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Typical arrangement of sensor-operated urinals in a row without partitions

A urinal (pronounced US: /ˈjʊərɪnəl/ or UK: /jʊˈrnəl/) is a sanitary plumbing fixture for urination only, predominantly used by males. It can take the form of a container or simply a wall, with drainage and automatic or manual flushing, or without flush water as is the case for waterless urinals.

The different types of urinals, be it for single users or as trough designs for multiple users, are often intended to be utilized from a standing position (rather than squatting or sitting), but designs exist which are intended to be used with other postures. The term may also apply to a small building or other structure containing such fixtures. It can also refer to a small container in which urine can be collected for medical analysis, or for use where access to toilet facilities is not possible, such as in small aircraft, during extended stakeouts, or for the bedridden.

While urinals are generally intended for use by males, it is also possible for females to use them. Designers of urinals for women have adopted various approaches: some intending the user to "hover" over the unit, facing away from it, others intending the user to stand facing the urinal, with or without a female urination device. While uncommon due to sex segregation in public restrooms, it is possible for females to use male urinals.[1]



Urinals with privacy barriers in a men's washroom in Vienna, Austria

In busy washrooms, urinals are installed for efficiency: compared with urination in a general-purpose toilet, usage is faster because within the room there are no additional doors, no locks, and no seat to turn up; also a urinal takes less space, is simpler, and consumes less water per flush (or even no water at all) than a flush toilet. Urinals may also come in different heights, to accommodate tall and short users, men or boys. There are often privacy barriers between the urinals.

Public urinals usually have a plastic mesh guard, which may optionally contain a deodorizing urinal deodorizer block or "urinal cake". The mesh is intended to prevent solid objects (such as cigarette butts, feces, chewing gum, or paper) from being flushed and possibly causing a plumbing stoppage. In some restaurants, bars, and clubs, ice may be put in the urinals, serving some of the same purposes as the deodorizing block without dispensing odorous chemicals.

The body posture for users of urinals is usually the standing position, except for urinals intended for females which may be used in more of a "hovering" position (partial squat), or even a full squatting position.


Urinals for high throughput capacity are part of an efficiently designed washroom architecture. Large numbers of them are usually installed along a common supply pipe and drain. There may or may not be partitions installed for privacy.

Urinals in high-capacity washrooms are usually arranged in one or more rows directly opposite the door, so that users have their backs to people entering or standing outside. Urinals in the street may be arranged in a circle, with all users facing the center, with partitions high enough that they cannot wet each other, and usually high enough that they cannot see over. In a street urinal with an outside screen or wall, the users may stand back to back.

Often, one or two of the urinals, typically at one end of a long row, will be mounted lower than the others; they are meant for the disabled and other users who cannot reach the regular urinals. In facilities where people of various heights are present, such as schools, urinals that extend down to floor level may be used to allow anyone of any height to use any urinal.

Instead of individual fixtures, trough urinals may be installed. These designs can be used by a number of people simultaneously, but they do not allow for much privacy. They are often installed where there is a high peak demand, such as in schools, music festivals, theatrical events, sports stadiums, discos, dance clubs, and convention halls.

Urinals were once installed exclusively in commercial or institutional settings, but are also now available for private homes. They offer the advantages of substantial water savings in residences with many occupants, and reduction of "splash back", making cleaning easier.

Urinals with flushing

Most public urinals incorporate a water flushing system to rinse urine from the bowl of the device, to prevent foul odors. The flush can be triggered by one of several methods:

Manual handles

This type of flush might be regarded as standard in the United States. Each urinal is equipped with a button or short lever to activate the flush, with users expected to operate it as they leave. Such a directly controlled system is the most efficient, provided that patrons remember to use it. This is far from certain, however, often because of fear of touching the handle, which is located too high to kick.[2] Urinals with foot-activated flushing systems are sometimes found in high-traffic areas; these systems have a button set into the floor or a pedal on the wall at ankle height. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that flush valves be mounted no higher than 44 inches (110 cm) AFF (above the finished floor). Additionally, the urinal is to be mounted no higher than 17 inches (43 cm) AFF, and to have a rim that is tapered and elongated and protrudes at least 14 inches (36 cm) from the wall. This enables users in wheelchairs to straddle the lip of the urinal and urinate without having to "arc" the flow of urine upwards.

