Here’s the Secret to Getting Motion-Activated Sinks to Work Every Single Time

Who's that standing in front of the faucet, hands waving wildly as the water fails to flow? Why, it's you! But it doesn't have to be. We've got the secret to making those automatic sinks work. Every. Single. Time.

handsVolkova Vera/shutterstockYou’re well-versed in bathroom etiquette, and you’ve even got a decent handle on public-bathroom etiquette. So then why can’t you figure out how to use those annoying motion-activated faucets? Maybe you’re like Sherry Gavanditti, a public relations media specialist, who told Reader’s Digest about the time she set her handbag in the sink and entered a stall, only to realize that the faucet had somehow gone on, and by the time she retrieved her bag, it was filled with water.

But more likely, you’re someone who can’t seem to get the water to go on at all. You wave your hands under the faucet like a lunatic, but nothing happens…that is, until you pull your hands back, which is precisely when the water begins to flow. Excuse me, faucet? What are you trying to do to us?

If that faucet could talk, it might reply, “Why, hands-free convenience, of course,” which is essentially what we’re supposed to believe when we read that “motion-activated faucets don’t require handles or knobs at all,” as department store, Lowes, says in its “bathroom buying guide.” Of course, our experiences with “hands-free convenience” had left us with some doubts. But since we don’t have much choice but to use the faucets that come with our office washroom, we figured we might as well learn how to get the most of these elusive bad-boys of the water-delivery world.

In our journey of discovery, we found that faucet manufacturers and bathroom suppliers tend to be cheerful and enthusiastic about hands-free technology, but for practical advice, we did best by consulting the electrical engineers at Jenesis International, who had these tips for getting the most of “those darned motion-activated faucets” (their words, not ours):

  • Check for water droplets in the sink. If the sink is dry, it’s a sign that others have tried to activate the faucet and failed. Hopefully, there’s another sink.
  • Locate the sensor: The sensor is a dark-colored lens, often at the end of the faucet, facing slightly downward into the sink. Spotting the sensor is half the battle.
  • Place your hand in front of the sensor: There’s no need to wave it about. The sensor just needs to “see” your hand. In fact, try not to move your hand at all because this can make the faucet less responsive.
  • Be patient.
  • Inch closer: If you’ve already waited a few seconds, move your hand closer to the sensor.
  • Be more patient: If you’re still not having any luck, pull your hands away momentarily (some manufactures require a “time-out”). Then repeat the process. You should also pull our hands away momentarily if the water turns off before you’re finished washing your hands. Chances are it will turn back on after a few seconds.

None of this is foolproof, of course. But patience is great for your health, so perhaps you can look at your trips to the washroom as a chance to practice. If you end up getting stressed out, try talking to yourself because we hear it helps. To get started, here are some calming phrases that can help relieve anxiety.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.