House & Home

With appliances of the future, you can do it all with touching a single surface

Kohler’s San Souci touchless toilet ($700 at Home Depot), features a patented flush engine that delivers a fast, powerful flush.
Kohler’s San Souci touchless toilet ($700 at Home Depot), features a patented flush engine that delivers a fast, powerful flush.

The germs are coming! Quick — what do you do? Wash your hands, yes. But think of the potential illnesses awaiting you on all the surfaces on the way to the bathroom faucet — including the bathroom faucet. Cold and flu viruses can survive outside the body anywhere from a few seconds to two days. Your sick kids or co-workers may have tried their best to keep clean, but those germs can be wily.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could bypass the possibility of cross-contamination by never actually touching fixtures and hardware to make them work? That’s what manufacturers of everything from toilets to light switches have bet on. Of course, you’re plenty familiar with the automatic faucets, soap dispensers and dryers in public places, but now they’re coming home. Technology joins your household in the fight against cold and flu season.


Automatic flush toilets have been around for decades in commercial restrooms, but Kohler brings the touchless toilet to a bath near you. You can purchase the technology pre-installed on select models or simply install the kit on your existing toilet. Hold you hand over the tank’s sensor and it does the dirty work for you. The kit sells for about $100 and can be installed by handy DIYers.


Touchless kitchen faucets are in high demand, especially for those remodeling or upgrading their homes.

“It’s definitely for people who use their kitchens,” says Brianna Teegarden, showroom sales consultant at Kitchens & Baths by Briggs in Lenexa. “After handling raw chicken, for instance, they can wash their hands without touching the fixture.”

Keeping salmonella out of your system starts at around $700. Kohler, Moen and Grohe all offer sensor technology that works with a wave, while Delta offers a version where you can touch anywhere on the faucet to turn it on. “On some of them you can see the sensor more, but they look like normal fixtures,” Teegarden adds.

Automatic soap dispensers are another growing product category. Hands-free pumps add another layer of protection. Most are battery operated and rust-free for use in wet areas. Simple Human offers one that recharges with an included USB cord. Prices range from $11 to $50.


Washing your hands is only half of the equation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that proper hand drying is critical to decreasing the transfer of pathogens.

“Wet hands have been known to transfer pathogens much more readily than dry hands or hands not washed at all. The residual moisture determines the level of bacterial and viral transfer following hand washing,” its website states.

Enter the residential hand dryer. Dyson’s air blade has popped up in a few homes across the city, its cool factor walloping a simple hand towel. The Dyson dB dries hands in 12 seconds flat by “scraping” water off your hands with air pounding out at 420 mph. It’s for the serious technophile or germophobe, at $1,349.

The CDC recommends avoiding reusing a cloth towel, instead using paper towels or single-use cloth towels. To that end, iTouchless introduces the Towel-Matic II. The second-generation automatic paper towel dispenser not only senses your need for clean with a wave but also can sense the perforations on any brand of paper towel and clamps tightly until that point to prevent unraveling. It retails for about $120 online.


Waste and germs are annoying, but at least you can reduce the latter by tossing that towel without touching the trash. Simple Human offers sensor cans that learn your behavior over time so if you tend to have a lot of trash at a time, the lid will stay open longer.. The 48-liter butterfly can looks fancy for what it is and retails for $275.

Recyclers can keep both their hands and the environment tidier with the two-compartment recycling bin from iTouchless, priced at $200.


Door handles can easily sicken multiple people. All it takes is one sneeze into a hand then the turn of a knob to plant thousands of pathogens there. Perhaps wary of this already, you open the door with your sleeve pulled over your hand or simply wait for a polite gentleman to open the door for you, but there are easier ways. Low-tech options include the handy foot lever, such as that offered by StepNPull, or the forearm bar offered by Healthy Fingers.

In home settings, this may be a bit overkill, but not so at your office. You could ask your employer to install touchless door openers, such as those offered by Rubbermaid and Skylink. Or just tell your boss that work makes you sick…


Light switches are historically operated by (potentially germy) fingers, but that’s changing. A startup company called iOn uses a system that allows you to place your hand in a particular area to turn lights on/off and dim or brighten them. It installs flush to the wall or concealed behind a wall. You can even put any conductive object — say, a metal sculpture or trophy — in the area to become your switch for a cool party trick. There’s also a smartphone app for iOn so you can control your devices remotely.


Controlling entire household systems without laying a finger on them is the wave of the future. Your smartphone, functionally reducing cross-contamination, will eventually connect your thermostat, lighting, appliances, TV, music speakers and more, so that you’ll never have to touch a button again. But, please, don’t stop washing your hands.