No longer just for deep thought: Toilets get a high-tech makeover

  • TECH
  • Sunday, 24 Mar 2019

Consumers are encouraged to think seriously about their personal well-being when it comes to their private time in the bathroom.

Gone are the days of simple ceramics and arguments over whether the toilet seat was left up or down. Manufacturers of the toilet are going high-tech.

The latest restroom inventions were on display at the recent ISH trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany. And these days, as manufacturers would have it, the toilet has become something more akin to a spa experience.

Consumers are encouraged to think seriously about their personal well-being when it comes to their private time in the bathroom.

Exhibit A: The shower toilet. While this might be an awkward conversation topic for some western readers, the reality is that shower toilets, a blend of toilet and the old-fashioned bidet, have long been standard in Japan. 

After doing the dirty deed, consumers can wash down below by dictating the direction, strength, temperature and even massage type of the water stream. The settings can be saved to your very own user profile.

And once that's all done, it will even dry your bottom for you. Slowly but surely, these innovations are pushing their way into Europe. "Shower toilets are selling like crazy," says Dennis Jaeger, editor of the German trade magazine SBZ.

It has helped to build European-style models. Asian toilets tend to be bulkier than their European counterparts. They're also more technologically advanced, offering things like music and colourful back lighting that have simply never sold well in Europe.

But European manufacturers are now experimenting with less conspicuous shower toilet models where the technical upgrades are hidden from view inside the toilet bowl. The water tap and dryer are no longer automatic: they only work if desired. "That is new and that was important. The technology is hidden," says Frank Richter, chief executive of Duravit.

Richter argues that washing is far more hygienic than using toilet paper. He compares it with washing your hands. "How well can you wash your hands by wiping them on a paper towel? It works much better with water."

One hurdle for interested consumers: Shower toilets, also known as washlets, need additional water and sometimes even electricity connections in bathrooms. In this day and age, all of these new inventions can of course be steered by remote control, or even over your smartphone. "

Naturally, people will ask whether they really need their smartphone to go to the bathroom," says Duravit's Richter. But he notes that most people bring smartphones to the bathroom with them instead of a newspaper anyway.

Why not put it to use? Toilet design has also received an upgrade. Instead of levers or big buttons to press, many toilets now flush by themselves or operate with motion sensors as they do in public restrooms.

Environmentally friendly water saving settings are also standard these days.Beyond that, many modern toilets can suck out the odorous air at the push of a button, offer a night light for those midnight stumbles to the restroom, and open and close the toilet seat automatically – putting an end to that argument that plagues so many couples.

But hygiene has topped many manufacturers' concerns: Some toilets offer sensors to let owners know when they need to be descaled, while others include an anti-bacterial water to flush, and others still use an antimicrobial finish to ward off bacteria and germs.

Modern toilet bowls are also much cleaner, with flush techniques that don't overspray and without a flushing rim where bacteria and germs can collect easily (or else a finish made extra smooth with the same result). Last but not least, the toilet siphon can be widened to raise the water level and reduce stains.

Other high-tech ideas are still in the conception phase: Some manufacturers are working on technologies that will allow toilets to complete a urine analysis to warn consumers of health risks.

And finally, one idea to save the world: The company Laufen presented a toilet that can separate urine from water and reuse both. 

The company says 90% of the water can be put back into regular circulation, while the remaining 10% is made up of nitrogen and phosphorous, nutrients in urine that can serve as a fertiliser. In fact, it's already been given a license for use in Switzerland. – dpa

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