Have you ever read on the toilet? I know I have. Indeed, the one-handed form factor of the iPod Touch means it’s perfectly suited for me to read with my right while I wipe with my left. And indeed, people have been reading on the toilet in real life and literary works for decades or even centuries.

But have you considered whether it’s a sanitary habit?

The Guardian’s books blog reports that one pediatric gastroenterologist was curious enough about the practice to issue a survey on the matter. Some doctors point out that the process can lead to germs from fecal matter being transferred to the medium you’re reading, which means they could then be transmitted to others.

Microbes don’t fare too well on absorbent surfaces, and might survive only minutes on newspaper. But plastic book covers and those shiny, smooth surfaces of Kindles, iPhones and iPads are more accommodating, and it’s likely bugs can live on those for hours. A recent study by Curtis suggests that in Britain one in six mobile phones is contaminated with faecal matter, largely because people fail to wash their hands after going to the toilet.

But the study on toilet reading suggests that it’s probably not a major issue—most people do it at home or work with their own reading material, not something that’s likely to have been contaminated by prior restroom users.

The intent of the survey was to determine whether toilet readers had an easier time going than non-readers, but the results were largely inconclusive. Regardless, people will undoubtedly continue to see literature as something convenient to do while they doo-doo.


  1. It’s really much ado about nothing. The amount of bacteria in the air, out in the open, floating about every bathroom door, in every place where animals congregate, kicked up by traffic, etc, etc, is substantial and inescapable. If you can smell it, it’s already all over you. On the other hand, the human body is designed to withstand the onslaught of that level of bacteria, and much higher besides, without it being a danger.

  2. As Steven said … much ado about sweet F all.

    Bacteria is everywhere. A huge proportion of our bodies are bacteria. Most bacteria is good for us. This obsession with killing bacteria is what has brought us plagues of allergies and asthma.

    I have read in the loo from time to time for 45 years and I have never had food poisoning or any other stomach complaint. Not once.

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