Edward C. Baig / USA Today
NEW YORK — Folks who don't always agree with me may think that my column has gone into the toilet. I'm afraid this week they're right.
I've been, um, reviewing a brand new "touchless" toilet from Kohler, the privately held global manufacturer of bath and kitchen products.
Almost all of us have come into contact with — or more accurately, avoided contact with — toilets in restaurants, offices and other public restrooms that flush automatically.
Kohler wants you to experience no-touch flushing at home. The new touchless version of Kohler's Cimarron toilet that I had recently installed in a bathroom in my house flushes when you wave your hand above a sensor on top of the tank lid. There is no separate flush lever to collect germs, or even an external button to initiate a manual flush as a backup. (In a pinch you can remove the tank lid to flush manually.)
Health and hygiene are the obvious play here. Kohler commissioned a study of 800 U.S. consumers and found that over half of the people surveyed are paranoid about germs in the bathroom. And when looking at that same sample group but focusing on moms with children, that number jumps up to about two-thirds, Kohler says.
I have to say there is something really cool about avoiding physical contact with the toilet, and yes I'm ignoring the fact that one's fanny still touches the seat.
The touchless 1.28 GPF (gallons-per-flush) Cimarron toilet in my bathroom lists for $363, representing a bit of a premium over the $299 it costs for a comparable Kohler toilet with physical flush levers. You can find the toilets for less online or at retail. Kohler also sells a more expensive San Souci model toilet with touchless technology for $930.
And the company sells a $75 Touchless Flush kit that Kohler says can retrofit most existing toilets with a canister or flapper-type flush. The claim is that do-it-yourselfers can handle the installation in 20 minutes or less.
I had a professional install the Touchless Cimarron and remove my old toilet, a job that took considerably longer. Kohler explains that unlike toilets in which a beam of light is broken to trigger the actuation, the Kohler Touchless flush utilizes emerging sensing technology, which projects an electromagnetic field that the company says is more accurate and reliable. It runs on four AA batteries, which promises to last 6 to 12 months, depending on how often nature calls.
It didn't take long for me to get accustomed to wave-of-the-hand-flushing, though there was a brief period of time in which I naturally reached for a flush lever that wasn't there. Needless to say the kids and visitors to my house also loved playing around with touch-less flushing, at least until the newness wore off.
When you wave above the sensor on the Cimarron you'll detect a slight audible tone an instant before the toilet flushes.
Occasionally as I sat on the toilet and leaned forward to grab a newspaper, the toilet flushed when I didn't mean for it to do so, which I find sometimes happens in public automatic flush toilets. The toilet also sometimes flushed when I raised or lowered the seat. I consider these minor nuisances.
Among the niceties on the Cimarron toilet is a small built-in nightlight, which provides an elegant aesthetic touch. But this toilet is nowhere near as fancy as the Kohler Numi "smart toilet" that I wrote about three years ago, which is now in its second generation. Talk about a royal flush. Numi lets you customize your seat position, adjust the water temperature and pressure, even alter the ambient lighting. And Numi not only has a built-in music system with rear speakers but also an FM radio and audio input jack for a portable music player.
It also has an adjustable heated seat and foot warmer, plus an integrated stainless steel, self-cleaning bidet wand with a dryer. A motion-controlled seat and lid can automatically open when you approach and close when you split. Tripping a bar of light on the floor to the side of the toilet automatically raises the seat, and the toilet flushes when you walk away.
Of course, Numi carries a stomach-growling price north of $6,000, whereas the Cimarron is meant to be an option for the masses.
Indeed, the Cimarron is way less luxurious and comparatively low-tech. But this lower-priced toilet also promises a more sanitary experience. And going touchless adds a touch of class.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Kohler Touchless Cimarron
Pro. Flush with wave of hand. Promises better hygiene.
Con. Toilet occasionally flushed when I didn't want it to. You'll pay a slight premium for touchless.