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Why Public Bathroom Sensors Don’t Always Work

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A successful trip to a public bathroom includes using your hands as little as possible, so motion sensors should be a welcome feature. The technology is meant to offer convenience and cleanliness, but it’s instead become associated with stingy air dryers, phantom flushes, and faucets that won’t respond to anything less than 30 seconds of intense flailing.  

To know what’s happening when these sensors fail, it’s important to understand how they’re meant to work in the first place. Products can vary, but the majority of bathroom sensors rely on infrared technology. When a toilet isn’t being used, the sensor emits a continuous beam that covers the area of the toilet seat. When a user sits down, it switches to “hold mode” and waits to flush until the immediate space has been vacated. Some models adjust their flushing strength depending on how long the user was there (so you can add “how much time you spend on the toilet” to the growing list of things you can’t hide from robots).

If the automatic flush fails to activate, it’s likely because the sensor hasn’t been cleaned properly. Hard water can cause calcium and lime build-up, which is the most common source of performance issues. Sometimes the problem can be explained by people sitting too far away from the sensors or peeing while standing up. Dead batteries could also be the culprit. 

These are the results when the technology fails, but it can be even more frustrating when the motion sensors function exactly the way they were intended. To speed up traffic flow in busy bathrooms, owners will dictate how long their faucets and air dryers run. If you’ve noticed speedier bathroom appliances in stadiums and casinos, that’s not in your head. The allotted time per use is optimized to account for heavy foot traffic, making sure users get in and out quickly no matter how wet and soapy their hands are.

Because this technology can be easily regulated to suit the owners’ preferences, it’s extremely popular with prison markets. Prisons have become something of a testing ground for bathroom sensor innovation, with technology like remote controlled bathrooms already becoming well-established there before taking off in the commercial sphere. If a future high-functioning, micro-managed public bathroom waits on the horizon, you'll have the prison system to thank. 

[h/t: Vox]

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SmithGroupJJR
Futuristic New Street Toilets Are Coming to San Francisco
SmithGroupJJR
SmithGroupJJR

San Francisco’s streets are getting shiny new additions: futuristic-looking public toilets. Co.Design reports that San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has chosen a new design for self-cleaning street toilets by the architectural firm SmithGroupJJR that will eventually replace the city’s current public toilets.

The design is a stark contrast to the current San Francisco toilet aesthetic, a green knockoff of Paris’s Sanisettes. (They’re made by the same company that pioneered the Parisian version, JCDecaux.) The tall, curvy silver pods, called AmeniTREES, are topped with green roof gardens designed to collect rainwater that can then be used to flush the toilets and clean the kiosks themselves. They come in several different variations, including a single or double bathroom unit, one with benches, a street kiosk that can be used for retail or information services, and a design that can be topped by a tree. The pavilions also have room for exterior advertising.

Renderings of the silver pod bathrooms from the side and the top
SmithGroupJJR

“The design blends sculpture with technology in a way that conceptually, and literally, reflects San Francisco’s unique neighborhoods,” the firm’s design principal, Bill Katz, explained in a press statement. “Together, the varied kiosks and public toilets design will also tell a sustainability story through water re-use and native landscapes.”

San Francisco has a major street-poop problem, in part due to its large homeless population. The city has the second biggest homeless population in the country, behind New York City, and data collected in 2017 shows that the city has around 7500 people living on its streets. Though the city started rolling out sidewalk commodes in 1996, it doesn’t have nearly enough public toilets to match demand. There are only 28 public toilets across the city right now, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

These designs aren’t ready to go straight into construction first—the designers have to work with JCDeaux, which installs the city’s toilets, to adapt them “to the realities of construction and maintenance,” as the Chronicle puts it. Then, those plans will have to be submitted to the city’s arts commission and historic preservation commission before they can be installed.

[h/t Co.Design]

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The Best Way to Wipe Your Butt, According to the Experts
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Curtis Asbury, MD sees it all the time. A patient comes in with blotchy, red, irritated rectum and insists they’re not doing anything unusual. Peering into their sore bottom, Asbury nods solemnly, then delivers news most people never expect to hear.

“You’re not wiping correctly,” he says.

