Taps 8: why britons use separated taps and how to mix water from them

Edit: 18. 1. 2012 more images of custom mixing received from friends

British separate taps are a "classic". Most of foreigners wonder why?. These are the 4 short explanation:

1. (historical) reason
"Going back, bowls and baths were filled with water from jugs or pans heated on the fire. You then washed using the water in the bowl." Alan. So one reason was to preserve the interface. People still use their sinks the same way they used bowls in the old days. Plug, fill, wash, unplug, empty [rinse under the cold if e.g. washing hands].

2. (historical) reason
"In the UK only the hot water systems has a header tank in the roof, the cold water comes to your tap directly from the mains. The hot water system is therefore a source of potential contamination and there is a whole raft of legislation and rules intended to prevent contaminated water entering the public water system."
Alan. The UK started to build the public water systems in the early 1800 [1]. Taps in those days did not have the non-return valve. The mixer tap was patented only in 1880 [2] ... I guess they were expensive at first. And the non-return valve was patented in 1907.

3. reason (why people still like and install them)
Because these taps are old fashioned, people like them and install them even in new houses (nicely designed ones or even styled in Victorian). On the other hand, the cheapest models are just simple spouts with a simple valve (e.g. no aerator). These can be found in some new public bathrooms or student accommodations. While the old houses still keep them as Britons don't usually change things if these work (my humble observation).

4. (environmental) reason
I heard the claim that plugging the sink, filling it with water (of desired temperature) can save the amount of water in comparison with the running mixer type tap. I even heard that washing hands with cold water only is an incentive to get it over quicker - again saving water. However, the mixer taps usually have an aerator that reduces the amount of water coming out of the spout. It also depends on a person how much water will get wasted, and not all Britons are environmentally savvy (a lot still paying a fixed sum per month as old houses have no water meters - there were no water meters in the 1800 :)).

But HERE comes the GREAT INVENTION for all the foreigners!

Or a more sophisticated one




However, if you find yourself in the public bathroom, here's how to use the separate taps

[1] WD-WSEB-16-2. 1999. A Partial History of Public Water Systems.

[2] Mario Theriault, Great Maritime Inventions 1833–1950, Goose Lane, 2001, p. 33.


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mk on :

I just found this very interesting article about this issues. It is from the WSJ


And the article:

British Taps Run Hot Or Cold -- Rarely Both
James R. Hagerty Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
Updated Oct. 17, 2002 11:59 p.m. ET

LONDON (Oct. 31, 2002)—During a wartime visit to Moscow in 1942, Winston S. Churchill discovered a marvel of modern technology: hot and cold water flowing from the same faucet.

The plumbing in the villa where he stayed as a guest of Stalin was unlike the primitive British standard of separate taps for hot and cold. Rather than having to fill up the sink to achieve the right blend, the British leader could wash his hands under gushing water “mingled to exactly the temperature one desired,” as he put it in his memoirs. From then on, he resolved to use this method whenever possible.

His countrymen have been slow to take up the single-spigot cause. Most bathroom sinks in Britain still have separate hot and cold taps today, 60 years after Mr. Churchill’s conversion and decades after nearly all dual taps were scrapped in the U.S. and most vanished from continental Europe. For reasons of thrift, regulations and a stubborn attachment to tradition, the British have resisted the tide of plumbing history. Even when they renovate old homes, many choose two-tap systems, and builders often install them in new, low-end housing. Separate taps account for an estimated 40% of all bathroom-faucet sales in the U.K.


Britons don’t understand why foreigners raise a fuss over this issue. “The British are quite happy to wash their hands with cold water. Maybe it’s character-building,” says Simon Kirby, managing director of Thomas Crapper & Co., a maker of bathroom equipment in Stratford-on-Avon.

Boris Johnson, a Conservative Party member of Parliament representing Henley, congratulates “the higher civilizations” that have adopted advanced plumbing technology. But he argues that having the choice of either hot or cold for washing hands “is an incentive to get it over and done with and not waste water.”

Separate faucets are only one of the peculiarities of the British bathroom. Another is electricity—or rather the lack of it. Regulations aimed at preventing shocks forbid the installation in bathrooms of electrical outlets, except those designed for shavers. One more antishock measure bans standard on/off switches in bathrooms. The lights are controlled by pull cords hanging from the ceiling.


Many in Britain keep separate bathroom taps to preserve the authenticity of Victorian homes. The force of habit also plays a role.


In their defense, some British cite red tape. Older British homes often have storage tanks in their attics that feed water heaters. Under certain conditions, those tanks could be contaminated – for instance, by the intrusion of a rat – and tainted hot water that flows into a mixer tap might get sucked into a cold-water pipe leading back to the public water supply, endangering the whole neighborhood. So regulations forbid mixing of hot and cold water streams inside a tap unless the tank meets strict standards or protective valves are installed.

