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A few days ago I settled in the UK and noticed that hot tap water was not specific to Heathrow Airport. The only option in some toilets (e.g. in restaurants) is "tooooo hot" water. I cannot touch so hot water for even one second, otherwise it is painful.

push button tap

How can I wash my hands if hot water is the only option?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JoErNanO Oct 6 '18 at 23:45
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    This is a common annoyance in the UK; see also How to use sinks with separate hot/cold taps? for the also-common setup of a scalding hot tap next to a freezing cold tap (answers also include a little background on why mixer taps are less common here) – user568458 Oct 7 '18 at 21:37
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    Regardless of any workaround you might find, it's probably still a good idea to raise the issue with the building management if you have a chance. We've had obnoxious plumbing in the UK for generations, but the tide is starting to turn towards listening to usability and safety concerns, and these are problems that can be fairly easily fixed once someone takes notice. – Joe Lee-Moyet Oct 8 '18 at 8:41

11 Answers 11

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As a British person I can say in this instance I just splash my hands, or move them in and out of the water stream very quickly. I would do in the winter when it is very cold, too, even when both taps are present, because splashing quickly with too hot water is often preferable to ice cold water.

Also try using a different sink, because water usually cools in the pipes and/or takes a while to heat up, so you can often get a few seconds of cooler water if nobody has used the sink for a few minutes.

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    This is what I've always done too. Bit of soap, then splash-rub-splash-rub-splash-rub until it feels clean. If your hands are too dirty for that (e.g. muddy) then plug the sink, fill it a little, splash the boiling death water until it cools down enough your hands don't melt, then use that. Muttering swear words throughout the process helps. – user568458 Oct 7 '18 at 21:44
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If it is not possible to mix with cold water, I would suggest getting some toilet paper wet and use that (afrer cooling down) like wet nappies.

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    paper towels would be even better if there are some available – Kate Gregory Oct 5 '18 at 16:47
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    @Carl Toilet paper is designed to dissolve in water, so it doesn't clog the sewage pipes. Paper towels are designed not to dissolve in water, so they don't fall apart in your hands when wet. – marcelm Oct 5 '18 at 18:18
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    @Chris yes, but as Kate says, paper towels are better – Tim Oct 5 '18 at 23:19
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    @Chris that only works for holding water. The moment you wipe anything, the toilet paper disintegrates and goes everywhere – Nelson Oct 6 '18 at 3:35
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    @Carl "holding water is exactly what you're trying to do" No, we're trying to wash our hands... – David Richerby Oct 6 '18 at 12:44
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If the water temperature hurts you, and there aren't other options, you simply don't wash your hands with that tap. I don't see many solutions... Use an hand sanitizer or some kind of cleaning tissue..

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The general idea is that you plug the sink, and then fill it with both cold and hot water so the temperature in the water in the sink becomes manageable. You then wash your hands in the sink, and unplug it at the end.

However not all sinks can be plugged (especially in public bathrooms), or you don't always have time to do the whole process. If your hand can manage cold water, then one of the way is to form a cup with your hand, fill it with cold water, then quickly move your hand with the cold water in it under the hot water to warm the contents up to a more comfortable temperature - the cold water in your hand will make sure you won't burn yourself. You'll then use the moderate water in your hand to do what you want, and repeat the process until you are done.

If you're in the UK in accommodation where you have access to the boiler (like in some AirBNBs), you can also probably change the water temperature to be more moderate, so the water from the hot taps will not burn your hands outright. Don't forget to ask your landlord first if it's okay to change the settings as well, and note that if the property has a thermostatic shower and not an electric one this might affect it's operation as well. Also this is a short term solution, as the setting should be set back to it's original value occasionally to make sure the water temperature is high enough to kill harmful bacteria

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    Adjusting the boiler temperature shouldn't affect a thermostatic shower. Such showers just mix hot and cold water to get the desired temperature and, if you make the hot water less hot, the thermostat will just mix less cold with it. (Assuming you don't make the hot water colder than the temperature you want to shower at, of course, but that wouldn't really be consistent with the goal, here.) – David Richerby Oct 7 '18 at 23:06
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    Also, soap and cold water is just as good at removing germs as soap and hot water so, if you're in a public bathroom with a cold tap, you can just use that. – David Richerby Oct 7 '18 at 23:07
  • @DavidRicherby unless you set the temperature so low as it's not hot enough for a comfortable shower – SztupY Oct 7 '18 at 23:07
  • Sure but the goal is just to get the temperature cool enough to wash your hands in, so it's unlikely that somebody would crank it down so far that it's too cold to shower. – David Richerby Oct 7 '18 at 23:09
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    A month later, you read in the paper how your airbnb host was implicated in the death of two senior citizens from legionella... – Harper Oct 7 '18 at 23:28
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A metal water bottle may work.

Something like this:
enter image description here

Fill it. It will take a few minutes to cool down but it is an option.

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    Be careful picking up the hot bottle, of course. – David Richerby Oct 7 '18 at 16:03
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If this is a common enough problem for you (and there is no hand sanitizer dispenser), you could carry hand sanitizer with you.

