AskDefine | Define urinals

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  1. Plural of urinal

Extensive Definition

A urinal is any specialized toilet or container designed for urinating, generally by men and boys.
Public urinals are normally designed for use while standing upright, and often contains a deodorizing urinal cake contained within a plastic mesh guard container or a plastic mesh guard without a urinal cake. The plastic mesh guard is designed to prevent solid objects (such as cigarette butts, feces, chewing gum, or paper) from being flushed and possibly causing a plumbing stoppage.
The term may also apply to a small building or other structure, in which such toilets are contained. It can also refer to a small container where urine can be collected for medical purposes, or for use where access to toilet facilities is not possible, such as in small aircraft or for the bedridden.


Most public urinals incorporate a flushing system to rinse urine from the bowl of the device to prevent foul odors. The flush can be triggered by one of several methods:

Manual handles

In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Hong Kong and some parts of Sweden and Finland, manual flush handles are unusual. Instead, the traditional system is a timed flush that operates automatically at regular intervals. Groups of up to ten or so urinals will be connected to a single overhead cistern, which contains the timing mechanism. A constant drip-feed of water slowly fills the cistern, until a tripping point is reached, the valve opens, and all the urinals in the group are flushed. Electronic controllers performing the same function are also used.
This system does not require any action from its users, but it is wasteful of water where the toilets are used irregularly. However, in these countries men are so used to the automatic system, attempts to install manual flushes to save water are generally unsuccessful. Users ignore them not through deliberate laziness or fear of infection, but because activating the flush is not habitual.
To help reduce water usage when restrooms are closed, some restrooms with timed flushing use an electric water valve connected to the restroom light switch. When the building is in active use during the day and the lights are on, the timed flush operates normally. At night when the building is closed, the lights are turned off and the flushing action stops.
A flushing system connected to the opening of the washroom door can count the number of users and operate when the count reaches a certain value. At night, the door never opens, so flushing never occurs.

Automatic flush

Electronic automatic flushes solve the problems of both previous approaches, and are common in new installations. Active or (more usually) passive infrared sensors identify when the urinal has been used (or when someone has stood in front of it and moved away), and activate the flush. Thus the urinal is cleaned, where with a manual flush it might not have been, but water is not wasted when the toilet is not used.
Automatic flush facilities can be retrofitted to existing systems. The handle-operated valves of a manual system can be replaced with a suitably-designed self-contained electronic valve, often battery-powered to avoid the need to add cables. Timed-flush installations may add a device that regulates the water flow to the cistern according to the overall activity detected in the room. This does not provide true per-fixture automatic flushing, but is simple and cheap to add because only one device is required for the whole system.
To prevent false-triggering of the automatic flush, most infra-red detectors require that a presence be detected for at least five seconds, such as when a person is standing in front of it. This prevents a whole line of automatic flush units from triggering in series if someone just walks past them.
The automatic flush mechanism also typically waits for the presence to go out of sensor range before flushing. This reduces water usage, compared to a sensor that would trigger a continuous flushing action all the while a presence is being detected.

Door-regulated flush

This is an older method of water-saving automatic flushing, which only operates when the room is being used. A push-button switch is mounted in the door frame of the restroom, and triggers the flush valve for all restroom urinals every time the door is opened. While it can't detect the use of individual urinals, it provides reasonable flushing action without wasting excessive amounts of water when the restroom is not being used. This method requires a spring-operated automatic door closer, since the flush mechanism only operates when the restroom door opens.

Waterless urinals

A more recent innovation is urinals that do not use water at all. Models introduced by Waterless Company in 1992 and others in 2001 by Falcon Waterfree Technologies and Sloan Valve Company, as well as Duravit, utilize a trap insert filled with a sealant liquid instead of water. The lighter-than-water sealant floats on top of the urine collected in the U-bend, preventing odors from being released into the air. Although the cartridge and sealant must be periodically replaced, the system saves anywhere between 15,000 and 45,000 gallons (approx. between 56,800 and 170,000 liters) of water per urinal per year. Other companies do not use a cartridge; instead they have developed an outlet system that traps the odor, preventing the smell often present in toilet blocks. They can be installed in high-traffic facilities and in situations where providing a water supply may be difficult or where water conservation is desired. Due to high-level water restrictions, Brisbane has mandated conversion to waterless urinals and flush urinals are rarely seen.

