Why don't toilets have foot pedals?
August 31, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Why don't toilets use foot pedals instead of the standard flush handle?

The only reasons I can think of are:

1. Germophobia is a relatively new thing.
2. Putting the handle right next to the plumbing on commercial and on the tank on residential saves a lot of extra mechanics.

Does anybody know?
posted by electroboy to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The bad news: Some people use their foot anyway.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:04 PM on August 31, 2007

An exposed mechanism would be more likely to jam.
Unexposed mechanisms would involve re-engineering, and would be difficult to access for repairs.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:08 PM on August 31, 2007

I would think too, that people stomping on a foot pedal would increase the chances it will break.

Regarding cleanliness, it shouldn't matter if everyone would wash their damn hands afterwards.
posted by agregoli at 2:17 PM on August 31, 2007

It's a little ridiculous to worry about germs off the toilet handle when you've just been holding your junk and wiping your ass. If it's supposed to be worry about other people's hygiene, um, but you're okay with sitting your naked ass down where they've gone before? If you want to be sanitary after using the toilet you need to wash your hands. There's no problem to fix, is why.
posted by nanojath at 2:23 PM on August 31, 2007

Went to a restaurant in Amsterdam that had toilets operated by an unobtrusive foot pedal. Putting aside the fact that it took me a solid very perplexed minute to figure it out, this system totally gets my vote.

And yes, if you wash your hands you're OK, but many don't and then grab that pull-handle to open the bathroom door as they exit. All that washing, uh, down the drain.
posted by CaptApollo at 2:47 PM on August 31, 2007

Like most questions like this, I don't think this was a specifically evaluated design choice as much as just what happened.

Older toilets had a tank which was mounted somewhere around head level, and you flushed them by pulling a chain. When someone had the bright idea of putting the tank and bowl together, putting the handle right on the bowl was probably just the obvious thing to do. There are a lot of different toilet designs around the world, though. I am sure if you looked around you'd find more foot pedal toilets.

Wash your hands.
posted by blacklite at 2:57 PM on August 31, 2007

It's probably partially because of the way the toilet valve works. When you press the handle, it lifts a diaphragm inside. All it takes is a couple of joints. With something foot operated, it's going to involve a cable at the least, which is going to have to bend round corners. I suppose it's a case of "If it's not broke...."
posted by Solomon at 2:58 PM on August 31, 2007

Also the whole "even less disabled-friendly than our last model!" thing. ("Coming Soon: The Treadmill Flusher")
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:06 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it's not a handle, it's a foot pedal mounted 2.5 feet above the floor.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:16 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

The toilets at one of the buildings at my old college had foot pedals. I thought it was a great idea. However, these were the pressure/diaphram based kind, not a tank kind. You could tell they were fairly old models, probably from the 50s or so.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:34 PM on August 31, 2007

I remember pedal toilets being fairly common in places like grocery stores and rest stops when I was a young 'un. Looks like installation costs may be the culprit.

If you'd like to see a pedal-flush terlet in action, check out the Giant on Ritchie Highway across from the MVA where they haven't renovated the bathrooms in over 30 years. I know they still had them in the ladies' room a couple of months ago.
posted by weebil at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2007

If you want a foot pedal on your own toilet, it seems like it would be pretty easy (but pretty ugly) to rig one up with a pulley, length of cord, bit of chain, and of course a pedal.
posted by yohko at 3:53 PM on August 31, 2007

Personally I'm a fan of the newer "giant switch on the wall" style in Europe, that you can slap like you're playing Press Your Luck.
posted by DefendBrooklyn at 3:56 PM on August 31, 2007

StriketheViol: my high school had sinks in the bathroom like that, until they rebuilt the whole thing. Irritating as heck - I ended up just carrying that dry sanitizer stuff.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:45 PM on August 31, 2007

Regarding nasty ass people not washing their hands and bathroom doors with handles you must open inward, I always get a warm feeling inside when I'm in a bathroom that the door opens outward such that I can just kick it open on my way out. Take that nasty non-handwashing people. It's just good design.
posted by zackola at 5:10 PM on August 31, 2007

Not to mention it gives you more room, Zackola.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:35 PM on August 31, 2007

Toilets work through gravity. That is, the tank is above the bowl, and when you flush, you open a drain in the bottom of the tank that sends the water down into the bowl (and sends the water in the bowl out).

