Welcome to the hi-tech bathrooms of the future
Self-cleaning sinks, chemically altered bacteria-busting water swishing around the loo, and baths that can be programmed to fill up while you’re on your way home. These fantastical-sounding bathrooms of the future use technologies that are available today – and in some cases they are trickling down to mainstream homes and budgets.
Japanese company Toto has been at the forefront of cleanliness technology for decades. In the UK, it is best known for its Washlet, an electronic showerlavatory (or bidet seat, as it’s sometimes known) with an automated washing and drying nozzle. Its latest model, the RX, features a sensor-operated lid and heated seat for ultimate hands-free comfort when using the loo.
Even the ceramic pan upon which the Washlet sits has a great deal of innovation behind it (it can be bought separately and topped with a “normal” lavatory seat). The pan features an ultra-smooth glaze that stops tiny particles of dirt and bacteria clinging to it, and a rimless design that shoots flushed water, tornado-like, around the bowl. The lack of a rim means there’s one fewer place for germs to lurk, plus it’s more economical with water usage, and quieter too.
“These features are not niche. Every toilet should have the basic criteria of hygiene, high performance and low noise,” says Floyd Case, Toto’s UK projects and branding manager. However, move up the scale and the technology gets more sophisticated.
Some of Toto’s models will mist the pan with electrolysed water, which has had a current passed through it, changing its chemical make-up to give it more power as a disinfectant, breaking down waste.
Top-of-the-range loos have a photocatalytic coating: a layer of titanium dioxide that decomposes dirt. Because the dirt-killing reaction only works with exposure to light, they have a UV beam inside that turns on when the lid closes. The technology is borrowed from the company’s wider corporate remit as a developer of industrial coatings, which are used on the façades of buildings to keep them clean. “We’ve taken a tiny bit of that technology and put it in the toilet to help kill bacteria,” says Case.
Anything that reduces our time spent cleaning the bathroom – and, perhaps more importantly, the amount of chemicals we use in the process – has to be a good thing. Many of Toto’s innovations can be found in other manufacturers’ products, too, as the technology becomes more mainstream.
Most top-end bathroom companies have their own version of the ceramic nano-glaze that smooths out tiny imperfections, and now it’s hit mid-range brands such as Britton. These coatings can’t get close to the level of self-cleaning that Toto’s all-bells-and-whistles models can, but they do make a difference: “As long as it’s looked after on a regular basis, the chances of any buildup are a lot more minimal,” says Fraser Holmes, Britton’s brand manager.
Technology in the bathroom isn’t all about hygiene and cutting down on the drudgery of housework. Adam Logan, technical services manager at bathroom product company Grohe, says that now “people are simply more open to trying new things. People are now coming round to the idea that bathrooms don’t have to be quite that boring.”
As more of us install internet-connected devices in our houses, Logan says that Grohe is “focusing quite heavily on the smart home market”. Its own version of the shower-lavatory can be controlled via an app, as can its huge spa-like shower, AquaSymphony, which has adjustable water effects, music and colour-changing lights.
It has also introduced digital leak detection with its Sense and Sense Guard products: the former is a hockey-pucklike disc that can be placed anywhere where there’s a worry about leaks (such as in the void under the bath). The latter is a digital water-monitoring system that is installed just after your stopcock, checking for drops in pressure that might indicate drips, and shutting your whole system down if there is a critical leaks that has the potential to wreck your house. Both communicate with homeowners via an app.
The rise of the connected home has lots of potential in the bathroom. Retailer Victoria Plum is now exclusively stocking SmarTap, which looks like a sleek thermostatic shower/bath controller, but is Wi-Fi enabled so it can be used via smartphone or a voice-acti-
A smart bathroom with integrated controls by Crestron, main
Left, Grohe’s AquaSymphony shower has adjustable water effects, music and colour-changing lighting controlled via an app