- Boeing has filed for a patent on a prototype that uses UV light to clean lavatories
- Company says prototype kills 99.99% of all lavatory germs in three seconds
While most of us prefer not to ponder just how filthy they really are -- particularly while waiting at the back of a post-dinner service lineup to use one -- the fact that they're one of the most unsanitary places on a plane will come as little surprise.
Boeing hopes to change that.
The U.S. plane manufacturer just announced it's filed a patent on a prototype that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to kill 99.99% of all lavatory germs, in three seconds, after every use.
Though the company statement says the "Far UV" light is not harmful to people, it would be activated only when the lavatory is unoccupied.
Boeing engineers say this innovation can minimize the growth and potential transmission of micro-organisms.
"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 statement.
"In the prototype, we position the lights throughout the lavatory so that it floods the touch surfaces like the toilet seat, sink and counter tops with the UV light once a person exits the lavatory. This sanitizing even helps eliminate odors."
Boeing says the prototype would lift and close the toilet seat by itself so that all surfaces are exposed during the cleaning cycle.
Keep your hands to yourself
The design also incorporates a hands-free faucet, soap dispenser, trash flap, toilet lid/seat and a hand dryer.
A hands-free door latch and a vacuum vent system for the floor are also reportedly under consideration.
But before you decide to stop using those awkward disposable toilet seat covers, bear in mind the system will require further study.
"We are in the prototype phase right now and have proven the concept," Boeing's Bret Jensen tells CNN.
"It's difficult to say when exactly we could offer this to airline customers."
What's dirtier than the lavatory?
While this is all good news, here's hoping airline innovators come up with a way to cleanse an even bigger inflight germ magnet -- the tray table.
Last year, website Travelmath.com sent a microbiologist to take 26 samples from four flights by two major carriers.
According to the lab results, tray tables were found to have an average of 2,155 colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch.
Next up were overhead air vents, with 285 CFU/sq. in., followed by lavatory flush buttons (265 CFU/sq. in.), seatbelt buckles (230 CFU/sq. in. and bathroom stall locks (70 CFU/sq. in.)