So the tank has to be above the bowl. The handle is a simple lever: Press down on the left, and it pushes the right hand up, thereby lifting the flap holding the drain closed.

So, to your question: The lever is at hand level because that's where it makes sense for it to be. The tank needs to be above the bowl. The lever needs to be above the flap that holds the tank drain closed.

To put it at foot level requires creating either a pulley system, or something more complicated, in order to make your pressing down lift up something from above. Either way, it's both extra materials/work to make, and more prone to stuff going wrong.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 5:55 PM on August 31, 2007

My experience is similar to weebil's, from the 70s.
posted by rhizome at 6:06 PM on August 31, 2007

The alternative to handles I see most often is the scary as shit motion activated ones. Seriously, it's freaky when you stand up or move around and suddenly the toilet goes WHOOOSH with no warning.
posted by MadamM at 6:32 PM on August 31, 2007

"Take that nasty non-handwashing people."

I don't wash my hands, for two main reasons - first, lots of other people don't = germs on the door handle anyway. Second, people don't dry their hands properly, so you have a wet and germy handle. Ick.

That's why I have either hand cleaner or wipes in my bag or at my desk. Suck it, all you old bags who give me the fish eye for not washing.
posted by Liosliath at 10:23 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

We should be washing our hands before we use the toilet to avoid, you know, getting junk on our junk. Seriously, those handles going IN aren't any cleaner, not to mention whatever else you touched since last you washed. Then maybe you would want a foot pedal.
posted by sageleaf at 10:53 PM on August 31, 2007

you're okay with sitting your naked ass down where they've gone before?

This is why the US should start adapting squat toilets. I really miss being able to take a dump without having to put my butt where anyone else's has been. Some squat toilets come with the added benefit of lacking any flushing mechanism at all, so your hands stay clean too! :D
posted by pravit at 11:47 PM on August 31, 2007

Germs on the door handle? How do these things get started?

The door handle is usually made of some kind of metal. Germs don't live very well on bare metal. Your computer keyboard is orders of magnitude dirtier than the door handle - or even the toilet if it is maintained at all.

People are so paranoid about the wrong things. Wash your hands already.
posted by Justinian at 11:10 AM on September 1, 2007

Other things that have many times more bacteria than bathroom door handles: Your desktop. The phone receiver (usually has the most bacteria of any tested item in offices, including toilets), mouse, keyboard, microwave door, elevator buttons, copier buttons, refrigerator handle.

Toilets seats are the least contaminated item commonly tested. Think about that; the toilet seat that everyone is so paranoid about is usually the most germ free item you use.

Anyway, that's why we don't bother with things like foot pedals. Because toilet handles are perfectly clean and there is simply no need.
posted by Justinian at 11:23 AM on September 1, 2007

"People are so paranoid about the wrong things. Wash your hands already."

Keyboard germs = my germs. And I'm not paranoid, but thanks ever so much for the free psychoanalysis - if I was, I'd be washing my hands all the time and opening the door with paper towels. (a la Howie Mandel)
posted by Liosliath at 7:39 PM on September 1, 2007

Keyboard germs = my germs
Hmm-yes, but you have just admitted to leaving the toilet without washing, and your unwashed hands are a good neighbourhood for germs until you sanitise back at your desk.
Why not wash your hands for the rest of us, who would rather not have your germs.
posted by bystander at 9:29 PM on September 2, 2007

Um, bystander, it's not like I wander back to my desk touching everything along the way. Anyway, the world is germy, get used to it.
posted by Liosliath at 8:30 AM on September 4, 2007

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