This app lets restaurants and coffee shops charge to use the bathroom

Thanks to bans on pay toilets dating back to the 1970s, folks in the U.S. have become accustomed to enjoying free public restroom access pretty much anywhere their travels take them. Depending on the town or city, however, free-use bathrooms aren’t necessarily plentiful — or well-maintained, for that matter.

In lieu of stateside political momentum to build more — and better — public toilets, enterprising developers and entrepreneurs have attempted to tackle the problem in a number of ways. Beyond maps that track the locations of public restrooms, startups like Throne are deploying high-tech, self-cleaning and self-contained portable toilets that can be reserved through a mobile app.

But what about opening up the many, many business-owned bathrooms that already exist?

A new venture launching at CES 2024, Flush, wants to do just that — renting out restrooms to customers across cafés, restaurants, hotels and other high-traffic areas. USC computer science graduate Elle Szabo founded Flush after frustrating experiences trying to find public restrooms while on a diuretic medication.
“I’ll never forget the day I went out for a big dinner and we all piled into the car to go hang out in Pasadena, where I knew there’d be no open bathrooms,” Szabo told TechCrunch in an email interview. “We’d been driving for a couple minutes when I had to force the car to stop at the nearest building — which in this case was a hospital! If being on this medication was a problem for me, I wondered how many other people it was a problem for.”

Flush is a double-sided marketplace for bathrooms, basically. Business owners can put their bathrooms up for rent, priced at a maximum of $10, and users can find and book available bathrooms through Flush’s web-based app. Flush plans to take — but isn’t currently taking — a cut of reservations.

To combat bathroom-soiling guests, Flush has a built-in rating system, which providers see when they’re approving a restroom reservation. (One hopes there are measures to prevent abuse; Szabo didn’t say.) Flush is also exploring some form of insurance to compensate businesses in the event of guest-caused damage, for example a major plumbing issue.

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