Why don't touchless faucets/paper towel dispensers work better?

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, and thus have had many occasions to use public restrooms. I’ve long noticed that these touchless faucets/paper towel dispensers, that use presumably an infrared sensor to detect the presence of your hands, don’t work very well, and I usually find them intensely frustrating. You stick your hand under it, the water comes on for like 5 seconds, then shuts off, even though your hands are still there. So you move your hands around for a few seconds, but to no avail. You take your hands completely away, and put them back under the faucet, and maybe it works–sometimes you have to do this several times. Is there any reason they can’t just make the sensors more sensitive; give them a lower threshold for activation? One would think that with how long these things have been around, and how poorly the work, someone would have improved the technology by now.

Since the goal, I presume, is to reduce water usage they are designed to only go on under specific circumstance and not when someone happens to walk by the sink.

You mentioned that it went on for 5 seconds and stopped. Perhaps the time is adjustable, but how much time do you need to wash your hands? It sounds like it was working as designed.

In food service, washing your hands takes 20 seconds of scrubbing, plus whatever time it takes to soap up and to rinse. Of course the tap should turn off when you take your hands away, but not while they’re still under it. Even if you take them away for a moment, you should get water as soon as you’re back. Sounds to me like poor design or poor maintenance.

Presumably, if they were more sensitive, there would be more ‘false alarm’ activation:

  • when someone just walks by the faucet, it could activate and waste water.
  • when the heating/cooling system comes on and starts the paper towels flapping, that could trigger the water.

Possibly, the problems with false triggering of the sensors is considered worse.

What frustrates me are the ones where the water comes on if your hands are in front of the faucet, but turns off when you move your hands under the water. They seem to be inspired by Tantalus in Greek mythology.

Probably whoever cleans the restrooms doesn’t bother to properly clean the sensor.

They are expensive but sold on the premise that they save money. They’ll be set to provide minimum water to make that come true.

are you warm blooded?

if the sensors are too sensitive air flow will set it off.

I share the OP’s frustration. I have a related bitch with automatic paper towel dispensers.

They are obviously programmable to some degree, as the same model will vary greatly in operation from location to location.

My band plays at a venue with a dispenser that puts out a mere strip of a paper towel with each wave…seriously, no more that six inches in length maximum. And then, it makes you wait several seconds before it will reset and allow another wave of your hand to produce another six-inch strip.

Two of these are not nearly enough to adequately dry your hands, so you have to stand there and keep on waving, with a wait between each wave. Of course, they imagine they’re saving money somehow with this parsimonious dispensing, but no one is gonna settle for one or two strips, so why not just let the first wave give you enough towel? They’re not really saving, because it takes electricity to start and run the motor each time.

Maybe it’s not up there with the great problems of the world, but the philosophy behind this really pisses me off…that is, WE get to decide the amount of paper towels you get. YOUR wishes have nothing to do with it.

There is a problem there: if you make it sensitive to objects at the position of the water, then the water stream will continously trigger itself.

IMHO, the solution is a washroom attendent who turns off the taps. Emulating this at present is too difficult and expensive.

They are also sold to reduce the spread of infection.

And to save water to protect our natural resources, but I think they’re mainly purchased with the idea of saving money. The cost savings aren’t proving out over time. Failures don’t result in water wasted as manual fixtures do, but they still require the cost of time to fix them, and the cost of replacement in the worst case.

The marketing of touchless soap dispensers cracks me up. Heaven forbid you touch something that might be dirty split-seconds before washing your hands!

Well then you have to turn it off. But there are mechanical taps that close automatically. The sensor activated ones seem to provide only a trickle compared to the auto-shutoff mechanical ones I’ve seen.

In the OP, there is nothing wrong with the technology or the sensors themselves and everything is working exactly as it is designed to work. Your frustration should be aimed at the people who programmed them, not at the technology.

This is politics, not science.

How lucky you are! So many places just have the electric heaters to dry your hands.

Well I guess you can just dry your hands on your clothes…

Not everyone is stubborn enough to keep futilely waving his hand under a dispenser until they get enough paper to satisfy themselves. In essence, they’re counting on you giving up, saving them paper and battery.

Besides, if you wave your hands around enough, they’ll get dry just by shaking off loose water and moving briskly around in air! It’s a human-powered air dryer masquerading as a battery-powered towel dispenser.

A lot of paper dispensers are designed not to dispense any more paper until you tear off what you get on the first activation, but many of those only require a tug on the paper to get more when you wave your hand. I’ve noticed fewer of those now, so they’re onto us.

I absolutely agree with this but… We have two in our house, not for the hygiene but simply the convenience of being able to get soap without making the soap bar dirty. This is especially good in the kitchen when you may have greasy hands and a bar of soap, or the top of a handpump will get greasy too. It also delivers a measured dollop of soap.

These products are designed to save money and for germ-a-phobes.

As far as those paper towel dispensers, the en-motionones work the best in my opinion. The other brands are hit or miss.