Arrangement of urinals

Urinals are usually associated with a commercial, industrial, or high capacity men's washroom, where they are used, together with toilets, for high throughput capacity, as part of an efficiently designed washroom architecture. For this reason, one seldom finds an individual urinal. Instead, large numbers of them are installed along a common supply pipe and drain. They are always out in the open so that those using them are in plain sight to everyone in the room. They are usually located in the traffic pattern of the room so there is little to no privacy at a urinal. There may be small partitions for privacy but they only serve the purpose of hiding the exposed private area. The rest of the person will be in plain view. Also, the urinals may be spaced far apart to create an air of comfort. Where urinals are more closely arranged, some men follow the so-called "1-3-5 rule," under which men only occupy the odd-numbered urinals, thus leaving the even ones to serve as barriers. Of course, this rule can be followed only when the facility's instantaneous usage is low enough to permit using only every other urinal. However, men will generally stare straight ahead at the wall or down into their own urinal rather than at a man at an adjacent urinal.
Often, one or two of the urinals, typically at one end of a long row of urinals, will be mounted lower than the others; they are meant for young boys and men who cannot reach the regular urinals. In facilities where males of various heights are present, such as schools, urinals that extend down to floor level may be used to allow anyone of any height to use any urinal. Individual single-user facilities usually do not have a urinal, and instead have just one toilet.
Once used exclusively in commercial or institutional washrooms, urinals for private home installation are now available. They offer the advantage of substantial savings of water in homes with multiple male occupants.

Street urinals and vespasiennes

In some localities, urinals may be located on public sidewalks or in public areas such as parks. These urinals are usually equipped with partitions or dividers to provide some semblance of privacy. They may or may not be equipped with flush mechanisms.
A city famous for its street urinals is Paris, France. Until the 1990s, street urinals were a common sight in the city, and in the 1930s more than 1200 were in service. Parisians referred to them as vespasiennes, the name being derived from that of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who imposed a tax on urine. Beginning in the 1990s, the vespasiennes (renowned for their smell and lack of hygiene) were gradually replaced by the far superior Sanisettes. Today only one vespasienne remains in the city (on the boulevard Arago), and it is still regularly used. They still exist in other French cities, and in other countries.
See also Public toilets.

Makeshift urinals

During the Korean War, Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm etc., "piss tubes" were used as make-shift urinals. To make one, soldiers would affix an inverted water bottle on one end of a rigid tube, burying the other end. Removing the base of the bottle made a funnel which would be left at the proper height. Deposited urine simply soaked into the ground. When the area became saturated, the device was relocated.

Urinals for women

Nearly all urinals are intended for use by males, but a few have been designed for use by women. From 1950 to 1974, the American Standard company offered the mass-produced "Ladies' Home Urinal." It did not provide significant advantages over conventional toilets, because it used just as much floor space and flushing water. Its main selling point was that women could use the fixture without touching it.
Several other designs have been tried since then, but they either required the user to hover awkwardly or to bring her genitals into close contact with the fixture. Most have not caught on. Current clothes fashion such as panty hose and slacks inhibit women from using them because they don't want their garments to touch the urinals or the floor. Often, women have little experience with them and don't know whether to approach them forward or backward.
More recently, models that use specialized funnels have been introduced, with some success, at outdoor festivals (to reduce cycle times and alleviate long lines). see Female urination device

