They Created a More Hygienic Toilet Seat. Here’s the Poop
Alums launch Cleana, a new company that seeks to make dirty toilet seats a thing of the past
Benjamin Franklin once said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but we might add a third: dirty public bathrooms. But now, thanks to the ingenuity of three BU alums, that no longer needs to be the case. After years of hard work, they’ve created a new kind of mechanical toilet seat designed to help prevent common everyday messes caused during urination. Their company, Cleana, is set to begin shipping its first seats in the coming months.
“We wanted to make things that were practical, simple, affordable, and accessible enough to the point where they actually became a standard,” says Kevin Tang (Questrom’22), cofounder and CEO of Cleana. “We want to make sure that this is something everyone can have.”
Tang has been working on the project since 2019. The team also includes Max Pounanov (ENG’23), the company’s COO, and Andy Chang (Questrom’21, CAS’21), its CFO. The three met through start-up events hosted by BU’s BUild Lab IDG Capital Student Innovation Center and MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center. (Their chief technology officer just graduated from MIT). What drew them together was a desire to solve problems that affect lots of people, which led them to the bathroom.
Cleana isn’t the first company to make and market automatic toilet seats, but unlike competitors, Cleana’s seats are engineered simply and are relatively inexpensive ($95 versus the $1,000+ that competitors charge). There are no complicated controls or settings. You simply attach the seat to a toilet bowl like any other and you’re ready to go: the seat raises or lowers (after a customizable time delay) without batteries or electrical input, using an ingeniously designed pneumatic system. The seats are also treated with a microbial coating, providing additional sanitation.
“Our mission statement is: we just want to make dirty toilet seats a relic of the past,” Chang says.
Cleana took home first place in the Tech Track of Innovate@BU’s New Venture Competition back in 2020, netting $18,000 in non-dilutive funding. The founders partnered with organizations like Gillette Stadium, Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, and Detroit Metro Airport to develop testing sites. The company has also attracted the attention of investors like Robert Vail, the head of innovation at Boston Beer Co. and a member of the School of Hospitality Administration Dean’s Advisory Board, and John Barrett, executive director of the Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association.
Cleana offers two models: a commercial seat and a residential seat. The commercial seat, made for public bathrooms, automatically raises after every use, eliminating unwanted splashes during urination. A user can lower the seat by hand or foot, and once a person has done their business and stands up, a timer kicks in and the seat goes up after 30 seconds. Tang says that as part of their research, they conducted a self-report survey of several hundred people and found that 75 percent of men responded that they never raised the toilet seat before urinating in a public bathroom. In testing the commercial seat at Lucky Strike Fenway, the popular local entertainment venue, Tang says the auto-lift feature kept the seat about 88 percent cleaner.
The design for the residential seat came after hearing stories about people falling into toilets and getting injured and dropping their phones and other valuables in the bowl and pets drinking from the bowl when the toilet seat and lid were left up after use. Cleana’s residential seat automatically lowers both seat and lid after each use.
“The real challenge is, can you deliver [a product] in a way that it doesn’t become contrived and complicated,” Tang says.
In designing their product lines, the team conducted interviews with facilities managers, custodians, and supervisors and learned that while many public restrooms have adopted numerous touchless bathroom amenities—such as hand dryers, sinks, and soap dispensers—toilet seats had a long way to go. And many of the fancier mechanical toilet seats on the market require regular maintenance, which leads to extra costs and labor. Cleana’s toilet seats are designed to last a lifetime and require almost no upkeep.
The company plans to begin shipping the first of its commercial seats this fall. Among the customers already signed up: local grocery chain Roche Bros. Preorders for the residential seat are available here.
“It’s one of those things that touches everyone’s life—from behind, if you will,” Tang says with a laugh.