A real reason to criticize British two tap sinks

There’s a mini epidemic of Norovirus where I live in the UK, and the CDC’s best advice for avoiding it is to wash your hands thoroughly and often, with lots of soap and lots of warm water. Anyone ever tried to do this with British sinks, in which the hot and cold taps are separate, such that you can’t possibly hold your soapy hands under the running water to rinse? Absolutely diabolical. I’ve come to the realization that personal hygeine in the form of hand-washing in the UK is not common, as this is already my second brush with this particular virus (characterized by projectile vomiting, lovely!) since moving to the UK. The fact that the “fecal-oral route” is the most prevalent means of transmitting the virus makes me feel sick. Previously I only heard about it from cruise ships or nursing homes. But with two tap sinks, it’s no wonder that the virus spreads so easily… and let’s not mention population density. Flying over the UK you see vast amounts of green followed by tiny and densely-packed towns. The UK is lucky that SARS has not been a problem here _yet_ since the local population density is certainly conducive to the spread of communicable diseases. My plan for the weekend? Stay inside, continue to wash hands frequently, no matter how painful, with my hot-and-cold water taps, and hope for the best. Drinking only bottled water and eating only self-prepared food. The virus got me last time, but I hope that it won’t make it into my tiny flat this time.

41 responses to “A real reason to criticize British two tap sinks

  1. It’s not their Britishness that makes them two-tap sinks, it’s their oldness. We have many a double spigot here in Philly, but we also have lots of adapters that plug into each of the two taps and effectively funnel the output into a single stream. You may want to look into whether you can find one for your Goldilocks (too-hot-too-cold) sink.

  2. Yes, except when we recently underwent renovations at work to create state of the art labs, they put in brand new two-tap sinks. There is something traditional there that is not associated with technology!

  3. Funnily enough, only today I was talking to someone about how great mixer taps are. In Britain, even where there are mixer taps, they don’t seem very good – perhaps our water pressure is lower or something. The best thing to do, I’ve always found, is to turn on the hot, and use it quickly before it’s become too hot. If you’re not quick enough, you have to turn on the cold, and swing your hands between the two.

    Or you can put in the non-existent plug (they are always missing in public restrooms), and fill the basin.

    But on hand-washing, I have to disagree with you. I have never never ever in my life seen anyone leave a restroom in Britain without washing their hands. Here, I have done (today, for example), and once someone congratulated me on teaching my daughter to wash hers. I said “doesn’t everyone?” (this was in my early days), and she replied “you’d hope so, but it doesn’t seem so”.

    Stay well.

  4. The Two-Tap system is a favortie complaint of mine, but in the kitchen, where there is one faucet, it still doesn’t help. It seems the hot and cold water come out of the faucet in separate places, which leads to the interesting experience of scalding your hands while freezing them at the same time.

  5. Keep well but just don’t get paranoid.

    When I used to be in aviation there was always concern about this (we used to call it Norwalk then). People think of it related to cruise ships only because they have to report it by law. The airlines don’t.

    Must admit I prefer a mixer in the bathroom and two taps in the kitchen. Just seems more convenient when cooking etc.

  6. The Victorians built a water and sewage system which was the envy of the world – at least it was when it was built – it’s showing its age a bit now :-(.

    Water in British houses first goes into a tank in the loft – from which it then goes to the rest of the house. I believe that this is for two reasons (but await correction). Firstly, it reduces the pressure – so the pipes in the house don’t need to be so strong, and second, it prevents water siphoning from the house back into the mains were the main water supply in the event of a loss of mains pressure.

    Because of the possibility of contamination of the water in the loft tank (and the fact that it could sit there for days), drinking water from the kitchen tap comes straight from the mains – however again order to avoid the siphoning back, the taps are designed not to mix hot and cold within the body of the tap itself.

    I’ve got a mixer tap in my bathroom, but it is perhaps only something you realise you miss once you have experienced it.

  7. Chris explained it very well. Even with mixer taps in the UK the hot and cold water remain separate!

    I was always taught that I would get sick if I drank water from the hot tap – because it had been sitting stewing in the tank.

    I use Iota’s technique for handwashing.

