Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Feature: Using Technology to Sustain Hand Washing With Soap in Rural Areas

Farmer uses a tippy tap
Source: Emmanuel Ato Quansah
Extension Services Specialist
Community Water and Sanitation Agency
Upper West Region

Hand washing with soap remain as low as 5% to 15% at critical times (Scott et al, 2003). Though studies have shown that proper Hand Washing With Soap (HWWS) or ash can reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by 42-47 percent (Curtis and Cairncross, 2003), lack of access to water supply is a barrier to HWWS.

With over 50% of people living under 1 US dolla per day coupled with water scarcity in several parts of the world, there is the need to kick start the promotion of low cost technologies that will sustain and scale up hand washing with soap practices. One such water-saving hand washing device which is worthy of promotion to address such challenges is the ‘‘Tippy Tap’’.


Originally designed with gourd or calabash in the 1980s by Dr. Jim Watt and Jackson Masawi  in Zimbabwe called ‘Mukombe’, the technology was adapted and further developed by Ralph Garnet and Dr. Jim Watt in Canada and given its new name tippy tap to use a plastic bottle. Since then, variety of local materials has been used in the building of the tippy tap making it more affordable for users. The device had it name tippy tap because it has a pedal which is connected to a plastic bottle that allows water to be ‘tipped’ or flow through a narrow hole which basically functions as water ‘tap’.

Nature of tippy tap

The Tippy Tap consists of a container hanging on a horizontal stick. The container can be tipped by pulling a rope through the cap. The rope is attached to a stick lying on the ground, which is pushed down by foot. Since the device is operated by a foot it reduces the chance for bacteria transmission as the user touches only the soap. Though the Tippy Tap is a simple device for hand washing with running water, a user after visiting the latrine uses only 40 millilitres of water to as compared to 500 millilitres using a mug. Hence, using the tippy tap, less than 10% of water from the tap or mug is used to wash hands. A gravel bed is used to soak away the water and prevent mosquitos. As only the soap is touched with the hands, the device is very hygienic.  They are often built near latrines to remind users to wash their hands after visiting the latrine.

Materials needed

The construction of tippy tap involves simple tools and materials such as nail, empty tin, plastic bottle, wooden branches/ sticks, candle/ matches, hoe, gravels, rope, soap and water. Any other material that can function as the one above can be used in making the tippy tap.

How to construct tippy tap

Cutting the wood
Cut two branches of wood of about 2 meter length, which have a Y-shape at the end.
Cut two thinner branches, each of about 1 meter length. 
Attach a piece of string of 1 meter length to one of the sticks.

Making the hole
Mark the location for the hole on the container, around 12 cm below the cap.
Heat the nail to be hot and make a hole in the container, and a second hole in the cap

Inserting the rope
Put the rope, which is attached to the stick, through the hole in the cap. 
Make a knot in the rope which cannot pass through the hole.
Screw the cap back on the container. 
Connected the stick to the container with the rope.

Making the hole through the soap
Use the nail to make a hole through the soap by slowly rotating and pushing the nail through the soap
Put the second piece of rope through the hole in the soap, and tie a piece of wood to it.

Filling the container
Fill the container with water, up to the level of the hole.

Making the pole and Hanging up the container
Using a hoe to dig a hole in the ground, put the poles in the ground to a depth of 50cm. The distance should be about 70 cm
Put the stick through the handle of the container, and put the stick between the poles.
Adjust the length of the rope such that the end of the stick is about 15cm above the ground

Adding the soap
Tie the rope with the soap to the stick.

Making a gravel soak away
Between the two poles, below the container, dig a hole of about 40 x 40 cm, and about 10 cm deep. 
Fill the hole with gravel to prevent mud hole formation and mosquito breeding.  

Using the Tippy Tap
Push the stick down with your foot. This tips the container, which makes water run out of the hole. 
Wet your hands and release the stick. 
Apply soap to your hands and push the stick down again and clean your hands
Release the stick after use

Management of the Tippy Tap
The plastic bottle must be filled with water when the waster get finished
The plastic bottle must be washed every week
Must prevent children from playing with the device


The tippy tap device is water conservative since it only 40 to 60 ml is used per latrine user as compared to at least 500 to 600 ml when opening a tap. Hence, a person requires only about a tenth of the water normally used to wash hands using the tippy tap.  Bacteria are removed from the hands much more efficiently than the method used with bowls in which often more than one person washes hands in them. This is because the device produces running water for hand washing. The tippy tap is also very cheap to construct since it uses simple materials.

Tippy tap for sustaining and scaling up HWWS

Hand washing with soap has been shown to reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by almost one half and of acute respiratory infections by roughly one third. However, over the years, a lot of hand washing education has been carried out by a lot of WASH sector players.

Through these several HWWS promotion initiatives, several people have been motivated and sensitized and made aware of the health implications of hand washing. There is however the need to promote technology options for people to help ensure that HWWS becomes sustainable especially in the rural areas where the practice of hand washing is low due to water scarcity.

This can be done through the enhancement of the capacity of sector player in the construction, usage and promotion of the device. When the capacity of sector players are enhanced on the construction, usage and management of the device, promotion of the device across the country becomes relatively easy.

Another pragmatic way of promoting the device for sustainable HWWS is to mount the tippy tap in sanitation markets throughout the country. This will enable a lot of people to get to know the diverse tippy tap device available to enable them build their own. The construction of the device must be taught in schools and in communities.

Community members must be taught how to construct and manage the device. The advantages for using the device must be made know to every user to boost their interest in the use of the device. The device must be built near latrine to remind people who visit latrine to practice HWWS at critical times. Also, users of the device must be congratulated each time it.

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