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Maverick Garces
Frances McCue
HONORS 205
December 3, 2015
All Hands-free Toilets Should Be Removed from the University of Washington
Call me a privileged, first world wimp, but I have never been a fan of public restrooms,
not that anyone is ever really a fan of them. You have to touch things that thousands of others
have laid their unwashed hands on, spend absurd amounts of time and attention making sure that
you have layered the toilet seat with just enough toilet paper that your behind does not come into
any sort of physical contact with it, all while making sure that your number two plopping into
the water makes as little noise as possible; or maybe that is just me. And in reading this, one
would think that I would be hands down in favor for the supposedly more hygienic, hands-free
toilets, but that is not the case. The drawbacks of this innovation far outweigh the positives, and
as they say, you should never replace a working technology with that of an inferior. Hands-free
toilets are subject to being unreliable, which may lead to unhygienic situations, more water being
wasted, and a general lack of control over ones already unpleasant restroom visit. Thus for the
purpose of this essay, I will be comparing hands-free toilets with their trusty, time-tested manual
counterparts. I believe these considerations create a convincing argument that hands-free toilets
should be removed from all University of Washington restrooms and be replaced with traditional
toilets.
The main issue surrounding the use of hands-free toilets is the fact that, just like all other
technological devices, errors in its function may and will arise, and this is where many of its

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issues stem from. For the purpose of this essay, an error occurs when a hands-free toilet
malfunctions and flushes, leading to an outcome that the user did not intend it happen.
The first error that will be discussed is the fact that hands-free toilets can often flush
when you least expect it, often resulting in quite the unhygienic incident that I am sure we have
all experienced sometime in our life: unwelcome toilet backwash. But before delving more
into this premise, the term unhygienic will be defined as an increase in bacteria on ones skin
after one flushes the toilet. Now take this for example: theres a boy, Julien, who is sitting on a
toilet in the HUB, minding his own business when Julien feels hears his phone vibrate in his
backpack. Julien moves his arm slightly to reach inside and grab his phone, but instead of the
sensor ignoring the small movement, the toilet flushes despite the fact the Julien is still sitting on
the bowl. Unfortunately for him, a lot of bacteria may reside in the bowl of a public toilet simply
due to the shear amount of people using them, thus making the toilet water susceptible to
carrying these bacterial agents. Juliens back is now covered with bacteria-filled toilet water, and
he has to deal with the uncomfortable situation until he can clean himself off. This incident is
thus considered unhygienic based on the definition above as there has been an increase in the
amount of bacteria along his back. Also, if Julien is having a particularly busy day, he will not
be able to thoroughly clean the affected area until much later. This will give the bacteria more
time to grow and replicate, which may potentially cause an infection depending on what kind of
bacteria was present and where exactly on Juliens body it came in contact with. If he were to
have used a toilet with a manual flushing mechanism, he would not have had to worry about this
happening as there is no way for the toilet to flush without him initiating the command himself.
After taking care of his business, Julien would simply manually push down on the lever,
preferably with his foot, thus flushing the toilet without risking contact with any sort of bacteria.

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Therefore, for the sake of all bathroom goers hygiene, replacing hands-free toilets with their
traditional counterparts should be a priority if we wish to prevent these unsanitary accidents.
As well as causing more potentially unhygienic situations, hands-free toilets may also
unintentionally waste water; the second error that will be examined. It is unsurprising that this
error also arises from the same fact that these toilets may flush when unneeded, however in this
case the issue that arises is on a much broader, environmental leveland at a university that is
located in a city known for its environmental awareness, any amount of wasted water should be
looked into. By now you may be asking yourself just how this may occur, so as before, I will
provide another situation. Consider this: there is a woman, Anna, who is rushing to the
bathroom; not to use the toilet but instead to adjust a bra strap that was moved into an
uncomfortable position after a long session in class. Just as with the example above featuring
Julien, the sensor misinterprets her movements and cues the flushing mechanism without there
ever being a need for it, thus wasting water that had not been used. Down the drain it goes.
Hands-free toilets often have the tendency to flush when a flush is not needed. In the presence of
a manual-flush toilet, this would not have been the case. Anna would have fixed the situation
and been on her merry way, without any of the guilt that comes along with wasting water. But
rather than replacing hands-free toilets with just any traditional-flush toilet, there are several
water-saving toilets that build off the manual design in several buildings on campus which would
be beneficial if implemented campus-widebeneficial meaning that these toilets hit the mark of
being both environmentally friendly, while also providing the certainty of a manual flush.
Instead of having just one flush option, these toilets give the user the chance to be
environmentally-conscious by allowing them to choose between two different volumes of water
to flush with, depending on what needs to go down the drain. Now, you can leave the toilet stall

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feeling good about your flush! These toilets with the two different options save water in the long
run and prevent the unnecessary waste associated with hands-free toilets.
The lack of dependability on hands-free toilets also make for some uncooperative
bathroom situations that simply create an unpleasant user experience. Unpleasant meaning that
the user cannot control their flushes how they see fit. Since many of these hands-free toilets only
allow for one flushonly when it senses that you have gotten up from the toiletmany users are
not able to follow through with their usual flushing habits which may include having to flush
while still sitting on the toilet seat. This is another violation of a basic rule in technological
adoption: never strip power away from the user. Some restroom goers may feel the need to flush
frequently in order to quickly eliminate odors. Some may also unluckily be left with the only
open stall that has remains sitting in the bowl from a previous use. The only way to flush out the
remains with a hands-free toilet is to hope that the bathroom sensor registers your presence, and
initiates a flush. Also, the fact that many hands-free toilets now have a manual flush button
highlights that there is an inherent flaw in the original design of these toilets: they are unreliable
and unpredictable. By implementing these buttons that mimic the consistent flushing mechanism
of traditional toilets, the manufacturers themselves recognize that traditional toilets offer
something that the hands-free toilets they create lackthe sense of control and certainty that is
only possible with the manual flush.
Perhaps the strongest objection made against the use of traditional toilets is the claim that
hands-free toilets are more hygienic. When using a hands-free toilet, the user does not have to
bother with touching a dirty, rusting lever in order to flush the toilet. The sensor will hopefully
detect that you have completely left the bowl and proceeds to flush the toilet. However, an
entirely automatic flushing mechanism that is inherently flawed is not needed in order to solve

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this issue. A simple solution to this is pressing down on the lever with ones foot, avoiding any
unsanitary skin-to-lever contact altogether. Do not attempt to fix a time-trusted design that is not
broken.
Due to the unhygienic mishaps, waste of water, and cumbersome nature of hands-free
toilets, they should all be removed from the University of Washington and be replaced with their
traditional counterparts. It is only when toilet manufacturers are able to make a toilet with more
precise sensors that still provide the user with a sense of control, that they will become the better
option. But until then, the manual flush that traditional toilets utilize is overall much more
reliable, thus making it more hygienic, less wasteful, and more user-friendlyespecially in an
environment as bustling as the University of Washington where ones experience at the toilet
should not have to be an extra worry.