  8. Chris, that was fascinating, and I’m not just saying that. Now I know why, but it’s still annoying.

  9. I’m not sure if Chris’s brilliant analysis applies where I live, however, as it is not a house and has a huge boiler room. For that reason, the “try to wash fast before the water heats up” also doesn’t seem to apply, as the water coming out of the taps seems to be quite hot quite fast. What I end up doing is turning on both the hot and cold and swishing my hands back and forth between scald-freeze-scald-freeze…

  10. Oh dear G0d!

    We Brits are all going to die because we couldn’t give a rat’s ar*se about mixer taps!

    We failed to listen to the Americans’ insistence that Life, Liberty, Mixer Taps, Insect Screens, Drive-In Fridges, Brown Sugared-Water, Sub-Prime Beef Patties, Gruesome pork-remnant Sausages, Cheese that is the Mockery of the World, ghastly and gas-guzzling cars, superbly competent politicians like Dubya, and the pursuit of Happiness were the panacea for all ills.

    But seriously, life expectancy (if you choose to google it) is actually slightly better here than it is in the States. Possibly separate taps are not a factor.

    Still, it is interesting to think that the ancestors of modern Americans crossed forests, mountains, rivers, deserts, in all conditions of weather. Did they complain about any particular wasbasin arrangement? (I think not.)

    Nice work, NFAH, in your anti-British crusade, but no cigar.

  11. > My plan for the weekend? Stay inside, continue to wash hands frequently, no matter how painful, with my hot-and-cold water taps, and hope for the best.

    Oh Jeeze yes!

    Even breathing (try not to do this) is a certain death-warrant. Have you tried crystals? Acu-siliness? Aromoboll0x? Prayer? Have you tried waving monkey bones around (could be fun!) Or are you just trying to annoy people?

    Is it possible that Americans are susceptible to medical stupidity more than Europeans?

    Please do say — I so look forward to your answr!

  12. Howard, there were cleaning crews in full body suits with biohazard bins around cleaning up all day yesterday–it was like a scene from “Outbreak”.

    If you dislike me or my writing or content of this blog so much (since you continue to post comments that are not in the friendly spirit of this blog, but instead tends towards vitriol) why do you continue to read this and comment at all?

  13. NFAH,
    I believe that hot water in large buildings is kept particularly hot to avoid the danger of Legionaires’ disease.

    Perhaps “Health and safety” had a point when they banned microwaves in your office – particularly if there was no money to pay for them to be cleaned.

  14. > If you dislike me or my writing

    Oh dear. I don’t dislike either you or your writing, NFAH.

    Sometimes what you write is so strange that it seems to be deliberately provoking a response from your readers, so I try to oblige. Some of your posts are so very bizarre that I suspect their intent is satirical; in these cases, as above, I attempt to reply in the same vein. Surely you as a scientist/engineer would not really believe without evidence that there is a correlation between Novovirus and Brits’ disdain for mixer taps (unlike Americans, we have not yet been hoodwinked into believing them to be the pinnacle of western civilization): you were being humorous, yes?

  15. The instructions on dealing with norovirus included washing one’s hands in warm water, which was clearly inconsistent with British sinks of the two tap sort. I truly do think the lack of mixer taps is inconsistent with this instruction, although Howard you are correct that in general my tongue is firmly in cheek as concerns much of my life in the UK!

  16. a) you put the plug in the basin
    b) you turn on the cold tap and the warm tap and let the basin fill until your mixture of hot and cold is is to your liking (ie, warm)
    c) you wash your hands with soap in this warm water
    d) you disengage the plug and empty the basin
    e) you either repeat (a) – (c) to rinse your hands in warm water
    f) or you rinse them in refreshing cold water, if you’re not a sissy
    g) or you do (e) followed by (f).

    It’s not rocket science!

  17. pacificyorkshirebird

    Well what a coincidence, I had just remembered your post about your temporary housing (and mixer tap) during work to your current place after seeing this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv-Pi3RKY68

    Thought I’d try to find the post, but saw this one first. Disturbing to the point it is funny!

    Still love your blog as much as ever!