A dermatologist practicing in Selbyville, Delaware, Asbury has seen an uptick in the number of people coming in expressing dissatisfaction with their rectal hygiene. Whether it’s due to misguided parental instruction during toilet training or wiping on sheer instinct, some of us are simply not maintaining one of the most potentially dirty crevices of our body. And the consequences can be irritating.

“It’s called perianal dermatitis,” Asbury tells Mental Floss, describing the kind of topical irritation that afflicts people who are wiping poorly, infrequently, or overzealously. In an attempt to clean their rear end, some people scrub so violently that the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons has given a name to the resulting tenderness: Polished Anus Syndrome, or PAS.

Fortunately, the key to avoiding PAS and other rectal misadventures is relatively easy. Here are some pro tips for a clean butt.

GIVE UP WET WIPES

For starters, Asbury recommends that people stop using the pre-moistened cloths, which are heavily marketed to promote a sparkling cavity. Use of the wipes has been associated with allergic reactions to methylisothiazolinone, a preservative used to inhibit bacterial growth while products are on store shelves. “Even the all-natural ones can cause problems,” he says, since any kind of chemical present in the wipes isn’t usually rinsed off right away.

Does that mean you should reach for dry toilet paper instead? Not quite. “It’s healthier, certainly, to clean your body with water," Asbury says. "Nobody takes a dry piece of paper, rubs it over their skin, and thinks they’re clean.” Even the Greco-Romans (332 BCE–395 CE) knew this, as one historical account from the philosopher Seneca revealed that they used a damp sponge affixed to a stick as a post-toiletry practice. Of course, some ancient cultures also wiped with pebbles and clam shells, among other poor ideas, so perhaps we should stick with contemporary advice.

INVEST IN A BIDET

A bidet sprays water out of a toilet
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Asbury is an advocate of the standalone or add-on toilet accessory that squirts a spray of water between your cheeks to flush out residual fecal matter. While bidets are common in Europe and Japan, the West has been slower to adopt this superior method of post-poop clean-up; others might be wary of tapping into existing home plumbing to supply fresh water, even though DIY installation is quite easy. For those patients, Asbury has developed an alternative method.

TRY PAPER TOWELS AND WATER

“What I tell people to use is Viva, a really soft, thick paper towel made by Kleenex,” he says. “You get a squirt bottle and you leave it near the toilet and moisten the paper towel.” Regular toilet paper is usually too flimsy to stand up to a soaking, while normal paper towels are too harsh for rectal purposes. Viva is apparently just right. (And no, Asbury is not a brand ambassador, nor does Kleenex endorse this alternative use.)

This advice does come with a major caveat: Viva wipes are not flushable and might very well clog your pipes if you try to send them down the drain. When Asbury recommends the technique, he advises people to throw used towels in the trash. If you find that idea appalling, and provided your butt is not already red from bad wiping strategy, lightly moistening a wad of durable toilet paper should do the job.

DRY THOROUGHLY BUT GENTLY

Once you’ve wiped enough to see clean paper, take a dry square and mop up any excess moisture. Whether it’s wet wipes or bidets, some people don’t bother with this step, but “it would be weird not to dry,” Asbury says. Occasionally, moisture can lead to intertrigo, which is irritation in skin folds, or a fungal infection.

You also want to have a soft touch. “I see people scrubbing hard,” Asbury says. “That just makes the problem worse.” Excessive wiping can lead to micro-tears in the anal tissue, causing bleeding and discomfort.

WIPE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Make sure to go from front to back, pushing waste away from the groin. This has traditionally been advised for women to keep poop away from the vaginal canal and prevent urinary tract infections. While Asbury hasn't found specific studies to back up this advice, he still believes it's likely more hygienic. There’s also something to be said for sitting while wiping, since ergonomically, it may keep your perianal area open. But if you’re uncomfortable reaching into the toilet to wipe, standing should suffice.

Assuming you’ve done all that and you’re still feeling discomfort, Asbury warns it might be something else. “If you’re not feeling clean, there could be issues with your sphincter,” he says. Weakened muscles can cause leakage. But generally, it’s dry-wipers who have trouble getting everything they need to get. For the hard-to-clean, Asbury advises that they make the switch to a bidet.

“It’s cold at first,” he says. “But you get used to it.”

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