Boeing's Clean Lavatory is a finalist for a Crystal Cabin Award, to be announced at the Hamburg Aircraft Interiors Expo

Boeing develops far UV self-cleaning airplane bathroom

Boeing engineers have developed a self-cleaning lavatory prototype that uses far ultraviolet (UV) light to kill 99.99 per cent of germs. The cleaning system can disinfect all surfaces after every use in just three seconds.

While not the first self-cleaning toilet on land or in the air – various Japanese, US and German firms have developed solutions in recent years – the Boeing lavatory uses far UV light that is activated only when the lavatory is unoccupied.

Far UV differs from the UVA or UVB light used in tanning beds and is not harmful to people. Boeing engineers have shown through testing on their prototype that using far UV minimises the growth and potential transmission of micro-organisms, being harmful to bacteria and pathogens and kills such organisms left on the surfaces of the lavatory. Boeing has filed for a patent on this concept.

“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’re trying to alleviate the anxiety we all face when using a restroom that gets a workout during a flight,” said Jeanne Yu, Boeing Commercial Airplanes director of environmental performance. “In the prototype, we position the lights throughout the lavatory so that it floods the touch surfaces like the toilet seat, sink and countertops with the UV light once a person exits the lavatory. This sanitizing even helps eliminate odours.”

The cleaning system – now undergoing further study before it can be offered commercially to airlines – would lift and close the toilet seat by itself so that all surfaces are exposed during the cleaning cycle. The design also incorporates a hands-free faucet, soap dispenser, bin flap, toilet lid and seat and a hand dryer. A hands-free door latch and a vacuum vent system for the floor are also being considered to keep the lavatory as hygienic as possible between scheduled cleaning.

“Some of the touchless features are already in use on some Boeing airplanes today,” said Yu, “but combining that with the new UV sanitising will give passengers even more protection from germs and make for an even better flying experience.”

Boeing believes this self-cleaning technology, combined with various touchless features, will enhance the passenger experience on commercial flights, making air travel “an actual destination in itself”, according to Boeing product development manager Teresa King.

While effectively sanitising 99.99 per cent of all known germs, mopping up any physical spillages made by passengers in the “self-cleaning” bathroom would remain the duty of the flight attendants.

Boeing’s Clean Lavatory is a finalist for a Crystal Cabin Award, honouring innovative cabin designs and ideas in seven categories. The winners will be announced at the Hamburg Aircraft Interiors Expo on 5 April 2016.

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