10 Ways You Never Knew You Were Using the Toilet Wrong

Updated: Apr. 19, 2024

You gotta look before you flush, ease up when you wipe, and, yes, there is a right way to hang toilet paper.

You sit too long…

It’s quiet in the bathroom. You can actually lock the door and sit uninterrupted with a magazine, book or, more likely, a smartphone. But you really need to find another spot for a little “me time.” Sitting perched in that position too long puts extra stress on the veins in the lowest part of your rectum; if those veins swell or bulge, it’s “hello, hemorrhoids.” In many cases hemorrhoids usually clear up within a week, but in the meantime they can be itchy, uncomfortable and are the most common cause of rectal bleeding. If you see any bright red spots on your stool or toilet paper after you wipe, talk to your doctor to make sure the bleeding isn’t a symptom of colon cancer or another serious condition. He or she may also suggest over-the-counter creams or ointments to treat persistent and painful hemorrhoids.

Man straining to poop

…and push too hard

Straining and holding your breath to get stubborn stool out not only ups the pressure on the veins down there, boosting your risk of hemorrhoids, but may also lead to anal fissures. These tiny tears in the tissue that lines your anus can occur when you force out large and hard, constipated poop. To help keep stool soft for an easier exit, Mayo Clinic suggests upping your fiber intake, drinking plenty of fluids, and staying active (regular physical activity increases muscle activity in your intestines). And to perhaps ease the need to strain, try squatting for a few seconds: that position naturally aligns the intestinal tract in a way that may help move things along with less effort.

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Poop in toilet

You don’t peek at your poop

Well of course it’s gross, but seeing what comes out can hint at what’s happening on your insides. Soft, smooth and sausage-shaped stool is a sign of good gastrointestinal health; soft blobs with clear-cut edges are fine too. If your deposits are hard and lumpy, though, you may need to up your fiber and fluid intake, reports Penn Medicine. Poop that exits like pee, on the other hand, could be caused by a mild case of food poisoning, food intolerance, an infection or even signal more serious conditions, such as Crohn’s or celiac disease. Floaters are most often due to poor absorption of nutrients or too much gas in your digestive tract; pencil-thin bowel movements could indicate colon cancer.

Keep an eye on the contents of your bowl, and talk to your doctor if you notice bright red or jet-black stool (a sign of bleeding), as well as any big and persistent changes to your bowel movements.

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asparagus on the grill

You ignore stinky pee

That’s fine if your last meal consisted of asparagus: During digestion, certain acids in these green stalks are broken down into sulfurous, smelly, airborne compounds that waft up when you pee (that’s why asparagus makes your urine smell). Interestingly, though, not everyone can smell asparagus in their urine, according to a study published in The BMJ, which identified a large number of participants with “asparagus anosmia.” However, if the smell is strong and foul and your urine is dark and cloudy, it could signal a urinary tract infection; other conditions, such as bladder infections, liver disease, poorly controlled diabetes or certain metabolic disorders can also change urine odor. Meanwhile if your pee smells like ammonia and its color is concentrated, it can mean your body is low on fluids.

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bleach sprayed into toilet

You’re big on bleach

On its own, it’s fine: Add ¼ cup into the toilet bowl and let it sit for a few minutes to disinfect before you clean. But if bleach is mixed with ammonia, toxic gases called choloramine are created, which can cause coughing, wheezing, nausea or watery eyes; at higher concentrations it can even lead to chest pain, wheezing or pneumonia, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Using it in tandem with certain toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners and even plain old vinegar is no better: The combination of chlorine bleach and acid gives off a toxic chlorine gas that can cause burning eyes and breathing problems in small amounts, and be fatal at high levels.

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wipes on top of toilet

You “polish” down there

It’s really a thing, and it could leave you with an itchy butt. Aggressive wiping or overzealous cleaning with harsh soaps, lotions, and scented wipes can irritate the skin between your cheeks, causing an intense itch and resulting in a condition sometimes referred to as “polished anus syndrome,” according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. You want to clean well after you do your business—any leftovers can also make you itch later; but there’s no need to scrub, or use scented or colored toilet paper, for that matter. If you’re now wondering how to wipe your butt, just wipe gently with plain toilet paper or a moist towelette, and in the shower, wash with mild soap.

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woman showering

You still douche

A healthy vagina has beneficial bacteria, and they help maintain an acidic environment that helps protect it from infections and irritation. So when you insist on flushing it out with some prepackaged mixture of fluids or homemade concoction, it can disrupt the normal pH levels, increasing the risk of irritation, itching and infection. Douching can also make an existing vaginal infection worse, by pushing the bacteria and infection up into the uterus and other reproductive organs, according to The Office on Women’s Health. Your body’s got the cleanliness of the inside of your vagina handled—without any extra help from a squeeze bottle. When you bathe, wash your front as you would your rear: Warm water and mild soap.

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Woman flushing a toilet

You toss in wet wipes

Many claim to be sewer and septic safe, but tests conducted by Consumer Reports showed otherwise: Some personal cleansing wipes didn’t break down in water after 10 minutes, compared to regular toilet paper that disintegrated into tiny bits in a few seconds. Reports have shown these not-so-flushables are clogging sewer systems in spots including San Francisco, Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City. Some other toiletries that don’t belong in the toilet: dental floss, Band-Aids, sanitary napkins, tampons and condoms.

toilet flushing with lid up

You flush, lid up

Not only can that can send a spray of toilet ick flying into the air, but the particles can be propelled as far as six feet away from the swirling bowl, according to the seminal work on the subject that is still regarded as the gold standard by germ expert Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. Feel free to take a quick survey of your bathroom stuff within those limits; then implement your new lid-down rule (and store that toothbrush inside the medicine cabinet, just in case).

toilet paper hanging over the roll

Your toilet paper hangs “under”

It may be time to consider this century-old debate put to rest: Journalist Owen Williams tweeted a picture of the first toilet paper patent, and the 1891 drawing shows the toilet paper hanging over—not under—the roll.