Some urinals are equipped with water-saving "dual-flush" handles, which use half as much water when pushed upwards, and operate a standard full flush when pressed downwards. The handles are often color-coded green to alert users to this feature.

Timed flush

In Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the Republic of Ireland, Hong Kong and some parts of Sweden and Finland, manual flush handles are unusual. Instead, the traditional system is a timed flush that operates automatically at regular intervals. Groups of up to ten or more urinals will be connected to a single overhead cistern, which contains the timing mechanism. A constant drip-feed of water slowly fills the cistern until a tipping point is reached, when the valve opens (or a siphon begins to drain the cistern), and all the urinals in the group are flushed. Electronic controllers performing the same function are also used.

This system does not require any action from its users, but it is wasteful of water when toilets are used irregularly. However, in these countries users are so used to the automatic system, that attempts to install manual flushes to save water are generally unsuccessful. Users ignore them not through deliberate laziness or fear of infection, but because activating the flush is not habitual.[citation needed]

To help reduce water usage when restrooms are closed, some restrooms with timed flushing use an electric water valve connected to the restroom light switch. When the building is in active use during the day and the lights are on, the timed flush operates normally. At night when the building is closed, the lights are turned off and the flushing action stops.

Door-regulated flush

This is an older method of water-saving automatic flushing, which only operates when the room has been used. A push-button switch is mounted in the door frame of the restroom, and triggers the flush valve for all restroom urinals every time the door is opened. While it cannot detect the use of individual urinals, it provides reasonable flushing action without wasting excessive amounts of water when the restroom is not being used. This method requires a spring-operated automatic door closer, since the flush mechanism only operates when the restroom door opens.

Alternatively, a flushing system connected to the opening of the washroom door can count the number of users and operate when the count reaches a certain value. At night, the door never opens, so flushing never occurs.

Automatic flush

Long-exposure photography shows how light sensors work

Electronic automatic flushes solve the problems of previous approaches, and are common in new installations. A passive infrared sensor identifies when the urinal has been used, by detecting when someone has stood in front of it and moved away, and then activates the flush. There usually is also a small override button, to allow optional manual flushing.

Automatic flush facilities can be retrofitted to existing systems. The handle-operated valves of a manual system can be replaced with a suitably designed self-contained electronic valve, often battery-powered to avoid the need to add cables. Older timed-flush installations may add a device that regulates the water flow to the cistern according to the overall activity detected in the room. This does not provide true per-fixture automatic flushing, but is simple and cheap to add because only one device is required for the whole system.

To prevent false-triggering of the automatic flush, most infrared detectors require that a presence be detected for at least five seconds,[citation needed] such as when a person is standing in front of it. This prevents a whole line of automatic flush units from triggering in succession if someone just walks past them. The automatic flush mechanism also typically waits for the presence to go out of sensor range before flushing. This reduces water usage, compared to a sensor that would trigger a continuous flushing action the whole time that a presence is detected.

Waterless urinals

Since about the 1990s urinals are available on the market that use no water at all. These are called waterless urinals or flushless urinals. They were first invented by a German named Klaus Reichardt,[3] who secured his innovation with several patents.

Waterless urinals can save between 15,000 and 45,000 US gallons (57,000 and 170,000 l) of water per urinal per year, depending on the amount of water used in the water-flushed urinal for comparison purposes, and the number of uses per day. For example, these numbers assume that the urinal would be used between 40 and 120 times per business day.[4]

Odor control

Models of waterless urinals introduced by the Waterless Company in 1991[5] and others in 2001 by Falcon Waterfree Technologies and Sloan Valve Company, as well as Duravit, use a trap insert filled with a sealant liquid instead of water. The lighter-than-water sealant floats on top of the urine collected in the U-bend, preventing odors from being released into the air. The cartridge and sealant must be periodically replaced.

