While going through my daily reads this morning I came across an article that brought up the question how frequent bathrooms on the aircraft are sanitized and in what way this is taken care of.
Sometimes we enter a washroom on the plane and it looks like the toilet has just exploded, judging by the amounts of tissue and liquid of whatever origin on the floor. While this is a strong reminder to never ever walk around the plane in socks or barefoot it rings a bell to consider what the airline actually does to keep the lavatories clean and us passengers safe.
I came about an interesting article on Conde Nast Traveler (access here) about just this particular topic.
… Every surface of an airplane lavatory is supposed to be cleaned with disinfectants and deodorizers after each arrival and during overnight layovers. However, there aren’t actually any laws governing how airlines need to maintain lavatories on board your flight, or even if they need to have bathrooms at all. Airlines don’t do “germ tests” to see what evil might be lurking on surfaces in the bathroom, and even frequent cleaning probably won’t remove every last germ. That said, it’s not likely you’ll catch something from a bathroom, especially if you exercise caution when touching things.
On many airlines, technical operations employees disinfect lavatories every night. During the day, a different cleaning crew services the lavatories including emptying the garbage, restocking products, and mopping the floors. On the ground, the flight attendants check that the facilities are in working order before the plane departs. Bathroom cleanliness in-flight is handled by the flight attendant as well, who checks throughout the flight to ensure the lavatories are stocked and tidy. There’s generally a 30-minute protocol, which means flight attendants attend to the lavatories regularly, ensuring there are ample paper towels, sure, but also serving as a safety measure to guarantee no one is idling in the bathroom.
As for the nuts and bolts: Airlines use bleach-filled cleaning products similar to what’s used to clean hotel rooms. The “blue juice,” aka aqua-colored liquid that washes everything down the toilet when you flush, serves as a deodorizer and as a catalyst to separate liquid from solid waste. The blue juice gets recycled on each flush until the lavatory is serviced and new fluids are added.
What about the waste from the toilets? Lavatories fill up based on how many trips the plane is scheduled to make in a given day and how large the tank is, and are emptied routinely. Different planes have different sized tanks: The A380, for instance, the largest commercial aircraft, has four waste tanks totaling 554 gallons. The Boeing 747 has less than half that capacity.
Not all washrooms look as clean as the one which I chose for this article, inside the Thai Airways A380 First Class section. The more passengers frequent the lavatory the more the chance to mess it up and soil the floor. Cleaning duty is certainly one of the less glamorous parts of the flight attendant job and some airlines are notorious for messy cabins.
I can still remember one flight from Mumbai to Singapore last year which was operated by Air India on a new 787 Dreamliner. The toilet flushes when you close the lid but apparently the passengers didn’t figure that one out and actually continued to use the toilet until it was almost full to the brim. Thankfully we didn’t encounter any turbulence or else… None of the crew seemed to check on the washroom at all during the flight.
While there are certain guidelines in place there’s really no guarantee how clean an airplane washroom really is so the best option is to follow some basic procedures if you really need to use the facilities on your flight. Always wear shoes or slippers, try to touch as less surfaces as possible (maybe with a tissue in hand) and wash your hands right after. Then take a tissue to open the door because yes, some people are filthy and don’t wash their hands before returning to their seats and touch the handles on the way there.