There are two types of urinals, single person or multiple persons. A single urinal is designed for one man standing upright. The multiple man urinal is in a trough style and can accommodate more people. Community urinals are less common in the western world, but urinals like the one on the right still appear throughout the world.
Public urinals are normally designed for use while standing upright, and often contain a deodorizing urinal cake contained within a plastic mesh guard container or a plastic mesh guard without a urinal cake. The plastic mesh guard is designed to prevent solid objects (such as cigarette butts, feces, chewing gum, or paper) from being flushed and possibly causing a plumbing stoppage.
The term may also apply to a small building or other structure, in which such toilets are contained. It can also refer to a small container where urine can be collected for medical purposes, or for use where access to toilet facilities is not possible, such as in small aircraft or for the bedridden.
Because of the simplicity sometimes no other facilities than urinals are offered, e.g. on the street.
In Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Canada and some parts of Sweden and Finland, manual flush handles are unusual. Instead, the traditional system is a timed flush that operates automatically at regular intervals. Groups of up to ten or so urinals will be connected to a single overhead cistern, which contains the timing mechanism. A constant drip-feed of water slowly fills the cistern, until a tripping point is reached, the valve opens (or a siphon begins to drain the cistern), and all the urinals in the group are flushed. Electronic controllers performing the same function are also used.
This system does not require any action from its users, but it is wasteful of water where the toilets are used irregularly. However, in these countries men are so used to the automatic system, attempts to install manual flushes to save water are generally unsuccessful. Users ignore them not through deliberate laziness or fear of infection, but because activating the flush is not habitual.
To help reduce water usage when restrooms are closed, some restrooms with timed flushing use an electric water valve connected to the restroom light switch. When the building is in active use during the day and the lights are on, the timed flush operates normally. At night when the building is closed, the lights are turned off and the flushing action stops.
A flushing system connected to the opening of the washroom door can count the number of users and operate when the count reaches a certain value. At night, the door never opens, so flushing never occurs.
Electronic automatic flushes solve the problems of both previous approaches, and are common in new installations. Active or (more usually) passive infrared sensors identify when the urinal has been used (or when someone has stood in front of it and moved away), and activate the flush. Thus the urinal is cleaned, where with a manual flush it might not have been, but water is not wasted when the toilet is not used.
Automatic flush facilities can be retrofitted to existing systems. The handle-operated valves of a manual system can be replaced with a suitably-designed self-contained electronic valve, often battery-powered to avoid the need to add cables. Timed-flush installations may add a device that regulates the water flow to the cistern according to the overall activity detected in the room. This does not provide true per-fixture automatic flushing, but is simple and cheap to add because only one device is required for the whole system.
To prevent false-triggering of the automatic flush, most infra-red detectors require that a presence be detected for at least five seconds, such as when a person is standing in front of it. This prevents a whole line of automatic flush units from triggering in series if someone just walks past them.
The automatic flush mechanism also typically waits for the presence to go out of sensor range before flushing. This reduces water usage, compared to a sensor that would trigger a continuous flushing action all the while a presence is being detected.
A more recent innovation is urinals that do not use water at all. Models introduced by Waterless Company in 1992 and others in 2001 by Falcon Waterfree Technologies and Sloan Valve Company, as well as Duravit, utilize a trap insert filled with a sealant liquid instead of water. The lighter-than-water sealant floats on top of the urine collected in the U-bend, preventing odors from being released into the air. Although the cartridge and sealant must be periodically replaced, the system saves anywhere between 15,000 and 45,000 gallons (approx. between 56,800 and 170,000 liters) of water per urinal per year. Other companies do not use a cartridge; instead they have developed an outlet system that traps the odor, preventing the smell often present in toilet blocks. They can be installed in high-traffic facilities and in situations where providing a water supply may be difficult or where water conservation is desired. Due to high-level water restrictions, Brisbane has mandated conversion to waterless urinals and flush urinals are rarely seen.
In March 2006, the Associated Press reported that the plumbers union in Philadelphia had become upset because the developer of the city's newest skyscraper, Liberty Property Trust, has decided to use waterless urinals. Many in the union decided that because of the decision that this would lead to less work for them. The developer cited saving the city 1.6 million gallons (approx 6.06 million liters) of water per year as its deciding factor.
Urinals in high capacity men's washrooms are usually arranged in one or more rows. Those in the street may come in sets arranged in a circle, with all men facing the center, with screens high enough that men cannot wet each other, and usually high enough that they even cannot look over it. In a street urinal with outside screen or wall the men may stand back to back.
Urinals used for high throughput capacity are part of an efficiently designed washroom architecture. For this reason, one seldom finds an individual urinal. Instead, large numbers of them are installed along a common supply pipe and drain. They are always out in the open so that those using them are in plain sight to everyone in the room. They are usually located in the traffic pattern of the room so there is little to no privacy at a urinal. There may be small partitions for privacy but they only serve the purpose of hiding the exposed private area. The rest of the person will be in plain view. Also, the urinals may be spaced far apart to create an air of comfort. Where urinals are more closely arranged, some men follow the so-called "1-3-5 rule," under which men only occupy the odd-numbered urinals, thus leaving the even ones to serve as barriers. Of course, this rule can be followed only when the facility's instantaneous usage is low enough to permit using only every other urinal. However, men will generally stare straight ahead at the wall or down into their own urinal rather than at a man at an adjacent urinal. Urinals will generally not be placed straight inside the door of the bathroom so that people cannot see men and boys urinating from the door.
Often, one or two of the urinals, typically at one end of a long row of urinals, will be mounted lower than the others; they are meant for young boys and other males who cannot reach the regular urinals. In facilities where males of various heights are present, such as schools, urinals that extend down to floor level may be used to allow anyone of any height to use any urinal. Individual single-user facilities usually do not have a urinal, and instead have just one toilet.
Once used exclusively in commercial or institutional washrooms, urinals for private home installation are now available. They offer the advantage of substantial savings of water in homes with multiple male occupants.
In some localities, urinals may be located on public sidewalks or in public areas such as parks. These urinals are usually equipped with partitions for the sake of privacy. They may or may not be equipped with flush mechanisms.
Urinals have been recently used for public sex by gays. The signals whistling while rotating the index finger indicating wanting sex in the cubicles. The police have picked up on this and have be on the look out for this new crime.
A city famous for its street urinals is Paris, France. Until the 1990s, street urinals were a common sight in the city, and in the 1930s more than 1200 were in service. Parisians referred to them as vespasiennes, the name being derived from that of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who imposed a tax on urine. Beginning in the 1990s, the vespasiennes (renowned for their smell and lack of hygiene) were gradually replaced by the far superior Sanisettes. Today only one vespasienne remains in the city (on the boulevard Arago), and it is still regularly used. They still exist in other French cities, and in other countries.
See also Public toilets.
Nearly all urinals are intended for use by males, but a few have been designed for use by women. From 1950 to 1974, the American Standard company offered the mass-produced "Ladies' Home Urinal." It did not provide significant advantages over conventional toilets, because it used just as much floor space and flushing water. Its main selling point was that women could use the fixture without touching it.
Several other designs have been tried since then, but they either required the user to hover awkwardly or to bring her genitals into close contact with the fixture. Most have not caught on. Current clothes fashion such as panty hose and slacks inhibit women from using them because they don't want their garments to touch the urinals or the floor. Often, women have little experience with them and don't know whether to approach them forward or backward.
More recently, models that use specialized funnels have been introduced, with some success, at outdoor festivals (to reduce cycle times and alleviate long lines).
A McDonald's restaurant in the Netherlands removed them after an American complained to the U.S. head office.
Some manufacturers of urinals are: