The Pandemic Resistant Bathroom
To avoid spreading infection, you need to take strict control of the family bathroom.
MOST PEOPLE CATCH COVID-19 FROM FAMILY MEMBERS, and the home bathroom is literally a petri dish of infectious opportunity.
To start, most bathrooms are small, intimate spaces. The good news is that they’ve typically got hard, washable surfaces that can be cleaned with a bleach solution or other disinfectant.
This group of creative engineers made their workplace bathroom door safer to use during the pandemic. Instead of having to use their hand to open it, now they can use their foot instead.
The bad news is that the bath is where we do the dirty work of being sick: diarrhea, vomiting, nose blowing—you get the idea. Every surface, from sink handles to shower faucets to tile shower walls, is a potential hot zone, along with fabric curtains, blinds, towels and vinyl shower curtains.
To make matters worse, each time you flush an uncovered toilet, you blast disease causing particles into the air as an aerosol. Tests have shown that this can happen for several days after just one use of the toilet, and airborne particles tested have included norovirus, influenza and more. You can be certain coronavirus will easily become airborne.
Another issue particular to COVID-19 is that it has been shown to survive for hours, even days on clothes and hair. If you have towels, bathrobes or hand towels stacked in the bathroom, the virus can settle on them and stay there.
The point is to try to cool down this hot zone as much as possible. Here’s how to do the best you can with the technology that’s available, and a few behavioral adjustments. I’ll start with the easy changes, and move up the options chain from there:
- Designate a sick bath. About half of U.S. homes have only one bathroom. For the other fortunate half of homeowners, one bath can be reserved for those who are sick. Both baths still need to be managed with the protocols below, to avoid infecting the whole home.
- Relocate all soft materials. Store towels, diapers, floor mats, and any other fabric materials elsewhere. Do not leave half-used bars of soap or wet washcloths in the bath.
- Strip down the shower. Get rid of that decorative outer layer of shower curtain. Stick with washable vinyl or plastic. In the future, try to replace the enclosure with smooth glass doors. Wash the entire shower space down with disinfectant frequently. Avoid bathing in the tub--Don’t spend longer in the bathroom than you need to.
- Run the bath fan constantly. Bath fans are not just for odors. They remove particulates too, including airborne viruses and bacteria. Never shut it off when you have sickness in the house. If you don’t have a ceiling vent fan installed, open a window and put a fan in the window facing outdoors, and run it constantly. Get a bathroom fan installed as soon as you feel better. New ones such as the WhisperGreen Select from Panasonic are quiet and energy efficient.
- Close the toilet after every use. If you or your kids have a hard time remembering this, you can make it happen automatically. There are many models of automatic seat closers available, and some are completely hands-free. For example, the itouchless lid, available for about $120 as an add-on, includes sensors that make it self-opening as well as self-closing.
- Bidets: Go paperless. Aside from the cost and anxiety of running out of toilet paper, an roll of toilet paper left out in the open in the bathroom becomes a settling ground for viral particles. Avoid TP entirely by installing a bidet or low-cost bidet seat that uses water instead of paper to clean your bottom. If you want to spend a little more, you can get a self-sanitizing version such as the C3-155 unit from Kohler, and you will never have to stand in line for toilet paper again.
- Light it up. Daylight may kill some forms of bacteria, mold and viruses, although its impact on coronavirus is not well documented. Let the sun shine in. You can also buy a UV-emitting “wand” or similar device to manually kill many forms of invisible pathogens. Look for one that produces light in the UVC spectrum. It’s likely that soon, room-scale UVC lighting will be available that can sterilize an entire bathroom. According to research recently published in Nature: “Our results indicate that far-UVC light is a powerful and inexpensive approach for prevention and reduction of airborne viral infections without the human health hazards inherent with conventional germicidal UVC lamps. If these results are confirmed in other scenarios, it follows that the use of overhead very low level far-UVC light in public locations may represent a safe and efficient methodology for limiting the transmission and spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases.” (See also How Does UV Light Disinfect the Coronavirus? from LarsonElectronics)
Do your best to make your bathroom unfriendly to coronavirus, and the same protocol will help you avoid the flu and other less dangerous infections in coming years. Good luck.
*Editor’s Note. We do not receive any compensation for mentioning the products in this article. They are included only as examples of the technology described.