Wear a mask in the men’s room: Urinals can spray you with viruses, including COVID-19, in 5 seconds!

  • Researchers suggest wearing mask in public restrooms should be mandatory during the pandemic.
  • Study shows that public toilets also emit a cloud of particles, but spray takes 35 seconds to reach the thigh.

WASHINGTON — When you’re in the privacy of a bathroom, social distancing isn’t usually a concern. Despite that, a new study finds public restrooms can still expose you to viruses like COVID-19 with every single flush. Researchers in China say public toilets, and especially men’s urinals, can spray you with virus-covered particles in a matter of seconds.

A team from Yangzhou University is running computer simulations on how fast these cringeworthy clouds reach users. Their study reveals every flush is potentially exposing people to both feces and urine-based virus droplets. They add this is particularly dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic, which typically spreads through fluid droplets.

Urinal flushes are much worse than toilets

Any flush involves a series of gas and liquid processes which end with that famous swirling motion taking your waste away. The force of that exchange however, tends to release aerosols (tiny droplets) back into the air.

The particle distribution pattern during a urinal flushing. (Credit: Ji-Xiang Wang)

The report in the journal Physics of Fluids uncovers some disturbing information for men who prefer to use a urinal. The simulations find these flushes are much more “violent” and aerosols reach users in a fraction of the time.

Researcher Xiangdong Liu says the particles coming from a urinal flush “manifests an external spread type, with more than 57% of the particles traveling away from the urinal.”

The study author reveals this spray hits urinal users in the thigh in just 5.5 seconds. Spray from a normal toilet reaches higher than the thigh, but it takes about 35 seconds to hit a person.

“The climbing speed is much faster than toilet flushing,” Liu warns in a media release.

Another place to wear a mask

The Chinese team explains their findings give the public another reason to wear a mask. They add urinals could present a particular public health threat, since they are widely found in densely populated cities.

“From our work, it can be inferred that urinal flushing indeed promotes the spread of bacteria and viruses,” Liu says. “Wearing a mask should be mandatory within public restrooms during the pandemic.”

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