Are Over-The-Toilet Bathroom Storage Systems Sanitary?

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Most bathrooms aren't large, expansive rooms with plenty of square footage. Because of that, people have to get creative with how they store their towels, toilet paper, and surplus skincare. Since there isn't a way to create more floor space short of demolishing a wall and eating into an adjoining room, many resort to installing vertical storage. One popular way to do this is to install an over-the-toilet bathroom storage system, which allows you to add extra shelving without having to drill holes. These are usually cabinets with legs, so all you have to do is lean them on the wall and call it a day. But due to their location, are they sanitary? We asked a cleaning expert to weigh in, and as you might have guessed, they're not very hygienic.

"Keeping items stored above the toilet is extremely convenient which is why it is so often in my clients' homes," Carly Castro, the owner of cleaning business FreshLee Cleaning Co., exclusively tells House Digest. "But, researchers have found that every time a toilet is flushed (lid open or closed), microscopic viral particles can spread to 5 feet or more. The particles spread to the floor, walls and other nearby surfaces." A 2024 study in the American Journal of Infection Control has confirmed that even if you close the lid, germs will still get all over the bathroom, necessitating regular disinfection. Because of that, here's a closer look into whether such a unit is worth installing.

How to make storage more sanitary

If you have a small bathroom, you might not have any other choice but to add over-the-toilet cabinets. In this case, you can minimize your items' exposure to pathogens by choosing a unit without exposed shelving. "I personally recommend having an enclosed storage system," Carly Castro exclusively tells House Digest. "I understand a lot of homeowners prefer to have extra rolls of toilet paper, bathroom wipes, and an extra set of towels nearby. In order to help mitigate the risk of contaminating those items, it is best to keep them behind some type of door." You don't want germs coating things like your face towels or makeup brushes, so storing them behind closed cabinets helps reduce their contact. This helps you make the most of the space above your toilet.

However, the doors won't be able to completely protect the items from dirt and grime. Because of this, it's important to clean the storage unit regularly. "I suggest cleaning and disinfecting the storage unit once a week," Castro says. "I highly recommend using Odoban Disinfectant to clean bathroom areas as it's not only a great cleaner and disinfectant but its also an odor neutralizer." The disinfectant retails for $26.50 on Amazon for a two-pack that includes one spray bottle and 1-gallon refill bottle. It kills 99.9% of germs, so you can use it to wipe down the exterior of the storage unit, as well as the inside walls, doors, and shelves.

What not to store in over-the-toilet shelving

While the unit's doors will help keep the contents inside relatively shielded from germs, they do nothing to regulate the humidity of the room. Things like showers and hot baths increase the moisture in the room, which can ruin certain items. "I don't recommend storing razors, jewelry, makeup or nail polish in the storage systems," Carly Castro exclusively tells House Digest. "Items like makeup and nail polish need to be stored at room temperature. Temperatures in bathrooms tend to fluctuate which can reduce the shelf life of these items." The humidity affects jewelry and razors similarly. "This will cause the oxidation process to speed up and cause the jewelry to tarnish faster," Castro explains.

Instead, store jewelry in a jewelry box in your bedroom. As for makeup and nail polish, consider setting up a vanity to house those items, or if there isn't space, have a rolling cart with drawers that you can easily wheel to a mirror or the bathroom. For example, the Alex Drawer Unit on Castors, which retails for $190 on IKEA, is a storage game changer for small bathrooms. As for razors, consider storing them in a nearby linen or hallway closet. This makes them easily accessible since they're by the bathroom, but away from the humidity.