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Stainless steel & other materials


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(Picture: Hugh Sainsbury/Crossness Engines Trust)


Since the later decades of the 20th century, stainless steel toilets, urinals and washbasins have been installed in many public conveniences, prisons, planes, buses, trains and other places subject to heavy usage.


The discovery of stainless steel is widely credited to Harry Brearley, a metallurgist working in Sheffield around 1912. However, earlier scientists had already determined the rust-resistant properties of iron alloys containing chromium. Today, 304 stainless steel is the alloy most commonly used in the manufacture of sanitaryware, such as this modern public convenience, from around 2010.

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(Picture: makasana photo/Alamy)


The earliest valve water closets incorporated cast-iron pans. However, these were prone to corrosion and soiling, so from the late 18th and early 19th century manufacturers including Joseph Bramah commissioned pottery producers such as Wedgwood to supply glazed earthenware pans.


From the mid-19th century, stoneware or fireclay was used to make both robust, low-cost closet pans and also drainage pipes to replace porous brick sewers. Then, in the 1950s, vitreous china – porcelain coated with a hard enamel – became the dominant material for sanitaryware in the UK.


Synthetic materials such as bakelite and later types of plastic have been used for the production of cisterns, pipes, seats and lids, being relatively cheap, durable, flexible, lightweight and easy to replace.

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(Picture: Wrightbus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)


A variety of materials are used in the manufacture of squat toilets, according to budget, volume of use and ease of installation – plastics, fibreglass, concrete, reinforced cement and covered wood, as well as ceramics and stainless steel.

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