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Hand Hygiene / Disinfection / Sanitization / Restroom Care / Infection Control
October 2013 Feature 3

Restrooms As Hygiene War Rooms?

Winning the fight against bacteria.

October 04, 2013
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Reducing the spread of bacteria can be one of the biggest challenges that face the building and custodial service industry.

Few places can impact this as much as the restroom.

Our hands alone contain more than 50,000 bacteria per square inch — more than what is found on a toilet seat.

Really, Mom was always right.

The best defense is washing our hands — after we eat, after we play and certainly after we use the restroom.

But as Michigan State University researchers recently showed us, only 5 percent of people wash correctly after walking out of the stall (and men were the bigger culprits).1

They simply weren’t spending enough time killing infection-causing germs and bacteria left on their hands.

In fact, 80 percent of all infections are transmitted by hand,2 and it continues to be a consistent problem.

With the onslaught of another cold/flu season upon us, restrooms are on the front lines when it comes to thwarting germs.

In this modern age, there are new ways to educate people on the importance of such a seemingly simple task like washing hands — and doing so the right way.

Point To The Signs

We see them everywhere — in restaurants, schools and public buildings.

In fact, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require food preparation businesses to provide education in sanitary procedures to all employees, including instruction in hand washing.

The federal organization believes that restaurants and other business that handle food have a responsibility to their customers; preventing food poisoning and stopping the spread of other bacteria-driven diseases.

These signs aren’t a must for other kinds of businesses (it depends on state rules), but that doesn’t mean they’re not a good idea to post.

There are some posters that show a step-by-step process on how to wash hands correctly.

It’s also a good idea to post them in a place people see before they get to the sink, like on the inside of a stall door.

It’s even a good idea to post it on the exit, as a reminder to people leaving.

You never know if it will make someone turn around and wash.

Improve Cleaning

There really is a proper way to wash hands.

Use soap and water only, work the soap into a lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds (the CDC suggests humming the tune to “Happy Birthday” twice).

Alcohol-based gels and sanitizers are good to have on hand, as they help kill 99.9 percent of germs.

In fact, they should be used when soap and water are not available.

But they do not eliminate all types of germs, and they’re simply not the same as soap.

They shouldn’t be used when hands are visibly soiled, like with dirt, grease, blood and fecal matter.

It’s also important to note that if there is a lot of dirt on the hands, the antibacterial hand gel may not reach the microorganisms under the dirt, according to Dr. Richard Ellison III at University of Massachusetts Medical School.

If you’re concerned about sustainability and safety, it’s important to note that some studies show that the chemical triclosan in antibacterial soap might be hazardous to human health3 and was found to be harmful in the environment.4

If you really want an antibacterial soap, look for products that don't list triclosan in their ingredients.

Pick Up A Towel

Wet hands pick up and transfer up to 1,000 times the number of bacteria as dry hands and provide the moisture and warmth that bacteria need to grow.

That’s why the method in which hands are dried is so crucial.

Air dryers often do not match the efficacy of a dry paper towel.

The hot air moves the germs around instead of moving them off the hands.

There have been multiple studies performed on this practice, like the one in Australia at the Queensland University of Technology.

Scientists there say hand towels are much more effective.5

But for the millions of people who don’t read scientific journals or experiment in their bathrooms, the show “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel recently put this exact practice to the test.

Hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman put safe amounts of Escherichia coli (E. Coli) on 16 people’s hands (front and back), had them properly wash with soap and water and dry with both hand towels and hot air dryers.

Testing the “myth” that towels prevent the spread of more bacteria, the show scientifically determined that towels are best and helped kill more than 70 percent of the germs.

That’s exactly why the first-ever antibacterial towel was created last year.

Impregnated with a safe, active chemical ingredient, the towel is scientifically proven to minimize hand contamination by 99.9 percent and compensate for people’s imperfect hygiene habits without changing the way they wash or dry their hands.

At the end of the day, proper hand hygiene is an individual’s responsibility.

But, by giving people the tools and education to wash and dry right in the restroom, property and sanitation managers can literally dictate public health to a cleaner future.


1 The School of Hospitality Business, Michigan State University. Hand-washing study

2 Centers for Disease Control

4 Environment Canada

5 Big Pond News, June 4, 2013


Suzanne Blanchet is a 35-year company veteran who became president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Cascades Tissue Group in 1997. In doing so, she became the only female to lead a pulp and paper company in Canada, and one of few females to lead a major company. Impressively, Blanchet has developed Cascades Tissue Group into the second largest tissue paper manufacturer in Canada and the fourth largest in North America. The key to her success has been her willingness to try new things and make investments in innovation.

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