Scientists used a combination of green lasers and cameras to illuminate the effect a toilet flush has on its surroundings – and we doubt you’ll get a chance to leave the lid up while flushing again after seeing the results.
The video, produced by a team of researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the United States, shows a wave of tiny water droplets, invisible to the naked eye, flying out of the toilet bowl after flushing it. It’s kind of gross, if you think about what can be suspended in those tiny drops.
“People knew that toilets sprayed, but they couldn’t see it,” says civil and environmental engineer John Crimaldifrom the University of Colorado Boulder.
“We show that this thing is a much more active and spreading column than even people who knew about this concept.”
As the researchers themselves acknowledge, there is a “weak factor” here – reinforced by the eerie green glow of the laser light – but also an important message about bathroom cleanliness, both in private homes and in the often lidless public restroom toilets.
Crimaldi and his fellow researchers are careful to stress that they are not epidemiologists, and so there are no precise calculations here regarding the potential for disease spread. However, their presentation provides a graphical component for other studies attempting to estimate the qualities of bacteria-laden aerosols.
While Previous studies Having clearly identified the possibility of particles escaping from the toilet bowl during flushing, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how these particles travel and where they can end up.
Two types of lasers were used: one shone continuously on the toilet from above to illuminate the scene, and the other sent fast pulses of light across the top of the toilet bowl to highlight the particle movement. High resolution images were captured by the cameras at the same time.
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The researchers showed droplets up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) high after flowing, traveling at speeds exceeding 2 meters (6.6 feet) per second in some places. The researchers showed that larger droplets settle on services more quickly, while smaller droplets can stay in the air for several minutes.
“We were expecting these aerosol particles to kind of float, but they came out like a rocket,” says Crimaldi.
“The goal of a toilet is to effectively remove waste from the bowl, but it also does the opposite, which is to spray a lot of the contents up.”
There was nothing in the toilet bowl except for water during the experiment. There was also no stall surrounding the toilet, and no people scurrying around like there might be a public toilet. In real life, all of these variables will affect the movement of the droplets.
However, even in this somewhat artificial setting, there’s clearly plenty of room for water – and anything that happens to be carrying it – to get it out of the toilet bowl, where it can end up stuck to surfaces and clothing.
Researchers believe more needs to be done to reduce the risk of infection with pathogens such as Escherichia coliAnd the C. difficilenoroviruses, and adenoviruses circulating in public restrooms, with improved methods of design, ventilation, and disinfection all options.
For these improvements to work effectively, it’s essential to know where the water is traveling, which this study shows more dramatically than ever before—and in a way we’ll never forget.
“If it’s something you can’t see, it’s easy to pretend it’s not there,” says Crimaldi. “But once you watch these videos, you’ll never think of toilet flushing the same way again.”
“By making exciting visuals of this process, our study can play an important role in public health messaging.”
Research published in Scientific reports.
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