The Question Every Man Wants Answered: Why is There Ice in the Urinal?

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Ladies may not be aware of this, but in many bars and restaurants, bartenders, as well as cleaning workers, place broken ice in urinals. It has nothing to do with chilling the urinal or giving guys something to aim at while using the urinal. It's all about odor control and it's been a common practice for over 100 years.

The urinal was developed in 1886 by Andre Rankin, who referred to his invention as "the best thing on earth." While most users did not necessarily believe it was the best thing on earth, they certainly did believe it came in handy. But soon after his new invention found a home in all types of public facilities, including bars and restaurants, building owners realized they had a problem: these early urinals developed odor problems with use, an issue that still exists today.

So, Rankin and other inventors went back to the drawing board. What developed next, often using sugar, molasses, syrup, chloride of soda, water, and a compound called naphthalene, were the first urinal blocks.

Placing the blocks at the base of the urinal helped to eliminate many malodors and even provided a slight but pleasant fragrance. However, by the early 1900s, scientists discovered that the naphthalene used in some of these urinal blocks could destroy red blood cells when inhaled in large quantities. As a result, this invention—specifically, the urinal blocks with naphthalene—was slowly phased out.

The problem of urinal odors continued unchecked until Prohibition provided a solution. Throughout the Roaring Twenties, alcohol had to be delivered secretly to speakeasies around the country. To keep it cold while in transit, tons of ice were used. The old ice could not be tossed into alleys or on the street—not without attracting the attention of cops, anyway—so it was thrown into urinals. What speakeasy owners soon found out was that this practice also helped eliminate odors. We now know that the ice helped freeze the odor-causing molecules in urine, which helped prevent odors from being released.

The practice of placing ice in urinals in bars and restaurants is still fairly common. However, we now have far more effective ways to eliminate malodors in urinals, no matter where they are installed. A new generation of urinal screens releases a variety of pleasant fragrances for a month at a time. After that, the screens can be replaced with a fresh urinal screen. Many of these screens also come in attractive colors. So now, not only do men's rooms smell better, but they look better as well.

It's a good thing these urinal screens are now available. Ice machines commonly found in bars and restaurants are coming under much closer scrutiny because they traditionally have not used water and electricity efficiently. In the future, it's likely ice will be used not in urinals but for its intended purpose: to keep drinks cold. For more information on Impact's complete line of washroom care products, contact an Impact representative.