Nanotechnology as the source of new cleanliness
by Thomas Edelmann
“Clean is all very good. Clean is bright and nice. Dirt is ugly and elsewhere,” or so the opening lines of Christian Enzensberger’s poetic text, published in 1968 as “Smut: An Anatomy of Dirt”. When, back in the 1920s, the pioneers of Modernism fought to champion a new type of architecture, they did so among other things because they wanted urban planning to deliver on health and hygiene. The call for more light, air and sun spelled turning one’s back on downtown tenement blocks with countless inner courtyards and dark rooms, and no bathrooms or toilets. Only in the post-1945 period did this standard slowly become the norm.
High-tech coatings combat dirt
Not only has time flushed by since the 1960s and 1980s, but the approach taken to the toilet as a topic of design now rests on different assumptions. One of them is: hygiene at the flick of a wrist. The other: sustainable use of resources. In homes, many have declared war on omnipresent bacteria and viruses, deploying an array of detergents that are as aggressive as possible to do the job. The idea is that the more detergents in battle, the better the result, something the manufacturers of the chemicals love of course. Precisely in and around toilets a veritable cult of the germ-free environment has arisen. And cleaning processes are meant to be super-fast, not just in homes, but certainly in the contract market. Moreover, the idea is that in order to protect the environment, as few toxic detergents as possible will be used, as when they degrade they have an execrable impact on the quality of water in lakes and rivers, and eventually our groundwater, too.
Nature as the role model
Most of these refined surfaces take their cue from self-cleansing lotus leaves and are as good as the standard today. The new coatings seem very smooth at first sight, and only if viewed through an electron microscope will you discern the lines of clefts in their surfaces. Starting back in the 1980s, there was a swift transition from biological research and physical explanation to industrial applications. University research institutes spawned various companies with expertise in the mechanics and manufacturing of such coatings. Moreover, nanotechnology was soon a growth market that was receiving research subsidies throughout the EU. The German Environment Agency has not yet passed definitive judgment on the extremely small particles that can in part overcome biological barriers. We simply know too little about enriching them and about how they interact with other materials.
Today’s motto: scratchproof and no rim
For WCs to remain in a state of “panta rhei” (“anything flows”), manufacturers are going for a new kind of water supply. High-end contemporary toilets tend to be as free of hollow cavities as possible, as these get in the way of cleaning. While there was a time when a decent flush rim was considered the epitome of elegance, today the better the WC, the less it’s likely to have any rim at all. Toto has offered rimless WCs since as long ago as 2002, European manufacturers such as Ideal Standard or Villeroy und Boch have now started including such models in their lines.
From the stony beginnings to modernism: A chariot latrine and a contemporary WC at the exhibition “Fundamentals”. Photo © Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia
With the enhanced ceramic glaze “CeramicPlus” by Villeroy & Boch water, dirt and oil fluids should roll off easily and no aggressive cleansers are needed further more. Photo © Villeroy & Boch
After using the toilet, the toilet lid of „Neorest AC Washlet“ by Toto closes automatically. The seat is irradiated by UV light for one hour for cleaning. Photo © Toto
The model „Darling New“ should be easy to clean with its rimless flush technology. Photo © Duravit
Without a rim, there are less germs –with models by Villeroy & Boch only up to three liters are used per flush.
Photo © Villeroy & Boch
With the antibacterial glaze “AntiBac” by Villeroy & Boch there should be almost no germs. Photo © Villeroy & Boch
On surfaces like “CeramicPlus” by Villeroy & Boch, water and dirt particles form drops and roll off the ceramic easily. Photo © Villeroy & Boch
The rimless WC technology “DirectFlush” by Villeroy & Boch prevents, that water splashes over.
Photo © Villeroy & Boch