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The Weekly’s covert, high-risk, ridiculously serious investigation into the subject no one wants to talk about: urinal splash pads

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Rick Lax solves the case of the ineffective Anti-Splash urine guard.
Rick Lax

I hadn’t given much thought to urine splash before I peed in Encore Las Vegas. The urinal I used had a blue, Velcro-like mat against its back wall and another atop its drain cover. These mats are called “Splash Guards” and they’re meant to reduce urine splash. There’s just one problem: They don’t. But don’t take my word for it; ask the khaki pants I was wearing.

A couple Mojitos later, I gave the Splash Guards a second chance. Same result. If anything, I noticed an increase in urine splash. So either my stream is somehow fundamentally different from that of most men or Steve Wynn got ripped off.

The day after what I’ve come to refer to as “Urinegate,” I e-mailed Becky Nathan, guest relations manager at Encore Las Vegas. I told her about the Splash Guards, about my khaki pants, and in an unprecedented display of maturity, I refrained from using the term “pissed off.” I asked Nathan whether the Splash Guards had ever been tested by Encore, by Steve Wynn, by their manufacturer, or by anyone.

Nathan wrote me back promptly: “I want to personally thank you for taking the time to share your comments regarding Encore. You have certainly demonstrated loyalty to our resort and the feedback you provide is invaluable. I have forwarded your concerns regarding the splash guards in our men’s rooms to our management team for review.”

While waiting to hear back from Encore’s management team, I whizzed by some other casinos to see what, if anything, they did to combat urine splash. What I saw shocked me…

O’Sheas Casino turned urination into a game: “PISS OFF! The Ultimate Pissing Contest.” For 25 cents, O’Sheas restroom patrons can answer the age-old question: “Can you piss more than Uncle Billy Bob?” The wall-mounted coin-operated machine portrays Uncle Billy Bob as a single-toothed redhead farmer wearing overalls and a trucker hat. He’s holding a beer bottle, and if you can produce 20 ounces of pee, well, urine luck; the bottle lights up.

Las Vegas Hilton takes a similarly cavalier attitude towards matters urinary. Above the urinals at Hilton you’ll find life-size photographs of women reacting to men’s genitalia. Above one urinal, a woman in an asymmetric black dress holds out a tape measure, her mouth agape. Above a second, a blonde woman wearing a midriff-baring red top smiles like a kid at a candy store and snaps a photo. Above a third, a disappointed looking brunette in pink holds her thumb an inch away from the first finger.

Nobody was peeing at the third urinal.

I visited nearly every bathroom on the Strip, but the only Splash Guards I came across were the ones at Encore and Wynn. Maybe Mr. Wynn is the one guy in Vegas cognizant of the urine splash crisis, or maybe, when it comes to urinals, the guy’s a spendthrift.

A dozen Splash Guards cost $70. Anti-Splash International, the company that manufactures the mats, recommends changing them every one-to-two weeks. If Encore and Wynn have 100 urinals between them (a conservative estimate), and if they change the mats as recommended, it would cost the two hotels over $20,000 a year—and that figure doesn’t even include the cost of paying restroom attendants to change the mats.

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Anti Splash International

I found that pricing information on the Anti-Splash International website, AntiSplash.com. The site’s PRODUCT OVERVIEW section says that Splash Guards “control the spread of public health organisms” and “prevent splash back of urine onto clothing,” but offers no proof of either claim. I e-mailed Anti-Splash International and asked, “What kind of testing have you done on your test guards?”

“If you could be more specific,” an Anti-Splash administrator responded, “we would be happy to answer any questions.”

The question seemed straightforward to me, but I expanded it nonetheless: “How, exactly, do you know that the Splash Guards reduce urine splash? For instance, have you ever set up a test in which you streamed liquid into a urinal with a Splash Guard, one without a Splash Guard, and then measured how much liquid rebounded from each?”

No response. Fast forward a couple of days. I still hadn’t heard back from the Anti-Splash administrator (nor from Becky Nathan at Encore), so I resolved to take matters into my own hands. I stuffed a couple of trash bags in my briefcase, bought a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves from Vons and drove to Encore to swipe a Splash Guard so I could perform my own testing.*

The bathroom was empty when I walked in, but still, I had to act fast. Somebody could enter at any second, and that somebody could be an attendant or a security guard. I dashed into the far stall, opened my briefcase and slipped on the gloves. I approached the nearest urinal, reached inside, and pulled out the dripping, urine-soaked Splash Guard. I dashed back into the stall and dunked the Guard into the toilet bowl 10 or 20 times to “clean” it. I rang out the mat, wrapped it inside the trash bags, and stuffed the bundle back into my briefcase. I washed my hands (like a dozen times), and walked back to my car feeling just like Danny Ocean at the end of the movie, only dirtier.

When I got home, I discovered this terribly-timed e-mail from the Anti-Splash administrator: “Rick, if you give me your location, I can direct you to one of our customers that is near you and you can try our product out yourself.”

I replied that I’d already “obtained” a Splash Guard myself, but that I would still like to see specific information of product testing nonetheless.

Then I moved into Phase 2.

I removed the lid of my bedroom toilet, carried it outside and rested it against a tree. I poked a straw through a piece of paper towel, took a swig of Black Cherry Kool-Aid and spat the liquid through the straw, against the porcelain. Four or five droplets splashed off the porcelain and onto the paper towel. Next I taped the Splash Guard against the toilet lid and repeated the blow test. Once again, four or five droplets splashed back.

Based on my informal test, the Splash Guards did not reduce backsplash. It definitely reduced perpendicular splash, but I think most men actually enjoy watching their urine dissipate against a smooth porcelain backdrop. I should also note that the Splash Guard did not increase urine splash, as I’d originally suspected. Perhaps I just perceived an increase in urine splash because yellow liquid shows up better against a blue background than against a white one.

Sure, my test falls a little short of Consumer Reports standards, but to the best of my knowledge, it’s the most scientific test performed on the Splash Guards to date; consider this e-mail from the Anti-Splash administrator:

“As far as quantifying the precise amount, I don’t have that information at hand, but I can probably get it if you really need it. I personally have run an informal and unscientific test for my own curiosity, though. I just taped a piece of construction paper near a board, which I hung one of our backguards on, and then had at the pad with my kid’s super-soaker. I then counted the drops on the paper. I tried it again without the backguard and was disgusted by how much splash back there was ... Just as a rough estimate, I would say conservatively that at least 90 percent of the mist (yeah you’re breathing that stuff!) that comes off an unprotected surface is eliminated, and almost all of the larger droplets were contained.”

I responded and said that I really did want to see information quantifying the precise amount. I never heard back, and until I do, I’ve got to believe that no such information exists. I admit that my test was no more scientific than that of the Anti-Splash administrator. But consider the tester; objectivity is on my side.

I never heard back from Becky Nathan at Encore, either. The Splash Guards are still in the Wynn and Encore urinals—including the one I swiped (I returned it one Saturday afternoon). Wynn and Encore might be the most gorgeous hotels on the strip, and I’m not going to stay away from them over such a trivial matter. But until they take out the Splash Guards, I’ll be keeping my khaki ants at home in the closet.

Notice how there’s no “p” in them? I’d like to keep it that way.

*The Weekly, of course, does not, as a matter of policy, condone the borrowing of restroom paraphernalia, even for science experiments in the public interest.

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