  18. I hate those seperate taps. How annoying of them!

  19. yeah Howard. I’d like to see you follow that procedure in a public toilet god knows how clean it would be.

    those painstakingly annoying seperate water tap is so widespread yet no brits were able to give me a proper answer. some would say “oh well i guess it’s a way of keeping our tradition.” whattttt?

    god damn it there should be a national scheme run by uk government to ban all those useless yet impractical separate water taps and revert ones that are already in places.

    bloody Brits just never seem to learn typically cynical and miserable people.

  20. Godda, are you a supporter of Sarah Palin?

  21. I spent a year in the UK and was left with a low impression. Overall an ugly place with cold and arrogant people who think that their country is the center of the universe. There were some nice people but most were double-faced pretending to be friendly yet just fake. That’s just my personal opinion even if it’s a total generalization.

  22. Pippi, I am sure there will be many people even happier than you that you are no longer in the UK!

  23. The same story in Ireland, and Irish people pretend that’s something normal! Another example of Copy/Paste from the British Impire!

  24. I think Brits do want be different from other countries. They drive on right, They have 2 separated taps in basin and sinks, and when in the sink there is a 2 into 1 fixed (and you think nice I can have a lovely hand wash now) it’s not mixed at all because the water runs into 2 separated chambers that don’t mix at the end ( I would pay to meet the engineer who designed that useless solution, and more then anything I would like to know how someone can actually buy something like that).
    But my favourite finding is the door knobs latch locks and every time you walk in and out from a place to another you will have to work out how to open the doors as they have some interesting kind of locks different from place to place that they don’t work (and then they worry so much about fire escaping). Also in Britain you will have to learn how to go to toilet in the dark as if you happen to be in a rush to go for a… you might not workout how to switch the light on (sometimes it’s outside on the right and the door open from the left or inside chained to the celing etc etc).
    And why in the rest of the world there is an electric socket in the bathroom in Britan it’s never there?
    But there is more and more like carpet in the bathroom or worst in the kitchens.
    And what about streets? sometimes there is the name on it sometimes there only at the begining sometimes it’s hidden by vegetation sometimes it’s not there and you are left only by asking someone who might know where you are. But once you find the street what about the number? sometimes there are on the doors sometimes there are not. If there are then you might not finding the number because it might be on the same block around the corner in onother street name. Or sometimes odd numbers are on the left and even numbers on the right. But sometimes they go from 1 2 3 4 … and comemback from the opposite side 5 6 7 8 …
    The list goese on and on and on I just don’t have the time to write the all lot.
    But the question is why?
    There is and old wise say… that says if you cannot improve it you con always copy.

  25. Freakin’ Yanks! Try this: put the plug in, turn both taps on (medium setting), mix till desired temperature achieved, turn off taps. Now grab the soap (or squirt some liquid soap) and hey presto! Clean, un-scalded hands!

  26. Fabio has spoken the words right out of my mouth. And smoky ball, you stupid british twat: move in to the 21st century. The basin argument is flawed and pathetic. Please find another excuse for your lame old fashioned behavior. Now I dont have problem with being old fashioned, but seriously not having a mixer is just plain STUPID. Having two taps just shows how illogical the british are. And dont even get me started on the whole Carpet in the kitchen part. Stupid british. But I guess cant blame them, all they do is drink and fart and cut out the middle letters of every word so when they speak, they sound like mentally retarded.

  27. I disagree it’s all about the old buildings and installations.
    My friends got a new house and she was terrified when she discovered there were two taps everywhere (her husband signed all final papers and he didn’t mind two taps). She didn’t know they still install two taps nowadays.
    And actually there’s a great selection of two taps in the shops, I also heard it’s THE CHEAPEST to install 2 taps instead of one mixer tap (there should be a part that actually mixes cold and hot water in the process, decent tap costs a bit).
    To me the two tap thing is absolutely stupid – burning hot or freezing cold and unhygienic for many reasons. After brushing their teeth – do all people clean the sink? No, they just rinse it and it means there is another person who puts the plug in the sink, pours water onto that and happily washes his/her face.
    I do that mixing “trick” in hand thing which makes me wash my face and hands less frequently, as my hands are freezing (cold first) and many times I still put hot water onto my face (well, tiny hands – can’t mix water well in them). I also noticed I don’t rinse the dishes or vegetables in the kitchen as long as I would normally do with lukewarm (or at least not freezing!) water.

