During flu season, people focus on avoiding contracting the virus, particularly when they are in public places such as restaurants, recreational and entertainment venues, schools, business offices and retail facilities.
Moreover, while the risk of flu is uncomfortable enough, even more hazardous bacteria, viruses and parasites — like MRSA and H1N1 — may also be present in restrooms that are open to public usage.
Contaminants that harbor on human skin can be transferred to water faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers and trash cans with just a single touch.
Certainly, the appearance of a public restroom is an important indicator of its cleanliness and something the public will notice and respond to, either positively or negatively.
The state of the restroom might even determine if a retail or restaurant patron becomes a repeat customer.
However, the actual, hygienic cleanliness of your restroom goes beyond what may be visible on the surface.
Because water can encourage the life and growth of bacteria and other undesirable microorganisms, even the tidiest restroom is subject to contamination.
Ideally, a truly hygienic restroom requires forethought in physical design and in the installation of the most appropriate fixtures, followed by stringent and regular maintenance.
Keeping Hands Out Of It
For all of the above reasons, “hands-free” and “touch-free” toilets, soap dispensers and hand dryers have become considerations when restroom hygiene is the goal.
Hands-free fixtures are usually controlled by motion sensors, turning on when a user’s hand moves within range, thereby eliminating the need to physically touch a faucet or dispenser that may carry a swarm of germs.
Hands-free fixtures can help prevent cross-contamination in the restroom and may be worth the investment, but there are steps you can take that go even further to ensure the restroom is safe and hygienic.
Things To Consider
Following are six key issues to take into consideration when designing or renovating a restroom.
Physical design: In order to make your restroom as functional as possible, the countertops, toilets and urinals should be at the proper height and distance from the wall for the age of people who will be using them.
For instance, for adult users, countertops should be 34 inches high; toilet seats 17 to 19 inches high; and urinals 17 inches high.
Make sure hand dryers, soap dispensers, toilet paper dispensers and trash receptacles are placed where movement flow and logical usage dictate their optimal use.
Fixtures: Again, are your faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers and toilets hands-free to reduce cross-contamination?
This may require the replacement of earlier equipment models and brands, but fixtures or devices equipped with motion sensors have the added benefit of offering energy-efficiency and the ability to reduce costs by only turning on when someone is using them.
Retarding contamination: Some hand dryer manufacturers offer antimicrobial technology to shield against the build-up of bacteria on the device, making them 99 percent effective against potentially deadly bacteria such as E. coli and MRSA.
The use of antimicrobial wall paint and flooring add additional protection against the spread of germs.
Countertops, tile and grout and toilets are also available with an antimicrobial additive for a germ-free, mold-free restroom.
ADA accessibility: Do your accessible restroom stalls provide enough space for a wheelchair to properly turn and adjust so patrons are able to use the facilities in the cleanest manner possible?
Leave a clear floor space 60 inches in diameter in the stall, or create a T-shaped space 36 inches wide.
Additionally, consider that parents with children often use accessible restroom stalls because they need to assist their young children, and they also require extra space.
Remember to position in-stall trash receptacles so they don’t interfere with a wheelchair’s or multiperson user’s maneuverability.
Trash receptacles: Used paper towels can overflow trash receptacles, and then likely will end up scattered onto the floor.
This not only provides the potential for bacterial growth, it also gives the appearance of an untidy, unclean restroom.
Automatic hand dryers help a restroom appear cleaner, and they also can reduce the need for maintenance.
The motor life of some hand dryers is now two to three times longer than ever before, and this could mean 10 to 15 years of service.
Soap dispensers: Similar to paper towels, soap on the countertop can offer a negative perception of the cleanliness of a restroom and discourage people from washing their hands.
Consider using foam dispensers which drop soap drip-free into the hand from an automatic dispenser rather than liquid dispensers.
Faced with a mess, many users will avoid the use of soap all together.
Regular Maintenance Made Easier
Few people look forward to cleaning restrooms, but this unavoidable task can be made easier and more efficient when the space is well designed and the installed fixtures support easy and clean usage.
Public restrooms with these upkeep issues will need to be cleaned often, adding to the cost of labor as well as increasing the risk of infection for your employees.
No matter if your facility is a restaurant, recreational/entertainment center, school, office or retail location, the cleanliness of the publicly-accessible restroom is a concern for users, particularly in cold and flu season.
Where there is water and bacteria, viruses and parasites tend to thrive — often unseen, but still a potential danger to the well-being of patrons and employees.
By utilizing basic design principles and taking advantage of the new technologies available, hygiene can be dramatically improved for those who use the restroom as well as for those who maintain it.
Dan Storto is president for World Dryer, a leading global manufacturer of hand dryers for over 50 years. He can be reached at DStorto@WorldDryer.com.