The Sky Might Soon Be Flush With Self-Cleaning Bathrooms

A new Boeing prototype lavatory zaps germs with UV rays

Consider the airplane bathroom. It’s cramped, smelly and likely crawling with bacteria—enough to make even non-germaphobes shudder. But the days of germy airplane lavatories could soon come to an end. As Alex Davies reports for WIRED, Boeing has created a prototype airplane bathroom that uses UV light to kill 99.99 percent of germs.

It’s all part of a Boeing research project to use technology to make cabins cleaner. The airplane manufacturer writes on its blog that it has filed for a patent for the sanitizing lavatory, which features touch-free devices as well as UV light that sanitizes and de-stinks all surfaces within.

The prototype bathroom also contains hands-free everything—the faucet, soap dispenser, trash flap, toilet seat lid and dryer. Boeing is working on a hands-free latch and a floor-based vacuum vent to keep the lavatory even cleaner.

Davies notes that the bathroom is only a prototype, so it will be a while before it shows up in actual planes. But he reports that Boeing is moving the prototype into development.

But how many germs really are on an airplane? It’s…a lot. A recent study found 265 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch on airplane toilet flush buttons. But, surprisingly, the bathroom wasn’t the dirtiest place on a plane. That dubious honor was reserved for the tray table, which contained 2,155 colony-forming units per square inch.