News & Politics

More High-Tech Public Bathrooms Are Coming to DC This Spring

Submit a suggestion for where the Throne Labs restrooms should go.

A colorful restroom in Fairfax. Photograph courtesy of Throne Labs.

If you don’t know where to go when you need to go, some relief is on the way: High-tech toilet startup Throne Labs is bringing up to ten new public restrooms to DC this spring. The freestanding and free-to-use bathrooms will be in operation until the end of September (with the possibility of an extension) as part of the DC Public Restroom Pilot Program. Lavatories will be open daily from 7 AM to 10 PM.

The DC Council selected the first five locations: Oxon Run Park, H and 8th Sts., NE, near Columba Heights Plaza, near Dupont Circle, and one more somewhere downtown. The public will help determine the placements for up to five more Thrones, submitting location requests through an online form.

An ADA-compliant restroom. Photo courtesy of Throne Labs.
An ADA-compliant restroom. Photograph courtesy of Throne Labs.

The portable latrines can be accessed a few ways. People can scan a QR code that sends a text message to unlock the door, or they log into the mobile app. There, users also see real-time updates on the cleanliness ratings of each nearby location. For those without a phone, Throne Tap Cards are available, used like a SmartTrip card.

“In situations where people have to go and ask for a key or ask to get access, it actually dissuades a lot of the people that need the restrooms most,” says Jessica Heinzelman, Throne Labs co-founder and COO. “We feel like we’re striking that balance between accountability and access and allowing us to keep it really clean.”

These are not the porta potties of yore: Once inside the loo, you’ll find a soothing soundscape and fun wallpaper. No-touch technology means the wave of a hand will flush the toilet, run the sink, and open the door to exit. Restrooms are also equipped with ventilation.

Inside a "Throne," a portable bathroom created by Throne Labs. There's a toilet, urinal, sink, and mirror, and the walls are decorated with a jungle print.
Inside a Throne. Photograph courtesy of Throne Labs.

Each person is assigned a User ID, which provides data that impacts access and cleanliness—evergreen concerns for public bathrooms. For example, if a location is receiving less visitors than expected, it might be moved to a higher-need area. People are also prompted to leave a cleanliness rating after each use. Heinzelman says about 35 percent of users will leave a rating, which helps Throne Labs figure out how to schedule cleanings, when an immediate cleaning is necessary, or if a biohazard issue requires the restroom to be temporarily locked. If a specific User ID is repeatedly misusing the bathroom or leaving a mess, Throne Labs will restrict their access to the restrooms. However, Heinzelman notes that happens on very limited occasions.

“We actually see that just the use of a unique user ID and an account helps people act more responsibly,” says Heinzelman.

Users are prompted to give a cleanliness rating. Photo courtesy of Throne Labs.
Users are prompted to give a cleanliness rating. Photograph courtesy of Throne Labs.

Throne Labs already has a number of petite privies posted around the DC area. In addition to the incoming toilets, there’s one currently in operation at Yards Park, plus more Thrones in Fairfax, Hyattsville, and Mt. Ranier.

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Heinzelman as saying “ask for a key or app to get access.” The quote has been updated to reflect Heinzelman said “ask for a key or ask to get access.”

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.