Escape from Planet Germ

BY MARLA R. MILLER ON APRIL 23RD, 2017

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Free your hands, wow your friends, avoid germs, conserve water – did someone say avoid germs?

Hands-free toilets, faucets, soap dispensers, hand-dryers and lights are commonplace in commercial buildings and institutions. As the price for the technology has come down and the selection of designs has grown, demand for touchless is growing at home, too.

Kohler’s touchless toilet TV commercial has more than 4 million views on YouTube since the product was introduced earlier this year.

“We do think it’s the flush of the future,” says Brian Hedlund, Kohler marketing manager, about the company’s touchless flush toilets. “I think it’s definitely here to stay. I have been traveling the country talking about it for months and people instantly get it. It’s been well-received.”

Touchless works in a simple manner: holding a hand over a sensor located on the tank lid activates the flush. There is no separate manual lever or button to push. The touchless feature is available on two Kohler toilets, Cimarron and the higher-end San Souci, and a retro-fit kit that sells for $75 is compatible with most toilets.

The big attraction for many consumers, aside from the ease of use and the initial novelty: cleanliness.

More than half – 51 percent – of 800 U.S. consumers surveyed in a Kohler study expressed concern about germs in the bathroom. Moms with children in that group were the most germ-phobic, with about two-thirds of them expressing concern. They perceived touchless operation as a more hygienic way to flush, since there’s no need to touch the toilet.

“People are a lot more aware of the germs that are around them,” Hedlund says. “They are taking action to minimize the exposure and spread of germs. The toilet is one of the things that stands out to them as the dirtiest things in their home.”

Motion-sensor faucets and toilets have been around for decades, mostly in commercial buildings like airports, arenas and shopping malls, but Kohler’s technology addresses some of the biggest consumer complaints. Most commercial toilets use an infrared technology, in which a beam of light is broken, triggering the flush. Infrared is costly, however, and users complain these toilets often flush too soon, or multiple times.

Kohler’s touchless flush uses an electromagnetic field, which the company says reduces incidental flushing from random motion, such as someone reaching for a towel hung above the toilet or an item sitting on the tank lid. “We wanted it to be pretty robust to a lot of things that could set it off,” Hedlund says. “People want to have control over the toilet and when it flushes.”

The sensor runs on four AA alkaline batteries, which must be replaced every six to 12 months.

Touchless made its way to kitchen faucets first. Moen’s MotionSense kitchen faucet, introduced in 2012, is now available in four styles distributed nationally.

Through vigorous research, customer feedback and in-home testing, Moen’s MotionSense uses two advanced sensors to set water in motion for a truly hands-free experience, says Tom Tylicki, senior product manager.

“Technology is constantly evolving and people aren’t afraid to embrace it,” Tylicki says. “We’ve seen it with other appliances. It makes sense it’s going to start moving into things like your faucet and continue to expand into other areas in and around your kitchen.”

MotionSense virtually eliminates the need to touch the faucet, helping to reduce water usage and the risk of contamination. Tasks like washing dishes, filling a dog’s bowl and rinsing fruit, chicken or meat are simplified. Touchless faucets are ideal for food preparation, when hands are too full or too dirty to turn on the faucet.

“It changes the way you do chores in the kitchen and improves efficiency,” Tylicki says. “It’s a learned experience. Once you get used to it, you get really proficient with it. You’re conserving water, too, because you’re never actually turning it on.”

The hands-free faucet works in three ways. The “wave” sensor at the top of the spout detects a simple hand motion and starts or stops the flow of water. It automatically shuts off after two minutes if you happen to walk away, Tylicki says.

“It’s for longer tasks like washing dishes, filling up a large pot, when you need a constant flow of water,” he says. “You wave it on and wave it off. It’s truly a hands-free experience; it really changes the way you interact with your faucet.”

A second sensor near the base of the faucet activates water flow when it detects an object placed beneath the spout. Designed with quick tasks in mind like washing hands or filling a cup, it only runs water as long as something is underneath it.

The faucets also come with a traditional handle for manual operation, allowing users to adjust temperature and water flow, and it will always work if the faucet loses power, Tylicki says. Consumers can preset the temperature through the control box underneath the sink so it will always come out at that temperature.

MotionSense also works off a battery pack that uses six standard AA batteries or an optional AC power adapter installed under the sink.

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