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Self-Cleaning Toilets: The Pros and Cons

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jun 13, 2021

There are few household chores that people despise more than cleaning the toilet. For most of us, the drill probably goes something like this:

  • Put on some heavy-duty plastic gloves.
  • Hold your nose.
  • Peer frighteningly into the bowl.
  • Attempt to brush the sides and corners free of stains whose origins you prefer to ignore.
Toilet Tools

Unfortunately, cleaning the toilet is one of those things that simply has to be done if you want to keep your bathroom clean and hygienic. Or is it?

Recently, several manufacturers have begun to release what they call "self-cleaning toilets." Do these miraculous inventions exist, or are they just a clever marketing ploy that preys on our collective hatred of the most-despised bathroom cleaning chore? This short article takes an in-depth look at self-cleaning toilets. We will explain how they work, the benefits and drawbacks that come with this unique invention, and offer a few suggestions to help you determine if a self-cleaning toilet is right for you.

Kohler Veil Self Cleaning Smart Toilet
Kohler Veil Self Cleaning Smart Toilet. Photo Credit: Kohler

What Is a Self-Cleaning Toilet?

As its name implies, a self-cleaning toilet includes a design element wherein the toilet has a function that cleans and disinfects the toilet bowl without human scrubbing. In most models, a button separate from the flush button or handle activates special cleansing and disinfecting features to help reduce the risks of unsightly and unhygienic stains accumulating. Self-cleaning toilet manufacturers have slightly different approaches on how to achieve these results. However, all the self-cleaning toilet products share a few standard features like:

  • A specialized toilet bowl design
  • Specialized cleaners and coating materials
  • Higher water pressure, and 
  • Advanced cleaning elements.

Specialized Toilet Bowl Design

With most toilets, stains tend to develop in parts of the toilet bowl where water from the flush does not adequately remove the waste. The accumulation of waste eventually leads to unappealing stains, especially if users don't regularly clean the toilet. A specially designed toilet bowl limits the number of crevices and creases where human waste can accumulate with self-cleaning toilets. Many top self-cleaning toilets also include a non-porous finish glaze that further deters human waste from getting where it should not.

Specialized Cleaners and Coating Materials

All self-cleaning toilets also make use of specialized cleaning and disinfectant agents. These materials are often coated onto the toilet bowl to discourage waste buildup. Also, many self-cleaning toilet manufacturers include disinfecting chemicals that release with each flush.

Higher Water Pressure

Many self-cleaning toilets have slightly higher water pressure during the flush. The water pressure on the specially designed bowl eliminates human waste that might stick to the porcelain bowl in regular toilets.  

Advanced Cleaning Elements

Some of the most advanced self-cleaning toilets include advanced cleaning and disinfecting elements such as UV Lights. These types of toilets have a small UV light installed on the underside of the toilet seat lid. When activated, the UV light interacts with the cleaning solutions in the water and the bowl's photocatalytic ceramic cast. All these advanced technologies amount to a deep clean of your toilet at the microscopic level after each flush.

Toto Neorest Features
Toto Neorest Features. Photo Credit: Toto

What Types of Self-Cleaning Toilets Are Available? 

Self-cleaning toilets are just one of the most recent elements of "advanced toilet technology." Today, it is common for homeowners to find toilets with several features and characteristics that promise to improve the "total bathroom experience."

Though all self-cleaning toilets will incorporate some of the features we mentioned in the last section, you can also find self-cleaning toilets with dozens of other features, including heated seats, automatic open and close technology, automatic flushing, deodorizers, and battery or wired power.

Heated Seats

Yes, many of the self-cleaning toilets on the market also come with a heated seat to keep you comfortable while doing your business.

Automatic Open and Close Technology

For people who don't enjoy opening and closing the toilet lid, some self-cleaning toilets also incorporate sensors that will raise and lower the toilet seat for you. Though this might seem unnecessary, it might come in handy for households with one (or several) absent-minded men who inevitably forget to lower the toilet seat. It will also limit germ accumulation from hands coming into contact with soiled seats!

Automatic flushing

Similarly, many self-cleaning toilets will have automatic flushing as part of the self-cleaning technology. For example, the Kohler K-5401-PA-0 will have an integrated self-cleaning wand and a sensor that automatically flushes waste once it is detected.

Deodorizers

Some self-cleaning toilets will also offer automatic deodorizing after each flush.

Battery vs. Electricity

You will have to choose between battery-operated and electric toilets if you are interested in a self-cleaning toilet. Most of the "smart" or "intelligent" toilets on the market require a separate electrical connection. The simpler designs of other self-cleaning toilets only use batteries, with most toilets requiring four double-A batteries to operate.

Toto USA NEOREST NX2 Dual Flush Toilet
NEOREST NX2 Dual Flush Toilet. Photo Credit: Toto USA

How Much Water Do Self-Cleaning Toilets Use?

Because self-cleaning toilets are relatively new to the market, almost all of them use significantly less water than standard toilets. In addition, the vast majority of these products are certified with the EPA WaterSense label, meaning they can only use a maximum of 4.8 L (1.28 gallons) per flush. They also must flush at a minimum of 350 grams of waste. However, of the self-cleaning toilets we reviewed, none met the requirements of ultra-high-efficiency toilets, which must meet the standard of a maximum of 1.10 gallons per flush.