Urinals, both Note-Worthy and Trivial

"Kisses!" is a controversial urinal designed by the female Dutch designer Meike van Schijndel. *Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917) is one of the most influential pieces of modern art.
  • On January 27, 2004, inventor Eric D Page from Sarasota, Florida was granted for a "Forehead support apparatus". The abstract of the patent makes it clear that this is "...for resting a standing users forehead against a wall above a bathroom commode or urinal or beneath a showerhead." The abstract continues:
    "The apparatus includes a mounting member adapted for attachment to an upright bathroom wall either above the commode or urinal or below the showerhead. A compressible head support member is attached to and extends from the wall and said mounting member. The head support defines an elastically deformable or resilient forehead support surface which is spaced above the floor and from the wall a distance sufficient for the user to lean his forehead thereagainst and be supported while using the commode or urinal."
  • Nassau County, New York Police adopt Talking Urinals in a unique Anti-Drunk Driving initiative. Utilizing Wizmark, a talking urinal screen, police can provide bars with free pre-programmed urinal screens urging patrons not to drink and drive.
  • The bullet damaged brick wall from the St. Valentines Day Massacre was disassembled where it had been originally constructed at 2122 N. Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois and reassembled in men's restroom of a bar called Banjo Palace in Vancouver, British Columbia where it served as a urinal wall.
  • Ernest Hemingway converted a urinal from Sloppy Joe's bar into a water fountain for his cats. The fountain remains a prominent feature at his former home in Key West, Florida; which remains a popular tourist destination in the city.
  • One example of urinals in popular culture was in a 1990 episode of the sitcom Roseanne. Roseanne Conner is dressed as a man for Halloween and is somehow forced into using a urinal. While doing so, she looks at and talks loudly to the men next to her, and when she gets silence and uncomfortable looks in return, she then looks straight ahead, and says: "Oh, I get it! It's like an elevator!" In the late 1990s, a similar gag was used on Third Rock from the Sun, when Sally Solomon and Dick Solomon switch bodies, and Sally (in Dick's body) has to use a urinal alongside Officer Don (Sally's boyfriend).
  • Some urinals for men incorporate fly targets: images of flies that are either printed on labels stuck to the inside of the urinal or embossed directly into the porcelain. Men often feel a compulsion to aim their urine stream at the fly, and thus the fly target helps prevent men from urinating outside the basin or bowl of the urinal. Maintenance crews at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam reported in 2005 that adding a fly target to urinals reduced bathroom cleaning costs by giving men something to aim at. The urinals at terminal 4 of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City have a fly target in the urinals. These are replaced every month because they slide off.
  • Urinals are mentioned briefly by George Carlin in his routine about sports, in which he comments, about ice hockey, that "the only other place you'll find a puck is in the urinal to control the smell in the bathroom." In an earlier album he relates how important it is to "wetdown" all the dry spots on the porcelain, and how Kent cigarattes with the Micronite filter are the hardest to break up by urinating on them - requiring "...three men and a keg of beer."
  • Pissoir, retitled Urinal in some countries, was the first feature film directed by John Greyson. It was released in 1980 and takes place where you might expect.
  • Gabriel Chevallier's 1934 satirical novel Clochemerle deals with the ramifications over plans to install a new urinal in a French village.
  • The aircraft manufacturer Airbus wil be offering its customers the option of installing urinals in its A380 aircraft.

Social aspects of urinals

Conduct in urinals varies widely across cultures and sexes. In some western societies, men do not address each other while urinating and do not stare at others who are urinating, although, some men will continue a conversation with a friend, while only shifting their eyes and not staring the other male's genitals. It is also considered proper to wash one's hands after urinating.


Some manufacturers of urinals are:
urinals in Bulgarian: Писоар
urinals in Czech: Pisoár
urinals in Danish: Urinal
urinals in German: Urinal
urinals in Spanish: Mingitorio
urinals in French: Urinoir
urinals in Hebrew: משתנה (מתקן)
urinals in Dutch: Urinoir
urinals in Norwegian: Pissoar
urinals in Polish: Pisuar
urinals in Portuguese: Mictório
urinals in Kölsch: Sikkenß
urinals in Russian: Писсуар
urinals in Slovak: Pisoár
urinals in Finnish: Pisoaari
urinals in Swedish: Urinoar
urinals in Ukrainian: Пісуар
urinals in Chinese: 小便器
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