Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

7. What direction does the toilet water spin when you flush?

Grant,

Great question!  Something I was curious about when I first visited Antarctica.  The answer from T.J. is that toilets flush counter-clockwise at the South Pole.  My toilet, in Seattle, also flushes counter-clockwise.  Contrary to popular belief, the direction of water in a toilet is not directly related to the hemisphere in which you flush.  It actually has to do with the toilet manufacturer and which direction the jet of water is directed.

The idea that toilets flush in different directions in the northern and southern hemisphere is based on the Coriolis effect.  The Coriolis effect is caused by the rotation of the earth and is most noticeable in large bodies of air or water away from the equator.  The rotational forces contribute to large storm systems resulting in cyclones turning counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere.

The Coriolis effect is too weak to effect the small amount of water in a toilet, except in controlled lab conditions.

– Jessie

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