Toilet Seat Makes Your Butt Itch? Here's Why

Researchers link nagging "poop dermatitis" rash to harsh cleaning chemicals and exotic wood finishes on seats.

January 25, 2010

Your itchy butt could mean you should rethink how you clean your toilet.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Talk about a personal problem. Researchers from the United States and India have identified an old skin problem that seems to be making a real comeback on backsides all over the world. Dubbed "poop dermatitis," or toilet seat contact dermatitis, the condition involves an allergic reaction that shows up as a rash on the buttocks and back, upper thighs. A study that appeared last year in the journal Pediatricssuggested that certain toilet seat materials may aggravate the outbreak, along with harsh chemical cleaners commonly used in households.


THE DETAILS: Noting a rise in cases, researchers investigated and analyzed five cases of toilet seat contact dermatitis in children and found that the itchy, uncomfortable condition is often misdiagnosed and mistreated, sometimes for years. Often labeled as ringworm, an unrelated allergy, or dermatoses, researchers blame the resurgent popularity of exotic-wood toilet seats and the use of harsh chemical cleaners with the rise in rash cases from toilet seats. They say wooden seats, particularly those covered with varnishes and paints, can cause uncomfortable outbreaks.

WHAT IT MEANS: Previous studies have found adults are also suffering from this type of rash. While some instances involve an allergic reaction, cases in the United States are predominately a result of contact dermatitis, which is caused by irritation and can affect anyone. This is especially a problem in school settings, where harsh chemicals are often used to disinfect toilets.

Read on to find out how to prevent this most annoying skin problem.

Study coauthor Bernard Cohen, director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center says a child can develop irritation after just a few uses of a wooden toilet seat, or from repeated exposure to residue from harsh cleaning chemicals. Although most rashes are fairly benign and are treated with topical steroids, complications can arise. One case in the study involved a teenage boy developing a drug-resistant MRSA infection; he required heavy-duty antibiotic treatments to recover. In any case, the dermatitis is a problem that can affect derrières of all ages; "Big butts are not immune," jokes Dr. Cohen.

Here's how to prevent toilet seat contact dermatitis in your household.

• Spot a problem. In one case investigated in the new study, a 14-year-old boy developed an eczemalike eruption on the back of his thighs just after his family moved into a new home that had a red plastic toilet seat. If someone in your home experiences repeated irritation, consider switching to a different toilet seat cover that has no paints and varnishes. Just be sure to avoid vinyl. This type of material, dubbed "the poison plastic" by environmentalists, contains hormone-disrupting chemicals, and its production releases nasty by-products.

• Clean safely. In this latest study, researchers linked skin irritation to harsh chemical bathroom cleaners. The study authors say ammonia compounds, phenol, and formaldehyde found in common cleaners can lead to toilet seat rash. But the toxic cleansers may produce even worse effects; a recent Environmental Working Group investigation found many carcinogens and other toxic chemicals in common household cleaning products. To keep your toilet clean without using chemicals linked to skin and lung irritation and indoor air pollution, try this effective, nontoxic cleaning method: Pour half of a 32-ounce bottle of white vinegar into the bowl at night, and then scrub away grime in the morning. If you want to knock out all germs, do the same thing, but then also flush after scrubbing away grime, and spray with 3-percent hydrogen peroxide, letting it sit for a few minutes, and then flush again. For the seat itself, mix a a gentle all-purpose cleaning mix of one part white vinegar and nine parts water; spray or wipe it on and then let it air-dry. And since you can’t control what public restrooms use to clean their seats, use paper toilet seat covers whenever possible if your skin is sensitive.