gross.

If you went to someone’s house and saw their silverware by the bathroom sink, you’d probably make up an excuse to leave dinner early. You might return home, only to realize you’re being a little hypocritical: Your own toothbrush is within a few feet of your toilet. Brushing your teeth is important and has benefits beyond just your oral health. But are you adding some nasty ingredients to your oral hygiene routine?

In Full Plume

“Okay, but it’s not like I’m scrubbing my toilet with it.” True, but you might not have to! Flushing the toilet creates a “toilet plume” of bacteria around your bathroom, meaning that what goes down the toilet also sprays right back up. Toilet plume sprays about five feet around the bowl after just one flush, meaning the droplets of, well, ick can land on your toothbrush, makeup brushes, towels, and anything else standing in its way. 

Your toilet isn’t the only dirty part of your bathroom, either. Most people store their toothbrushes within reach of their sinks. Keeping it by the sink means that everything you’re washing off your hands is also getting splattered onto something you’ll later put right into your mouth.

While the feces frequently found on toothbrushes isn’t likely to kill you, it can give you a stomach bug.

Do bacteria really matter though? You may have heard that your phone has more bacteria than a toilet seat, and you’re right! One study showed that the average cell phone has 10 times the amount of bacteria on a toilet seat. Still, most of the bacteria on cell phones are pretty harmless, unlike what’s coming out of your toilet: poop. While the ADA says the feces frequently found on toothbrushes isn’t likely to kill you, toilet plume can pose a risk for norovirus, which can live on surfaces for weeks. Norovirus is a highly contagious illness that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and can be especially hard on young children and the elderly. While it’s rarely life threatening, it’s nothing you want to invite into your home or your mouth if you can help it.

Dodging the Spray

So how do you avoid turning your toothbrush into a toilet brush? Some experts recommend storing toothbrushes far from your sink and toilet, but that remains the most popular place to put a toothbrush holder. At the end of the day, it’s a pretty small health risk, but if you’re worried (or just grossed out), consider options that involve keeping it as far from the porcelain throne as you can.

While you might be tempted to store it in a cabinet, experts say this approach can come with issues of its own since it doesn’t let the bristles air out. The cabinet or drawer you store it in is likely dark and poorly ventilated, meaning the brush can get mold, mildew, and bacteria growing on it in no time. Instead, keep it in another room, like on your nightstand or dresser if at all possible, anywhere it can air out without being near your toilet. And if you do need to keep it in the bathroom, consider implementing a lid-down flushing rule to help keep the poop plume contained.

Closing Thoughts

Our bathrooms should make us feel more, not less, clean. While dental hygiene isn’t usually people’s first thought, small tweaks in your routine, like keeping your toothbrush out of your toilet’s way, can mean big benefits for your health if norovirus or other stomach bugs are in season. Feces on your toothbrush isn’t going to kill you, but the strongest argument for finding it a new home is this: eww

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