  28. I found this blog while looking for somewhere to buy a new two tap basin for our bathroom.

    We want a two tap system because they don’t get in the way. Mixer taps stop you washing your hair in the basin.

    Howard and Smokey ball are quite correct: nobody needs a mixer tap.

  29. I’m with you. I lived abroad for 8 years (UK and France) and I hated the two tap system, and I am really not a complainer. I love the UK but the two tap thing is hands down, absolutely idiotic. Scald, freeze, scald, freeze. What the hell? It’s the 21st century. I won’t miss those silly taps but I will miss London,


  31. Michael, why don’t get a shower, that is another great invention, like the mixer tap.

  32. Oh God – poor guy says “mixer gets in his way when he washes his hair IN THE BASIN”. Hahaha!
    I’m from Poland and in my country only people from the dark ages type villages (with no water system installed) do the “basin washing” – and they do that only because they are FORCED TO! How they dream of running water and not having to wash in a basin…
    To add to the argument, the lack of running water (and consequently having to wash in a basin) is probably the single most straight sign of recognising one’s poverty (or staying behind) in PL!
    Well done, Britain – stay British (and stay in the dark ages). πŸ˜‰

  33. you do realise bottled water in UK is a effing waste? it’s not mexico

    • When there’s an epidemic of a communicable disease and a chance that the main water supply has been contaminated, you either have to boil your water before drinking or drink bottled. Even in the UK.

  34. 1) how hygienic can mixing the water in basin be? imagine the following:
    your hands are covered with dog shit. you fill in the basin. you wash your hands using soap. leaving what? water full of shit. would you take out your hands and dry them, thinking they are clean? looks like regular British would. not me. say you repeat the process a few times (I do not mention the fact the taps would get covered with shit as well). what happens? unless you thoroughly clean the basin every single bloody time, you are still washing your hands – in a shit.
    and therefore here comes
    2) the solution to UK-victorian style of hygiene!

  35. We Brits brought the world great exports of slavery, war, language attrition, unstable puppet governments, Ricki Gervais and Piers Morgan and Americans insist that our greatest crime was having two taps instead of one?

    We can see who are the ‘special’ ones in this relationship.

    Okay, mental dissability joke, not cool, but overall entertaining blog post and totally out of proportion comments.

  36. Marion Taylor

    1) Even with a mixer tap system you have to turn the water on. Assuming you don’t use your knees or elbows to do it, then you will use your shitty hands. Then you get shit-splashes all over your basin, same as you would if you were washing hands in a basin of water. So you will still have to clean the shit off your basin and taps. If you disagree, then you are a filthy pig, as well as stupid.

    2) Yep, Brit hygiene is so substandard that we are dropping dead by the millions on a daily basis. Not.

  37. Having two taps is great you can sort the water flow out and if hot is not too hot you do not need the cold on.
    Also if one tap fails you always have water out of the other fair more practical than just a single tap that cannot take the pressure in a bathroom

  38. Currently I’m looking for a flat in Sheffield, and if the flat has a two tapped sink, I just don’t rent it πŸ™‚

  39. I dont know about you guys but I clean my house with bleach(yes a word not entirely familiar with all the uk public) twice a week…I highly doubt all the English people on here supporting the basin technique, bleach their bathrooms everyday…ONLY if you do bleach your bathroom everyday may I agree that filling up your basin with water and washing your,hands,face teeth ect in it is hygienic. Another thing that I find entirely sickening is washing your plates in the same water you leave them to soak in and then sponging them with fairy liquid BUT NOT RINSING THE SOAP OFF!!!I have NEVER seen this done anywhere else in the world! Its disgusting. Soap is made of enzymes that “attracts” grease and bacteria. These attach themselves to the soap and you rinse it off with clean hot water so that your plates are squeaky clean. If you leave the soap on the plate it just means you have dried up soap and shit still on your plate the next time you eat!!!

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