Omnia Mechanical Group

571 Timpson Place Bronx, NY 10455

Phone: 212-534-2500

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Rethinking the Toilet Seat: The Coronavirus Is Driving Plumbing Innovation

While the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic certainly spurred a transformation in both home and work life habits, now that the virus has been with us for a while, we’re also seeing it drive innovation in various industries. Who would have thought a few months ago that rethinking the toilet seat as we know it would be one of those areas for revolution?

A recent article on, “‘We may have to rethink the toilet seat altogether’: How the coronavirus could change bathrooms for the better” (by Lara Sorokanich on 5/11/20), offers a new take on a centuries-old plumbing fixture. Here’s our summary of the piece, which includes some excellent suggestions for public bathroom upgrades that are long overdue.

American Bathrooms Lag Behind


Anyone who has traveled to Europe or Asia has probably noticed that public bathrooms there are worlds ahead of their American counterparts. Because bathrooms in the US are gender-specific, they often lack the privacy found in foreign restrooms.

Stalls typically don’t reach to the floor or the ceiling. In men’s rooms, urinals may be completely in the open, with, at best, just a small partition between them. European and Asian bathrooms, by contrast, are often single pods and are gender-neutral for use by both men and women.


The COVID-19 crisis has revealed just how dangerous American public bathrooms are. The lack of lids on toilets is a key issue when it comes to cleanliness and stopping the spread of germs. Every time a user flushes a toilet, a plume of droplets sprays up into the air, coating the occupant of the stall, the walls, and all parts of the fixture.

The contents of the toilet bowl becomes aerosolized and can be breathed in or even ingested. Furthermore, because these toilet plumes typically travel six feet in any direction and because American toilet stalls are so open at the top and bottom, users of adjoining stalls or those waiting for the stall can be sprayed as well.

Recent research has shown the novel coronavirus can be present in human excrement and can remain in stools for up to 33 days after an infected party has recovered and tested negative. All the handwashing in the world won’t remove the virus if someone is sprayed with it and it attaches to their face, hair, and clothing.

Upgrading Public Toilets Solve Multiple Issues

Adding or Improving Barriers

It’s clear American public toilets will need an upgrade as people return to work, school, shopping, and recreation in order to prevent increased risk of COVID-19 infections. As inconvenient as they may be, many of these improvements should have been done anyway.

To start, lids should be added to public toilets. Also, stalls and urinals should be spaced further apart and closed off from each other.

Going for Touchless Technology

Additionally, touchless technology can be harnessed to further reduce the spread of germs. James Walsh, who is VP of product management for American Standard says his company has seen a large increase in the number of customers asking for touchless features, such as automatic or safe-touch flushing, faucets, and soap dispensers.

A major part of the inquiries Walsh has fielded come from schools scurrying to improve health safety before reopening later this year. Walsh believes even lids on toilets won’t do the trick, as most people are averse to touching them and tend to use their feet to initiate flushing. Walsh suspects we may be pushed into rethinking the toilet seat altogether and move toward using sensor-activated seats. Deeper sinks, like those used in surgical suites, may be better as well, to prevent water splashing and puddles that promote bacterial growth.

Hygienic Bathrooms Are Better for Business

A New Priority

American businesses and public places are behind in realizing that safe, clean, and attractive bathrooms are ultimately better for the bottom line, says cofounder of the American Restroom Association Steven Soifer. His group has been advocating for single-user, gender-neutral restrooms for a long time.

Gender Neutrality and Physical Distancing

Gender-neutral bathrooms have an advantage when it comes to physical distancing (AKA social distancing), which is recommended for public interactions as various locales experiment with reopening after this spring’s shutdowns. Kathryn Anthony, who is a board member of the American Restroom Association and a professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, thinks gender-neutral bathrooms will help eliminate situations where the men’s room is unoccupied but women are lined up too closely together waiting for their restroom. To reduce the risk of germ spreading more, bathrooms could be S-shaped, with no entrance doors and therefore no touching of handles that others have used.

Sturdier, Pathogen-Resistant Materials

Another innovation spawned by the coronavirus pandemic and influenced by medical facilities is the use of different materials in the construction of public bathrooms. Experts believe coronavirus can survive on stainless steel and other hard, smooth surfaces for up to three days. Therefore, it’s essential that bathroom components can withstand heavy-duty disinfecting and the repeated scrubbing that is necessary to kill the virus and other microbes.

Erin Lilly, who is a design manager for Kohler, says they are bracing for an influx of requests for surfaces that are easier to clean and materials that repel dirt, as well as the aforementioned touchless features. Silver or copper, which are naturally antimicrobial, may see a resurgence. Now it’s up to designers to take up the gauntlet!

Make Your Bathrooms Cleaner and Safer

If you are a New York City property owner or manager who is rethinking the toilet seat and bathroom design in your buildings, we’d love to hear from you. Sanitary Plumbing has been THE hyper-local, blue-chip plumbing business for nearly 100 years.

We are operating with PPE and safe social distancing measures for all services rendered during the coronavirus pandemic and are available for emergencies 24/7. Let us help you give your facilities the edge when it comes to cleanliness and germ control. Reach out for an appointment today.

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