The accidental flush: Students debate automatic toilets


Automatic toilets and sinks have long been a point of contention for public bathroom users. While their functionality can certainly be annoying, automatic toilets and sinks are overall a positive addition that allow public bathrooms to be more hygienic, clean and accessible.

One of the largest selling points of automatic toilets and sinks is their supposed conservation of water to be more environmentally friendly. However, there are much better reasons than that easily arguable point as to why automatic toilets and sinks are useful.

Automatic toilets and sinks often prevent users from touching surfaces that would otherwise be full of germs. Manual toilet and sink handles are touched with hands that have possibly been in contact with urine and feces and may have other harmful viruses and bacteria on them. Even those surfaces in a private home can be filthy, so multiplying that by the hundreds of people who might use a public bathroom daily means that those surfaces are bound to be highly unsanitary. Removing just one or two high-contact surfaces from the equation, especially when those surfaces might have fecal bacteria on them, can keep people healthier.

There are plenty of people out there who simply don’t flush public toilets after use either. While this concern might not be at the top of people’s minds, automatic toilets allow public bathrooms to remain cleaner by flushing the toilet regardless of whether the user was planning to. It’s not pleasant to walk into a public bathroom stall to find it full of someone else’s human waste and toilet paper, so it’s helpful to have a mechanism in place that can prevent it from happening. 

Most importantly, automatic toilets and sinks offer accessibility for disabled people. Many disabilities might prevent people from having the mobility to push a toilet handle or maneuver a sink handle, so having both actions automated can make the difference in allowing a disabled person to use the bathroom unassisted. Automatic toilets and sinks are certainly not so bothersome that they require making public bathrooms inaccessible for a portion of the population.



There are plenty of reasons, both on a broad and personal level, why hands-free flushing toilets and sinks in public bathrooms are a nuisance. As we navigate through our busy and stressful schedules each day, these automatic amenities only serve to provide additional hassle while also coming with a plethora of other issues.

First off, I completely understand the accessibility angle and I do not wish to come across as trying to invalidate this in any way. This technology is incredible in the fact that it can assist many people with disabilities, and I think the fact that these amenities are an option is wonderful. My issue comes with the fact that in many places, including on campus, these toilets and sinks have become the default option.

Beginning with how these automatic facilities are full of issues broadly, they are bound to waste more water and require more maintenance. The toilets specifically will sometimes unnecessarily flush an extra two or three times if the sensor detects movement. Aside from being an annoyance, I can’t see how these would be a more resourceful option than standard toilets.

The issue of maintenance is tricky, because in many ways these automated amenities do have a longer lifespan than standard ones. Without the need for people to turn a handle, this means that the parts do not get worn down as quickly. While this is a positive, however, I have encountered a handful of malfunctions from these devices which appear to be unique. From sensors being incorrect on the toilets and sinks to the devices being flat out unresponsive, I’ve noticed way more quirks than old-fashioned facilities.

What annoys me most about the automatic amenities, however, is how much of an inconvenience they are on a personal level. I’m sure we’ve all experienced these toilets flushing at the wrong time or the sinks not activating despite your hands being in the correct position. 

Again, I fully agree with the benefits these devices bring to the table from an accessibility point of view. I think these automatic toilets and sinks are great to have as an option and should exist. Despite this, I wish we’d see more of their bugs worked out, or at least have the old-fashioned facilities as an option.


Featured photo courtesy of Raysonho, Wikipedia