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Why Is a Urinal Fly in the Men’s Bathroom?

By Medina Syla


3 May 2024

Urinal Fly

©️ hulv850627/ Freepik

Urinal fly, that little target you might find above the drain in public restrooms, is a quirky solution to a common problem. If you have ever wondered about their purpose, you are not alone. The concept might seem childish at first glance, but it serves a practical function: providing men with something to aim at.

Believe it or not, urinal targets have been around for quite some time. They are believed to have originated in the late 19th century, with pictures of bees etched into toilet bowls in Britain. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the idea gained mainstream popularity, thanks to a manager at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Urinal Fly
©️ hulv850627/ Freepik

Where Did the Urinal Flies Come From?

The manager, Jos van Bedaf, suggested using fly-shaped decals near the urinals’ drains to reduce spillage on the walls and floor. This simple yet ingenious idea was met with enthusiasm and quickly gained traction. Reports suggest that at Schiphol Airport, these urinal targets reduced errant urine by a staggering 80%.

The success of urinal targets didn’t stop there. They soon made their way to other public restrooms, including those at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4. The design of waterless urinals, which rely on directing urine close to the drain without the aid of water flow, further popularized the use of urinal targets.

Thaler speculates that the appearance of urinal flies in various locations, from Moscow to Singapore, isn’t a mere coincidence. He believes that the presence of these flies has a profound effect on human behavior, particularly among males.

But, Why Flies?

“Well, what else would you want to pee on?” quips Doug Kempel, whose company Urinalfly sells peel-off flies for school and home bowls. Kempel notes that while he has experimented with a bull’s-eye design, flies seem to hold a unique appeal.

Urinal Fly
©️ jcomp/ Freepik

According to Berenbaum, men possess an inherent instinct to aim at targets, and the inclusion of a fly in the urinal provides them with a focal point. This, she suggests, helps minimize what she delicately refers to as “human spillage.”

Despite their effectiveness, not all urinals feature targets. Some manufacturers, like Toto USA, opt for designs that minimize splashback without the need for targets. Still, urinal targets remain big business for retailers, with companies like offering a variety of designs, from flies to politicians’ faces.

Julie Power, co-founder of the blog Moms To Work, shared that she recently took a red Sharpie pen and inscribed “AIM” in bold letters on her home toilet bowl, and her twin boys promptly directed their attention to the target. Another mother recounted on Thaler’s blog Nudge that she tears off individual patches of toilet paper and instructs her boys to “cut this in half,” which surprisingly proves effective. Thaler himself suggests Cheerios. Despite their movement, or perhaps because of it, Cheerios tend to capture the focus of young male minds.

While urinal targets may seem like a novelty, they serve as a prime example of behavioral nudges. By giving men something to aim at, these targets encourage better restroom habits without infringing on free will.

You might also like to read: The Best Guide to Eliminate House Flies

Medina Syla

I couldn't help but wonder...