US

Why bathroom sensors suck

Despite being introduced for hygiene and ease, automatic toilets can be extremely frustrating, either flushing too soon or not at all. We found out why bathroom sensors malfunction so often and a few simple fixes for the issues. Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: We’ve all been in a situation where an automatic toilet flushes too soon or refuses to flush at all. The sensors are supposed to be hygienic and simple, but instead, they’re frustrating and wasteful. Even worse, the problems don’t end in the stall. Sinks and paper towel dispensers use the same annoying technology. To figure out why sensors fail so often, we spoke to Bill Strang. He’s the President of Operations for luxury toilet brand TOTO.

Bill Strang: So the sensor, it has a sending unit and a receiving unit. The sending unit will flash a little red light, it will go out into the room and look for something to bounce back off of. And so, as you approach that device, that light will emit, it will bounce off of you, it will then be caught by the sensor on the other side. The receiver receives it, having bounced off of your body, and it will then know to prepare, and then once you get up and walk away, and it sees that you’re no longer there, it will go through about a four to seven second dwell time before it flushes.

Narrator: OK, that sounds great. So why do they flush too soon? It could be that you’ve moved out of the range of the sensor, activating the automatic flush. And if the sensor is old, it may not be able to register your presence.

Strang: In the early days, there actually was a bit of a challenge if you wore black clothing and the material was particularly fluffy. The signal being sent may not have been caught by the sensor because it wasn’t coming back very well-reflected off the clothing you had on. And if you got a flush valve that might be an electronic sensor from 20 years ago, it’s likely you may have a bit of a challenge.

Narrator: Other reasons your sensor may not work? Lime and calcium can build up and block the sensor if it’s not cleaned properly. Dead batteries can also be at fault.

Frustration aside, another concern is the amount of water wasted by multiple flushes. A 2010 study conducted in a Florida office building found that automatic toilets use 54% more water than manual flush systems.

You may have also noticed toilets flushing even when no one is around. These phantom flushes are actually pre-programmed into the toilets for cleaning.

Strang: There are occasions where we actually have a flush that occurs, it’s a courtesy flush, we typically have it on a urinal. And one of the reasons for that is to make sure that you have the opportunity to replenish any of the water that might have evaporated in the trapway that would then allow sewer gas to come out.

Narrator: So what’s the trick to getting the sensors to work every time? You can activate a flush by holding the palm of your hand up to the sensor for a few seconds before taking it away. Or place a piece of toilet paper over the the sensor and remove it once you’re finished.

With tech advancements allowing for greater efficiency, we can only hope that in the future these issues will flush away.

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