Separate taps are also a bit cheaper. A midprice pair of chrome bathroom-sink taps from Pegler Ltd. costs about $87, or half the price of a hot-and-cold “mixer” tap of similar quality.

Even so, modernity is slowly imposing itself. British people who travel overseas often are impressed by single taps, not to mention the “lovely shower systems that blow your head off,” says Kevin Wellman, operations director at the British Institute of Plumbing.


But there are many holdouts. One is Mr. Kirby, the managing director at Thomas Crapper. Of the mixer tap, he says, “I wouldn’t even consider it as a modernization—just a different way of doing it.”


Mr. Kirby says he doesn’t find separate taps inconvenient. He dunks his hands under the cold water tap when he wants a quick wash. “If I want to wash them properly, I put the plug in” and fill the basin, he says. Isn’t that less hygienic than washing under running water? “It’s a cultural difference,” Mr. Kirby says. “We’re less bothered about that.”

Despite their clashing views on hand-washing, Mr. Kirby keeps portraits of Winston Churchill in his home and office. He isn’t surprised that the prime minister liked fancy plumbing. “You have to remember that Churchill was half-American,” Mr. Kirby says, “so he was probably a bit more open to some of these innovations.”

Attila on :

The other thing that the UK lacks is the proper outer insulation of walls and plastering.

Walls reman ugly uncovered bricks.

mk on :

While I do agree that a lot of Victorian (and also new) houses (incredibly) lack proper insulation, I don't think that the stony or brick walls look ugly. This is typical Britain as are white houses with blue shutters typical for some Greek islands. It's a matter of taste of course. And the insulation can be put on the inside of the walls :).

John on :

It's actually a great and helpful piece of information. I am happy that
you shared this useful information with us. Please keep us
up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

Zaina on :

I just want to say.. I burst out laughing at your video on how to wash your hands in public bathrooms in England.. I actually do that because I have no idea how else to wash them! One's too hot and the other's too cold! hhahaa.. well done.. loved it.. :)

David on :

The same thing could be said in someways though about other toilet and bath cultures - In many northern countries such as Holland and Denmark you will find showers and even bathtubs with no doors which drain all over the floor. In France you still often find bath tubs with only a handheld hose - with no attachment on the wall for standing up for a shower. Even in the US most of their toilets are considered old fashioned now - the use sucking basins filled with water which splashes back at you and are usually way too short in height compared to modern dual flush toilets found in Europe. The same goes with their old fashioned built into the wall showers compared to modern removable handheld showers. In Japan and even Italy you still often find squat toilets - no bowl no nothing, just squat! You could also go on and on about public toilet differences between hand driers, automatic towel dispensers etc etc...

mkljun on :

Hi David,

I cannot but agree with you. When travelling people first pick up such small cultural peculiarities. And it's a separate tap that most tourists find amusing/annoying in UK.

Why maybe laughing at separate tap (I can't help but to find them amusing) I took time and found simple historical explanation behind this cultural phenomenon. And I mostly take a defending stand on this issue. I hoped my post was reflecting this.

The same goes with washing machines in kitchens, kitchen attachments to Victorian houses, etc. There is always a simple historical explanation.

And you have to agree that many Britons laugh at foreign peculiarities.

Anonymous on :

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Robert on :

Separate tap is part of UK style, yes we must respect the tradition of the different place.

Paul on :

You are talking culture differences from the perspective of taps

mkljun on :

Have you read the post?

All I talk about in the post are cultural differences. The historical reasons behind separate taps.

Stella on :

Whatever the reason for this stupid idea of British of seperate taps, is there any professional device one can buy to solve this problem?

mk on :

This idea is not stupid as the rest of the world used separate taps in the past. But Britons are the rare ones who still hold on to them.

I'm afraid you'll have to go for the one of the unofficial solutions.

Laura on :

Separate hot and cold taps are very annoying, it is more pleasant and Hygienic to wash your hands with warm to slightly, uncomfortably, hot water, and hand soaps and all detetgents lather and activate better with warmer water and rinse cleaner with warmer water,,,I get the sensibility of why they had them seperate due to contamination, so maybe they should have drinking water used to wash with in a separate tank :)

Robert S. Costello on :

I actually do that because I have no idea how else to wash them! One's too hot and the other's too cold!

Sid on :

This is a perfectly ok way to wash your hands. I think the other parts of the world has it wrong.

Chana on :

I'm impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that's both educative and interesting,
and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.
The issue is something that too few people are
speaking intelligently about. Now i'm very happy that I
found this in my hunt for something relating to this.

Ana on :

I'm guessing the same applies for taking a shower. If you take a cold shower you can save water because you want to get it over with quicker?

mk on :

Yes .. and save electricity for not heating up the water.

JOnth on :

this is perfectly ok way to wash my hand

Zella Mayoral on :

Nice post ! thank you for your share!

ecommerce on :

Kinda creative and easy to make, thanks!

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