American Standard ActiClean Lowes
American Standard ActiClean Toilet. Photo Credit: Lowes

Can You Buy a Dual Flush Self-Cleaning Toilet?

Self-cleaning toilets offer everything from heated seats to touch screen remotes that give you access to the toilet's "features." With this wealth of options, it shouldn't come as a surprise that many of the self-cleaning toilet products on the market today also come with dual-flush options. For example, the Kohler K-5401-PA-0 mentioned above has "full flush" and "half-flush" options. A complete flush uses 1.28 gallons per flush, whereas a half flush uses just 0.8 gallons per flush.

Are Self-Cleaning Toilets Healthy? 

Self-cleaning toilets are branded as a way to keep your home healthier and more hygienic. But unfortunately, they also could be contributing to unhealthy indoor air quality. Self-cleaning toilets that incorporate deodorizers are most likely releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home.  They can also introduce chemicals that you would not have otherwise had in your home and increase their use.

Health Risks of Air Fresheners

One study determined that "air fresheners, even ones called green and organic, can emit potentially hazardous chemicals…and fewer than 10 percent of air freshener ingredients are typically disclosed to the public."

Chemical Use

Add to this, the use of harsh chemicals in the cleaning cartridges might also be a source of concern for homeowners looking to reduce the number of chemicals used in their homes. Many self-cleaning toilets rely on liquid cleaning cartridges installed in the toilet tank lid. Like regular toilet cleaners that you use manually, these cartridges most likely contain chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite, hydrochloric acid, or bleach. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "hydrochloric acid is corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure may cause eye, nose, and respiratory tract irritation and inflammation and pulmonary edema in humans."

Each time you activate the cleaning mechanism, these chemicals swirl through the tank and bowl for a determined amount of time. It is worth mentioning that these chemicals are not unique to self-cleaning toilets, as they are also common in regular toilet cleaners. For self-cleaning toilets to operate correctly, you have to purchase manufacturer-specific cartridges. So, homeowners will most likely find that they cannot opt for healthier and more natural cleaning solutions. Also, the ability to clean your toilet with the push of a button will most likely result in higher use of chemical cleaners.

Toto Neorest 750H
Toto Neorest 750H. Photo Credit: Toto

Can Self Cleaning Toilets Reduce the Need for Cleaning Chemicals?

To avoid these chemicals, homeowners can look for self-cleaning toilets that focus on toilet bowl design that avoids the trapping of dirt from the rim cavity. Self-cleaning toilets that rely on an integrated UV light that interacts with the bowl's ceramic glaze to break down dirt and grime might also be healthier options. For example, the Toto NeoRest self-cleaning toilet has a UV light that combines with Electrolyzed Water to reduce the need for harsh cleaning chemicals.

How Long Do Self-Cleaning Toilets Last?

Self-cleaning toilets require some ongoing maintenance. Though you can certainly cut back on that dreaded weekly chore of scrubbing your toilet bowl, you will have to replace cartridges or batteries regularly. Though they should last as long as a regular toilet, there is generally no extra warranty protection, even though they cost more. The Kohl Veil® Comfort Height® self-cleaning toilet, for example, costs $5,500 and only comes with a one-year limited warranty.

Kohler Smart Toilet Controls
Kohler Smart Toilet Controls. Photo Credit: Kohler

Do Smart Self-Cleaning Toilets Exist?

Incredibly, yes, they do. Though smart, self-cleaning toilets don't necessarily connect to your home Wi-Fi system, they incorporate sensors and other technologies. For example, some smart toilets may have sensors that detect when a body has moved away to activate the flushing mechanism. Other smart products also have sensors to automatically raise and lower the toilet lid and touch screens placed next to the toilet, allowing you to operate features such as the bidet washer, seat heater, etc.

American Standard ActiClean Features Lowes
American Standard ActiClean Toilet Features. Photo Credit: Lowes

What Are the Best Brands of Self-Cleaning Toilets?

If you want to spend over $5,000 on a "luxury toilet," you can check out the Kohler model we detailed above. Fortunately, there are other more reasonably-priced options out there. The American Standard ActiClean costs just $229 at Lowes. It is a self-cleaning toilet with two push-button cycles that allow for deep clean or quick clean flushing. Toto USA also has several self-cleaning toilet models, several of which use minimal chemicals to clean. 

What Are Pros of Self-Cleaning Toilets?

Self-cleaning toilets do allow homeowners to avoid having to scrub their toilet bowls every week manually. They also generally use less water than regular toilets. Some of the self-cleaning toilets also reduce dependence on harsh cleaning chemicals by incorporating UV light technology.

What Are The Cons of Self-Cleaning Toilets?

Homeowners can expect to pay a lot more for self-cleaning toilets, with the top-end smart toilets costing well over $5,000. Some self-cleaning toilet products will also introduce chemical deodorizers and other harsh cleaning chemicals into your home. Self-cleaning toilets also require a battery or electrical power, an added source in your home's energy footprint.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T10:38:18+0000