By Melissa Locker
August 21, 2017
Public Restroom
Credit: Derweduwen Marcel/Getty Images

We are so sorry to tell you this, but there's a very good chance that you have been using toilet seat covers incorrectly for your entire life. Toilet seat covers are one of the very few amenities available in public bathrooms, however, they aren't exactly intuitive. First you have to punch out the perforated center hole, leaving an awkward flap dangling down, and then it has to be laid down on the toilet seat, all without directions. That's where the problem lies. Many of us have been either tearing out the center flap, putting the covers down in the wrong position, or both.

Here's how they are supposed to work: The center flap is meant to remain attached to the toilet seat cover, according to Lifehacker. The flap rests in the water and then pulls the entire paper down when you flush, so you don't need to touch it. As for flap placement, apparently it's meant to be in the front away from the, let's say, action. Here's a video to illustrate:

If you have been using them incorrectly your entire life, don't worry. Even if toilets aren't as clean as we would like, toilet seat covers probably won't prevent any germs from being transmitted to your backside. There's a reason that hospitals don't use incredibly thin sheets of paper in operating rooms—they aren't particularly effective. "Toilet seat covers are absorbent and bacteria and viruses are tiny, able to pass through the relatively large holes in the cover's paper," Kelly Reynolds, a public health researcher at the University of Arizona, told USA Today.

While that may sound alarming, the good news is that, toilets aren't nearly as germy as our mothers may have imagined. As far as most public health experts are concerned, the only thing toilet seat covers protect against is the "ick" factor, because it's almost impossible for diseases to be transmitted via contact with a toilet seat. The statistic website FiveThirtyEight also looked at toilet seat covers, and found very little evidence that diseases could be caught from a toilet seat. In fact, the only real toilet seat-related disease they could find had to do with a girl who got contact dermatitis (basically an itchy rash) from a wooden toilet seat, which was easily resolved by switching to plastic instead.

Similarly, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Huffington Post, "Toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents—you won't catch anything."

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What does help stop the spread disease is washing hands with good old soap and water. According to the Center for Disease Control, to properly clean your hands, wet them with water, apply soap, and then lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing with water.