  • Tough at Heathrow, when you have either flown, or are about to fly - so you run into the liquids ban. – Martin Bonner Oct 8 '18 at 6:52
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    @MartinBonner hand sanitiser often comes in small containers anyway e.g. amazon.co.uk/Nilaqua-Alcohol-Free-Hand-Sanitiser/dp/B01MDKOZ3L (first result from a search) that you can take on a flight, or there is the option of sanitising wet-wipes instead. – Baldrickk Oct 8 '18 at 9:54
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I agree with SLC's answer:

As a British person I can say in this instance I just splash my hands, or move them in and out of the water stream very quickly.

Doing something like this also works with a ordinary flame, too, e.g. you can pass a finger quickly through the flame of a candle.

Do it quickly (and repeatedly if necessary): when your hand touches or passes through the water then it will instantly get wet, but not have time to absorb too much heat (note the difference between "temperature" and "heat", e.g. you can touch the outside of a metal kettle at 100C as long as you only do it very briefly).

It's annoying to have to do it (I'd rather have cold or warm water than hot -- having only too-host may be unsafe e.g. for children) but feasible.

This is assuming the temperature is only 60C or so (if it approaches boiling I fear even a drop would scald instantly). This graph ...

enter image description here

Hot Water Burn and Consumer Safety Chart

... suggests that at 65C it will scald ⚠ after 2 seconds -- however a fraction of a second might be safe.

  • The water is kept hot to avoid legionnaires' disease. Stored hot water is supposed to be above 60C and taps are supposed to come up to at least 55C within one minute. – David Richerby Oct 7 '18 at 16:03
  • That's as may be but I still I don't understand it: if it's too hot to touch then I'd prefer it were cold, or mixed with cold. – ChrisW Oct 7 '18 at 16:07
  • @ChrisW Exactly. The position of the US CDC is that cold or warm doesn't make a difference in terms of microbe removal. – user71659 Oct 7 '18 at 23:26
  • That's what mixer taps are for. I don't even remember the last time I saw separate hot and cold taps (even in small Indians out in the countryside) but I don't doubt they're still out there. Certainly surprised to hear the OP encountered them at Heathrow. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 9 '18 at 9:34
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You can rapidly cool the water by turning it into a mist. You can do this by putting a spoon under the tap. The reason it works is because you are increasing the surface area of the water which has greater contact with the cooler air around it.

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    1) A spoon won't turn water into anything like a mist. 2) How am I supposed to wash my hands and hold a spoon at the same time? 3) Who on earth brings a spoon into a public bathroom anway? – David Richerby Oct 6 '18 at 12:43
  • 1) A spoon is just an example, a spray nozzle would be better. 2) You can just put it in the sink you don't have to hold it, or just hold it with your mouth. 3) I've brought crazier things to a bathroom so a spoon to me isn't something out of the ordinary.. Maybe a survey is needed to figure this out. – Gediminas Bernatonis Oct 6 '18 at 14:58
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    1) How can I use a spray nozzle without replumbing the bathroom? 2) If I put it in the bottom of the sink and let the tap water fall onto it, it'll spray everywhere; if I hold it in my mouth then *boggle* are you serious? – David Richerby Oct 6 '18 at 16:19
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    1) There are such things as screw on nozzle attachments. Some sinks may or may not have the ability for those to work. 2) Just put the spoon in the sink and turn the sink real quick and gain some distance. 3) I'm not one to judge on technique but "boggling" may be very effective. – Gediminas Bernatonis Oct 6 '18 at 16:30
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Carry a small (100-200ml) plastic spray bottle with you. Fill it slowly then spray it on your hands. The spray will be a lot cooler than the water. Of course you'll have to carefully rinse of the outside of the bottle between hands and when you've finished to ensure removal of cross contamination from your hands (because the outside of the bottle will have touched the hand you haven't washed yet).

Water has to legally be 'stored' at higher than comfortable temperature to obviate the risk of legionnaires' disease, but cold water is almost always available, perhaps you were unlucky or the facility was broken. If you are unable to properly was your hands in an eating establishment after using the toilet that raises more serious health and safety issues about the establishment. If you didn't you should have left a written comment for the management.

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There is sometimes a hand sanitizer dispenser that you can use instead of the taps. I'm not sure I'd claim it's common, but there are enough places that have them that it's worth looking out for. Often, it'll be in some random place on the wall, like by the door.

Alternatively, if there is a cold tap at the sink, you can just wash your hands with that. Soap and cold water is just as effective at killing germs as soap and hot water.

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There's usually a cold tap right next to the hot tap. My strategy is to cup my hands, fill them with cold water and add just enough hot water for the mix to be at a comfortable temperature.

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    "hot water is the only option" - that implies to me that there is no cold tap. This isn't unusual in my experience of public toilets. – AndyT Oct 8 '18 at 13:13

protected by JonathanReez Oct 8 '18 at 2:26

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