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The dirtiest part of your bathroom

Toilets take a lot of abuse, and some people are phobic about touching them – especially those in public restrooms. Your bathroom (heck, any bathroom!) has a bad reputation for being dirty, and frankly, it’s well deserved. Yes, your bathroom is dirty, but it’s not entirely your toilet’s fault! Your bathroom habits can make a bad situation worse. Much worse.

Here’s what’s hanging around in your loo and what you can do about it.

Mold

Ah, mold. No one likes mold. It stinks. It stains. It can make you sick. Some molds can kill you. (On the other hand, penicillin – also a mold – can save your life.) It’s hard to get rid of. There’s not much to like about mold. Mold can thrive on porous surfaces, like grout, wood and plaster.

Mold is a fungus, so it reproduces by way of spores. Spores can remain dormant until they find conditions they like. Because your bathroom is a wet space, your battle with mold will pretty much never end. Ventilation is a good antidote to mold. Mold loves water, so if you can keep your bathroom dry, you can cut down significantly on any mold growth there.

Leaks of any kind will contribute to and support mold growth. Always address leaks immediately, whether they’re from the sink, toilet or bathtub.

If you have carpeting in your bathroom, you’re going to get mold growth there. If possible, remove carpeting and replace it with a hard surface flooring material – preferably a non-porous one. Wash the window curtains, shower curtains and rugs regularly, and use a small amount of bleach in the wash to kill any volunteer growth. At the minimum, clean your bathroom once per week and more frequently if it’s heavily used.

Important side note about mold: Many varieties of mold are black in color, but that doesn’t mean they’re “black mold.” Stachybotrys chartarum is the bad actor known as “black mold.” The black stuff that appears in your bathroom around the shower is probably Alternaria. Alternaria’s not totally harmless, since it can aggravate asthma and cause allergic reactions. The good news is that even though it’s black and it’s mold, it’s not black mold. A mild bleach solution will kill Alternaria. So will vinegar. Drying your bathroom walls and ventilating the bathroom after taking a shower will also discourage Alternaria from growing.

Mildew

Mildew is actually white, so if something is growing in your bathroom that has a color other than white, it’s not mildew. It’s probably a mold of some kind. Mildew is also a fungus, so the same attack strategy for mold will work on mildew.

Yeast

Another member of the fungus crowd. Vinegar or bleach will do the deed on yeast, but so will hot water – 122°F or better. (That’s a scalding temperature, so your water heater might not be of help here.)

Bacteria

Coliforms: Coliforms are fecal bacteria. Yes, they originate in poop. It’s entirely possible that you have more fecal bacteria on your toothbrush holder than you do on your toilet seat. How could that even be?

First, coliforms can’t really survive well outside the human body, so most of the coliforms in your bathroom will be dead. (Good.) Coliform bacteria gets aerosolized and distributed around your bathroom when you flush the toilet with the lid open. Second, it accumulates on your toothbrush holder when you don’t clean that regularly. Quick fix: close the lid when you flush the toilet and clean your toothbrush holder more often.

Staph: Common, and likes to hang out around the toilet and on faucet handles. Your bathroom could also harbor streptococcus, E. coli, Pseudomonas, etc. A disinfectant cleaner like Lysol will kill the overwhelming majority (99.9%) of these lowlifes.

“Pink mold:” “Pink mold” is not mold. It’s actually a bacteria also known as Serratia marcescens. It feeds on soap scum and shampoo residue, which is why it likes your bathtub so much. This bacteria has the chops to make you sick, so getting rid of it is a good idea. Avoid direct contact with it, but a good detergent or spray cleaner should neutralize it. Remove any buildup of soap residues by cleaning the bathtub regularly to inhibit the growth of this bacteria.

As plumbers, we don’t clean bathrooms (except our own), but we can help you address leaks and other plumbing problems. Call the plumbing experts at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911. We’ll help you find and eliminate water leaks and other plumbing problems!

Photo Credit: Tony Webster, via Flickr