Who will clean the toilets?

Discussions about basic income and sometimes immigration devolve into a discussion about how the unpleasant work of society will be done if coercion of some form is not required for people to do work. The phrase I have most frequently seen used is “who will clean the toilets?”, which I have mostly encountered on Hacker News and Reddit.  

The assumption in this statement is that toilet cleaning is a required activity and we will need to be spending as much time cleaning toilets in the future as we currently do.  While I admit that a certain amount of toilet cleaning will likely always be required, toilets, as they are designed, are very hostile to sanitation. 

Consider this public washroom in Calgary that inspired this blog post. The toilet has a lot of surfaces, hard edges, and places that urine and splashing poop flakes could hide.

A toilet I encountered while exploring in downtown Calgary

Or consider the hinges.

Under the toilet was difficult to even get a photograph of. I was kneeling to just get the bowl. Luckily the floor was clean in that case.

Or consider the shelf in the washroom. While an excellent idea to give people a place to put a coat, phone, or purse, the shelf design of a glass plate on top of the base shelf leads to a place where garbage, dust, and gunk can accumulate.

I struggle to believe that if the designers of that washroom and its components were tasked with cleaning it, they would have designed any element of the washroom the way that they did. Nothing about the design accommodated easy cleaning.

And this was a mall bathroom, where most patrons are clean, sober, and not really intent on mischief. A bathroom in a stadium, a university, or a school would require even more cleaning given who the washrooms serve.

Now, many will argue that toilet cleaning is not meant to be taken as a literal task, but rather as a representation of the many unpleasant tasks that exist, but again, how many of those tasks are only done that way because human labour is so cheap that nobody needs to consider ways to conserve it? 

So, who will clean the toilets? Let’s first see if toilets really need so many people spending so much time cleaning them. 

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