In yet another surprise outcome of a year of unprecedented hygiene awareness, high-tech taps and soap dispensers controlled by sensors are poised to take kitchens and bathrooms by storm.
Touchless taps are already familiar from public bathrooms but only now, more than a year into the pandemic, are they becoming an everyday reality at home, says Dennis Jaeger, who edits SBZ, a trade journal.
The great thing is that the sensors can help keep the sink clean, as well as being more hygienic, preventing the spread of germs, he says. That's for the practical reason that people don't wind up touching the tap, so it stays free of soapy handprints or dirt.
Automatic taps have always been freely available for people to buy of course, but they tended to be designed for use in public spaces, meaning they looked simpler and were more scaled back, Jaeger says.
Nowadays, though, you can find automatic taps that look a lot more harmonious in your home.
"They are not only functional, but also nice to look at," Jaeger says.
They look sleek too, and that's thanks to the design, with the electronics hidden away separately beneath the basin or unit, according to Geberit, describing its Piave and Brenta products.
Designers are also changing the sensor, which until now tended to be visible. More and more though, manufacturers are creating taps where you can't see the sensor, such as with Axor's hands-free wall-mounted taps in the Citterio and Uno collections. In both, an infrared sensor is integrated beneath the tap.
Dornbracht also uses touch-free taps, and rather than the usual infrared sensors, it features high-frequency technology so there's no need for a visible sensor. The manufacturer can include this technology in any of its product series.
Other appealing features include water that cuts off automatically after a certain time, and a way to pre-set the temperature in advance, both options that help save water. However, they need a power connection or a battery.
Usually, though, the battery has a long life – Grohe, for example, guarantees a service life of seven years for its touchless taps with low-energy electronics – assuming 150 operations per day before the battery needs changing.
Such fittings are likely to become much more commonplace in people's homes and particularly in guest bathrooms, says Jens J. Wischmann, who leads a German sanitary industry group.
While face masks and social distancing will likely disappear again, he thinks the pandemic will leave us with a desire to wash our hands as soon as we get home, or when we enter someone else's home, for a long time to come.
That also applies to our hopes when it comes to visitors, he reckons.
"People now hope that anyone who comes to visit will wash their hands – and touch as little as possible," says Wischmann.
All that is likely to prompt people to buy hanging automatic soap dispensers for their homes, and fit touchless taps. That could end the trend for hard soaps – which enjoyed a burst of popularity – as "you don't really want to touch them anymore", he says.
You can also put hand sanitiser in soap dispensers. Keuco has a dispenser called Plan that dispenses foam soap or even disinfectant foam, dosed in preset quantities.
Like the bathroom fittings, the model is fitted with an infrared sensor and is powered by batteries, or a mounted power supply unit.
Jaeger says the market is in a flux right now and we're far from reaching a picture of how things are going to look.
"In technical terms, an insane amount is happening," he says, attributing this to the fast learning curve on hygiene issues that's been needed due to the pandemic.
One thing he's sure of though is that touchless taps are going to be a familiar presence in our homes in the months and years ahead. – dpa