Waterless urinals may also use an outlet system that traps the odor, preventing the smell often present in toilet blocks.[citation needed] Another method to eliminate odor was introduced by Caroma, which installed a deodorizing block in their waterless urinal that was activated during use.[citation needed]

Odor control in waterless urinals is also achieved with simple one-way valves which are manufactured as a flat rubber tube (the tube opens when urine flows through) or with two silicon "curtain" pieces. The former is used in the waterless urinals by the company Keramag[6] in Germany (model Centaurus) and the latter is marketed by the company Addicom in South Africa who called it the EcoSmellStop device.[7]


Waterless urinals can be installed in high-traffic facilities, and in situations where providing a water supply may be difficult or where water conservation is desired. Due to high-level water restrictions, Brisbane, Australia, has mandated conversion to waterless urinals, and flush urinals are rarely seen there.

Waterless urinals have become rather common in Germany since about 2009 and can be found at restaurants, cinemas, highway rest stops, train stations and so forth. Waterless urinals can be integrated into ecological sanitation approaches where the collected urine—after storage—can be used in agriculture as a fertilizer.[8]

Installation and maintenance

The drain pipes from waterless urinals need to be installed correctly in terms of diameter, slope and pipe materials in order to prevent buildup of struvite ("urine stone") and calcium phosphate precipitates in the pipes, which would cause blockages and could require expensive repairs.[8] Also, the undiluted urine is corrosive to metals (except for stainless steel), which is why plastic pipes are generally preferred for urine drain pipes.[8]

Most waterless urinals do not prevent odorous staining on the surface of the urinals, and periodic cleaning of the fixture and its surrounds is still required. When maintained according to manufacturers' recommendations, well-designed waterless urinals do not emit any more odors than flushed urinals do. However, some odor-trapping devices work better than others in the longer term. Regular, thorough maintenance of the respective odor control device is needed for all types of waterless urinals, as per the manufacturer's recommendation.

Situation in the United States

US federal law has mandated no more than one gallon per flush since 1994, and the EPA estimates that the average urinal is flushed 20 times per day, which gives an average water use of 7,300 US gallons (28,000 l) per year.[9] Mechanical traps are not allowed by US building codes[citation needed] but are allowed in many other countries.

Plumbers' unions initially opposed waterless urinals, citing concerns about health and safety, which have been debunked by scientists who have studied the devices. Facing opposition to their attempts to have the devices allowed in plumbing codes, manufacturers devised a compromise. The Uniform Plumbing Code was modified to allow waterless urinals to be installed, provided that unneeded water lines were nevertheless run to the back of the urinals.[10] This allows conventional water-flushing urinals to be retrofitted later, if waterless models were judged to be unsatisfactory over time.

In March 2006, the Associated Press reported that the plumbers' union in Philadelphia had become upset because developer Liberty Property Trust had decided to use waterless urinals in the Comcast Center. Many in the union believed that this would lead to less work for them. The developer cited saving the city 1,600,000 US gallons (6,100,000 l) of water per year as its deciding factor.[11]

In February 2010, the headquarters of the California EPA removed waterless urinals that were installed in 2003 due to "hundreds of complaints", including odors and splashed urine on the floors.[12] Officials blamed the failure of the project on incompatibility with the building's existing plumbing systems.[13]

Street urinals

In some localities, urinals may be located on public sidewalks or in public areas such as parks. These urinals are often equipped with partitions for the sake of privacy. They may or may not be equipped with water flushing mechanisms.

The Netherlands has a number of strategically placed street urinals in various cities, intended to reduce public urination by drunken men. Some urinals can be retracted into the ground during the day or between special events, in order to save space when they are not expected to be needed. When closed they look like a large manhole in a sidewalk. Such retractable models, such as the model by the Dutch company Urilift, are also seen in the UK and other countries. At night when bars are open they rise out of the sidewalk; some time after the bars close, the urinals return to their manhole configuration so that they are unseen by people during the day.

