Airplane bathrooms are famously repugnant places. But now Boeing (BA) has developed a self-cleaning lavatory that will make sharing facilities with 400 other passengers a lot easier to stomach.
The company has created a prototype bathroom it says kills 99.99% of germs on all surfaces, including counters and toilets, using an ultraviolet light. The device works in just three seconds and kills microbes by “literally making them explode,” according to the company’s website. The light only turns on after the bathroom doors are closed, and Boeing says it is not the same as those used in tanning beds.
“We’re trying to alleviate the anxiety we all face when using a restroom that gets a workout during a flight,” Jeanne Yu, director of environmental performance for Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, said in a separate statement. “This sanitizing even helps eliminate odors.”
99.99% bacteria-free would make the bathrooms the cleanest place on the plane—by a long shot. According to Travelmath.com, the dirtiest spot inside an airplane is the tray table, with about 2,155 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch. Even without Boeing’s microbe exploder, bathroom stall locks have just 70 CFUs by comparison.
Boeing wants to patent its concept. No news yet on when a prototype would be installed in planes. The company is also working to make the bathroom nearly “touchless,” with hands-free faucet, soap dispenser, and trash flap—although there is one place where a user must still make contact: the seat.