Low-cost hand-washing technology
Updated - Tuesday 08 December 2009
Are you aware of any existing low-cost hand-washing technology that meets my parameters?
The following hand washing technologies might be of interest to you. They meet (almost) all your parameters: cheap to manufacture; light weight; robust; water conservative; replicable (can be copied locally); cross gender and cross generation appropriate; time saving; disability conscious; theft resistance; requires recharge maximum of two times daily; and requires one touch action.
Mukombe or Tippy Tap
The Mukombe was designed by Dr. Jim Watt of the Salvation Army in Chiweshe, Zimbabwe. Mukombe is the fruit of an indigenous plant (type of gourd or calabash), but many vessels can also be used in the same way, like the Tippy Tap, promoted by Unicef and WaterAid in Uganda.
The Tippy Tap is a simple water dispenser which enables people to wash their hands without wasting water. The Tippy Tap primarily consists of a can, which releases a small amount of water - just enough for a clean hand wash - each time it is tipped. And when the ‘tap’ is released, it swings back to its earlier upright position. 
Effective and economical in use
Both the Mukombe and the Tippy Tap are effective and economical in its use of water. Only 70 ml is used per latrine user (as compared to at least 500 to 600 ml when opening a tap). Bacteria are removed from the hands much more efficiently than the method used with bowls (in which often more than one person washes his/her hands).
In short and medium term interventions in emergency situations, communal latrines are often a preferred solution for sanitation. It is essential that at the exit to communal latrines, water and soap for hand washing is provided. Several Tippy Taps could be placed outside the latrines. If theft of soap is a problem, ashes could be used instead of soap.
In humanitarian assistance programmes with a longer term focus, household latrines are often more appropriate. The Tippy Taps will most likely have a longer lifespan if managed at household level. Theft of soap will also be less likely to occur.
In India, Tippy Taps were made in association with the Zilla Parishad, Mysore and UNICEF, costing just Rs 50. CART, Centre for Appropriate Rural Technologies  was producing them for the programme.
Other hand washing facilities
An alternative to the Tippy Tap can be a larger storage container with a tap, preferably fitted with a self-closing tap. These can be made of a plastic or metal drum or a ferrocement container. The disadvantage will be that a larger drainage facility will have to be provided, as more water will be spilled. This can be a surface drain if the area has a slope. If the area is flat a soak-away pit will be an option. This can be a circular or rectangular pit of 0.5 meter wide and 0.5 meter long and about 1 meter deep (more shallow is possible if the soil is very permeable). The pit needs to be filled with mixed gravel and/or broken bricks to allow drainage of the spilled water.
Larger containers or small tanks
These larger containers will be difficult to pack, ship and store, but can easily be built by local masons. For more information, a technical brief can be found at the website of one of IRC’s partners in West Africa, CREPA (in French) .
Small ferrocement tanks might be a cheaper option. A technical brief on their construction can be found on the WELL website .
-  Tippy Taps, more details on the tippy tap by the Centre for Disease Control, and in the article Tippy tap saves water, in: Dialogue on Diarrhoea-online, nr. 54, 1993. In 2005, Lifewater published an adapted version: “Tippy Tap II” [no longer available on their web site]. In 2008, WOT and Connect International published a booklet "How to make a tippy tap". [back to the text]
 CART can be contacted for more information:
Centre for Appropriate Rural Technologies,
The National Institute of Engineering (NIE),
Mysore - 570 008. Karnataka, India.
Phone : 91-0821-480475 / 481220
Fax : 91-0821-485802
Send an e-mail
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Date: Aug 2004, updated Dec 2009
This response has been provided by the WELL Resource Centre Network with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).