In the Philippines, Marikina was the first city to install street urinals in the late 1990s. When Marikina Mayor Bayani Fernando was appointed chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, he installed street urinals in the rest of Metro Manila as well.[citation needed]

Special urinals

Urinals designed for women

Urinals designed for female users
Unisex urinals which can be used by men or women

In the Western world, women are generally taught to sit or squat while urinating. Many therefore do not know how – or even that it is possible – for a woman to aim her urine stream as would be required to use a male urinal.[1] Thus, several different types of urinal have been designed for women that do not require the user to aim her urine stream. Additionally, a few urinal designs are marketed as unisex. They are generally more conventional designs, but perhaps with a wider bowl and lower mounting height. A typical female user could thus approach such a urinal squatting backwards over it without necessarily trying to aim her stream.

From 1950 to 1974, the American Standard company offered the mass-produced "Ladies' Home Urinal".[citation needed] It did not provide significant advantages over conventional toilets, because it used just as much floor space and water for flushing. Its main selling point was that it was specifically designed for women to use without touching.

Several other designs have been tried since then, but they required the user either to hover awkwardly or to bring her genitals into close contact with the fixture. Most have not caught on. Current clothes fashions, such as panty hose and slacks, inhibit women from using them because they do not want their garments to touch the urinal or the floor. Often, women have little experience with urinals and do not know whether to approach them forward or backward.[citation needed]

Standard trough models intended for use with a specialized funnel have been introduced with some success, at outdoor festivals such as Glastonbury, to reduce dwell times and to alleviate long queues. In 2011, a portable female urinal—the Pollee—was introduced at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and was received enthusiastically by female festival visitors.[citation needed]

Arts and interactive urinals

Kisses! is a controversial urinal designed by the female Dutch designer Meike van Schijndel. It is shaped like an open pair of red lips.[14] In early March 2004, the National Organization for Women (NOW) took offense to the new urinals that Virgin Atlantic Airways decided to install in the Virgin Atlantic clubhouse at JFK Airport in New York City.[15] After receiving many angry phone calls from female customers, Virgin Atlantic Vice President John Riordan called NOW to apologize.[16] Protestors surmised a connection to oral sex or urolagnia, and based their complaints on the urinals being sexist. A McDonald's restaurant in the Netherlands removed them after a customer complained to the head office in the United States.[citation needed]

Interactive urinals have been developed in a number of countries, allowing users to entertain themselves during urination. One example is the Toylet, a video game system produced by the Japanese company Sega that allows users to play video games using their urine to control the on-screen action.[17]

Controversial Kisses! urinals were designed by a woman 
Advertising displays for a "captive audience" in London 

Makeshift urinals

During military operations, such as the Korean War, Vietnam War, or Operation Desert Storm, "piss tubes" were used as makeshift urinals. To make one, soldiers would affix an inverted disposable water bottle on one end of a rigid tube, burying the other end. Removing the base of the bottle made a funnel which would be left at the proper height. Deposited urine simply soaked into the ground; when the area became saturated, the device was relocated.[citation needed]

In vehicles

As of 2008, the aircraft manufacturer Airbus offered its customers the option of installing urinals in its A380 aircraft.[18]


Until the 1990s, street urinals were a common sight in Paris (France), and in the 1930s more than 1200 were in service. They were famous among foreign tourists.[19] Parisians referred to them as vespasiennes, the name being derived from that of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who, according to an anecdote, imposed a tax on urine. Beginning in the 1990s, the vespasiennes (renowned for their smell and lack of hygiene) were gradually replaced by Sanisettes. Today only one vespasienne remains in the city (on Boulevard Arago), and it is still regularly used. They still exist in other French cities and in other countries.

Society and culture

Examples of urinals in popular culture include:

  • Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917), which some have called the most influential modern artwork, is a urinal which Duchamp signed "R. Mutt".[20]
  • Police in Nassau County, New York adopted talking urinals in an anti-drunk driving initiative. Using Wizmark, a talking urinal display screen, police can provide bars with free pre-programmed urinal messages urging patrons not to drink and drive.[21][22]
  • Ernest Hemingway converted a urinal from Sloppy Joe's bar into a water fountain for his cats. The fountain remains a prominent feature at his former home in Key West, Florida, a popular tourist destination in the town.[23]
  • Pissoir, retitled Urinal in some countries, was the first feature film directed by John Greyson. It was released in 1980 and takes place in a toilet.[citation needed]
  • Gabriel Chevallier's 1934 satirical novel Clochemerle deals with the ramifications of plans to install a new urinal in a French village.
  • Indiana Urinalysis (1988) is a documentary on the subject of urinals.[24][25] Topics include "types of urinals, urinal etiquette, usage of urinal cakes, why urinals are always white, preference of urinal vs. toilet, and urinals for women, as well as a collection of urinal anecdotes."[26] It received a Citation Award from the Indiana Film Society in 1990.[27]

