Technology has not been changed much when it comes to lavatory cleanliness and hygiene over the years. Millions of passengers travelling daily are exposed to bacteria and germs left behind. Boeing is well aware of the potential health concerns and works to answer the question:
“What if the lavatory could clean itself after every use?”
Engineers at Commercial Airplanes Product Development and Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T) have been working on lavatory prototypes that will make the overall cabin cleaner. The aircraft manufacturer filed a patent for the Clean Lavatory concept that uses UV light to destroy microbes of bacteria and pathogens. This type of UV light is different than the ultraviolet A or B light used in tanning beds and is not harmful to humans.
“The UV light destroys all known microbes by literally making them explode,” said Jamie Childress, Associate Technical Fellow and a BR&T engineer. “It matches the resonant frequency of the molecular bonds on the outside of the microbes.”
“We believe that using the far UV is the key to making those surfaces cleaner,” King said. “We position the lights throughout the lavatory so that it floods the touch surfaces like the toilet seat, sink, countertops, etc. with the UV light. This sanitizing even eliminates odors from bacteria so that passengers can have a more pleasant experience.”
Self Cleaning Process
- The lavatory has motion sensors that will detect if the door is closed and is not occupied. A UV light will then be activated for less than three seconds to clean all surfaces.
- During the cleaning process, toilet seats are lifted and closed automatically so that it could be cleaned thoroughly.
Hands-free technology is employed where it is useful. This includes faucets, soap dispenser, trash flap, toilet lid and seat. Automatic hand dryer is introduced to reduce paper usage and waste. Boeing is also exploring hands-free door latch mechanisms to ensure the lavatory is as hygienic as possible.
“Some of the touchless features are in use on our airplanes today,” King said. “But we feel these, combined with the UV sanitizing, will make for a great clean package that passengers and airlines will love.”
When it comes to innovations in the past five years, we saw both Emirates and Etihad Airways installing showers in the sky. Additionally, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways introduced Toto Washlets with automated bidet on their long haul aircrafts. In the future, expect to see airlines introduce more technology to enhance cleanliness.
For example, the water that is used in the lavatory and for coffee/tea may go through more filtering processes to make it cleaner. Odour eliminating technology could be used to improve the scent inside the lavatory.
Boeing has not announced plans to put the Clean Lavatory product into production aircrafts yet. If the company can keep the installation cost down, look for airlines’ interests to increase.