Handwashing made simple – the Tippy Tap


If you don’t have a tap, washing your hands in a hygienic way isn’t easy. You could place a bowl of water on a table, but then you would be washing your hands in the dirty water other people left behind. You could walk to the hand pump and ask somebody else to pump while you wash your hands. But that needs two people and wastes a lot of water. Can we do better?

Enter the Tippy Tap. A plastic container with a small hole near the lid is suspended on a stick through the handle, which can be tipped by a piece of wire or string attached to the lid. The string is attached to a piece of wood on the ground, which tips the can if you stand on it. When tipped, the can dispenses a small amount of water, about 70ml, just enough for a clean hand wash. Compare that with the 500 ml of water for an average hand wash. When you remove your foot, the can swings back to its original position. A piece of soap is suspended by a string next to the can.

A Tippy Tap used in Uganda.

It is so hygienic that it would even qualify for surgeons — a foot-operated water dispenser in which you only touch the soap! A gravel bed is used to soak away the water and prevent mosquitos. When the container is empty, the cap is unscrewed and the container is removed from the stick. The container is then filled again at a water pump, and reassembled.


Construction of a Tippy Tap.

A first version of the Tippy Tap was designed by Dr. Jim Watt of the Salvation Army in Chiweshe, Zimbabwe, and was called the Mukombe. The Mukombe is a type of gourd or calabash, which can be used as the can. But many vessels can be used in the same way, such as those used for cooking oil or milk. Tippy taps are promoted by UNICEF and WaterAid in Uganda, and are used in India, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and other countries.

Construction will set you back about 0$ when second-hand materials or used, or perhaps 2-4$ if materials are purchased. Happy hand washing!