Gallery of unusual or historical urinals

See also


  1. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 June 2003. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  2. ^ With public sit-down toilets, users often kick the flush lever to avoid the perceived or real possibility of infection from touching it.
  3. ^ Waterless Survey Investigates No-Water Urinal Systems. Green Lodging News (24 June 2008).
  4. ^ "Going Green Pays Off", Buildings magazine, July 2004,
  5. ^ "XLerator Hand Dryer – Top Ten". Retrieved 2014-02-05. 
  6. ^ von Münch, E., Winker, M. (2011). Worldwide listing of suppliers for waterless urinals – Appendix 1 for technology review of urine diversion components. Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
  7. ^ von Münch, E., Dahm, P. (2009). Waterless Urinals – A Proposal to Save Water and Recover Urine Nutrients in Africa. 34th WEDC International Conference, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  8. ^ a b c von Münch, E., Winker, M. (2011). Technology review of urine diversion components – Overview on urine diversion components such as waterless urinals, urine diversion toilets, urine storage and reuse systems. Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Chapter 4
  9. ^ "WaterSense Labeled Flushing Urinals". 2008-12-22. Retrieved 2014-02-05. 
  10. ^ Joshua Davis (22 June 2010), Pissing Match: Is the World Ready for the Waterless Urinal?, Wired 
  11. ^ Saffron, Inga (Inquirer Architecture Critic) (5 April 2006). "Phila. no-flush standoff unclogged, with a catch". The Philadelphia Inquirer. pp. A1, A10. 
  12. ^ Cal/EPA headquarters flushes waterless urinals. (22 February 2010).
  13. ^ California Environmental Protection Agency, "CAL/EPA Issues Statement on Waterless Urinals", April 1, 2010 (pdf)
  14. ^ Kisses!.
  15. ^ "Tell Virgin Atlantic: There's Nothing 'Fun' About Exploiting Women". National Organization for Women. 18 March 2004. Retrieved 23 April 2006. 
  16. ^ "Outrageous Interruptus: NOW Cheers Decision to Abandon Sexist Urinals" (Press release). National Organization for Women. 19 March 2004. Retrieved 2006-04-23. 
  17. ^ Geere, Duncan. (6 January 2011). "'Toylet' Games in Japan's Urinals". Wired UK. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  18. ^ Aimée Turner (April 10, 2008). "A380 male urinals to become 'bog standard'". Flight International. 
  19. ^ Harvey A. Levenstein, We'll Always Have Paris: American Tourists in France since 1930, Chicago: University of Chgicago, 2004, ISBN 9780226473789, p. 31.
  20. ^ "Duchamp's urinal tops art survey: A white gentlemen's urinal has been named the most influential modern art work of all time". BBC News. 1 December 2004. Retrieved 2006-04-28. 
  21. ^ "Wizmark". 
  22. ^ "NY Police Use Anti-DUI Talking Urinal Messages". Police Magazine. 
  23. ^ Home.
  24. ^ Indiana Urinalysis, Brian Jones, Jim Beeson, Ed Emmer, 1988-11-11, retrieved 2017-09-15 
  25. ^ B, Editor (2015-01-31), Indiana Urinalysis, retrieved 2017-09-15 
  26. ^ Everson, Bart; Jones, Brian; Griff, Hanna; Community Access Television Services (Bloomington, Ind.); Indiana University, Bloomington (1989), Indiana urinalysis, Bloomington Community Access Television, retrieved 2017-09-15 
  27. ^ 1000. "Indiana Urinalysis at". Retrieved 2017-09-15. 

External links