One of the drawbacks of flying is that you're sharing the lavatory with a couple of hundred people of unknown hygiene standards, and the thing won't be properly cleaned again until the plane touches down. To make the airborne germaphobe a bit more comfortable and the facilities more hygienic, Boeing has created a self-cleaning airliner lavatory that uses non-touch technology and ultraviolet light that's claimed to kill 99.99 percent of germs in three seconds.

The prototype lavatory, which is still under development, uses a hands-free door latch, faucet, soap dispenser, rubbish flap, toilet lid and seat, and hand dryer, so the patron touches the surfaces as little as possible. In addition, there's a vacuum vent system for the floor to suck away particulates.

Backing this up is a series of ultraviolet lighting strips that activate when the passenger leaves the cubicle. This is the same Far UV light found in medical sterilization systems, air cleaners, and vacuum cleaners. The lighting is extremely damaging to living cells and destroys germs in seconds. Boeing says that there's a safety system that prevents the lights from activating if someone is in the lavatory and that the toilet lid automatically lifts itself, so all surfaces are irradiated.

"We're trying to alleviate the anxiety we all face when using a restroom that gets a workout during a flight," says Jeanne Yu, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Director of Environmental Performance. "In the prototype, we position the lights throughout the lavatory so that it floods the touch surfaces like the toilet seat, sink, and countertops with the UV light once a person exits the lavatory. This sanitizing even helps eliminate odors."

Boeing's Clean Lavatory is a finalist for a Crystal Cabin Award at the Hamburg Aircraft Interiors Expo running from April 5 to 7.