Flushing toilets generate visible droplets from turbulent flow, but also produce numerous smaller airborne droplets (∼micrometres in size) through atomisation. Flushing may aerosolise pathogens from stool or urine, spreading disease. This study continuously monitored aerosols in a shared office lavatory over a week using a biological particle detector, the Wideband Integrated Bioaerosol Sensor (WIBS). This instrument monitors individual particle sizes and numbers and identifies fluorescent particles likely to be droplets containing bacteria.

The toilet was a standard wash-down design, (Armitage Shanks), with a lid. No statistically significant variation between fluorescent particle counts was found between periods prior to flushing. Fluorescent particle numbers and intensity increased with toilet flushing, remaining above background for 5 minutes post-flushing on average. Placing the toilet lid down significantly (P<0.001) reduced total and fluorescent particle counts during and after flushing by 30-50%. Lid usage significantly increased (P<0.001) particle diameter from 1.5 μm to 2.1 μm and increased particle fluorescence intensity (P<0.001) during flushing and after flushing, intensity remaining above background for 16 minutes.

This suggests standard lid usage reduces but does not eliminate flush-related bioaerosols. Lid-use changes their characteristics and apparently prolongs their residence time in room air. The aerosol change could represent particle agglomeration by a pressure-related Kelvin effect or particle re-aerosolisation from different surfaces in the toilet rather than exclusively originating from droplet generation. Previous studies reporting the effect of toilet lids have found that they prevent the spread of visible droplets on flushing, however the effect on smaller particles is less clear cut.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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