Tag Archives: ADA

Toilet Flush Handles on the Left Side – A Sinister Meme?

4 Jul

I don’t know who discovered water but it probably wasn’t fish. I have been servicing toilets for a long time but it was only recently that I realized that the vast majority of tank style toilets flush on the left hand side. It took a right-handed flush to make me realize this. Why? I have been unable to find anything but theories in my surface skimming research.  They are, roughly: tradition (we have always done it that way), and hygiene (in a right-handed world flushing with the left hand keeps germs off of the dominant hand.) If you have better research please leave me a comment.

I would buy the tradition argument if there was more safety involved such as hot water on left, cold water on right, which prevents nasty surprises. The less obvious tradition of the fill line attachment being on the left side of the tank is building industry collaboration. It tells the builder where to place the plumbing without knowing what make and model toilet will ultimately be installed. Placement of the plumbing shut- off is governed by building code. However, there is nothing about the operational pieces of the toilet that require one-sided placement of the flush handle. The fill valve, flush valve and flapper are not affected by handle placement.

The hygiene argument might have ancient origins but those are long past in the western world. If you worry about which hand you flush with you are just one step away from wearing kleenex boxes on your feet.

While there is not an apparent body of law regarding the left hand side flush there is law that can require placement on the right hand side. The ADA (The American’s with Disabilities Act) requires that the flush handle be on the “open” side of a handicapped accessible toilet. This photo is from a bathroom in one of my favorite coffee shops. As a place of commerce subject to the ADA accessibility requirements the handle for this unit must be on the right hand side. Where do we go from here?

The origin of the word sinister is from the latin word meaning “left” (side) which later expanded in middle english to refer to omens observed on the (unlucky) left hand side. (Hey I’m not that smart I looked it up.) This brings all kinds of epistemological considerations into the discussion. Is it possible that the left hand flush is a sinister meme? Discuss.

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