The movement started off as innovation to address common touch points in the restroom, such as faucets and dispensers.
However, today''s restroom care manufacturers are using touch-free technology to solve many common concerns.
And, new players have entered the field with outside-the-box thinking and are now offering touch-free technology in the areas of self-cleaning toilets, waterless urinals, programmable odor control options, and touchless door openers.
Today''s restroom experience can be virtually touchless from entrance to exit.
For cleaning crews, the potential for cross contamination and risk are lowered with modern equipment.
We discussed the touch-free evolution with several key players that are making a difference in the field today.
But first, let''s look at the trends that have been shaping this movement.
User report card
In preparation for "Clean Hands Week," which was September 21-27, The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA, www.cleaning101.com), issued its fourth Clean Hands Report Card®.
The report is based on a series of hygiene-related questions asked of 916 Americans during a telephone survey conducted in August by Echo Research.
According to an SDA press release, Americans achieved a "C-minus for their hand hygiene habits."
Americans also scored a C-minus in 2006, despite growing awareness and an influx of touch-free technology offerings.
Among the findings of SDA''s 2008 survey:
Only 85 percent say they always wash their hands after going to the bathroom (down from 92 percent in 2006);
Forty-six percent of respondents wash their hands 15 seconds or less. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SDA recommends washing with soap at least 20 seconds.
According to the CDC, effective hand-washing is a critical first line of defense against cross contamination.
And, the SDA touts hand-washing as the easiest path to being healthy.
"Cleaning your hands regularly throughout the day can help keep you out of the doctor''s office or the emergency room," says Nancy Bock, SDA vice president of education.
While regular hand-washing throughout the day is recommended, the SDA notes the following situations where effective hand-washing is vital:
- Before preparing food
- After using the restroom
- When hands are dirty
- When you or someone around you is ill.
But, how can you be sure to encourage proper hand-washing?
"Studies have shown that high-quality soap and automated soap systems actually encourage people to wash their hands more frequently," says Oscar Wientjes, Technical Concepts'' global marketing director, sectors and channels. "Restroom visitors can have a hygienic and positive experience if all systems work in harmony. At the same time, facility owners and managers will reduce costs, improve image and, ultimately, increase value — a win-win for all."
Because of the environment — particularly traffic volume and hazardous waste — restrooms can be safe havens for germs and bacteria to thrive and pose risks.
Several industry studies, measurements, and surveys emphasize the dangers involved in using public restrooms.
Until recently, few studies were ever conducted in the area of microbial contamination in public restrooms.
One significant research paper was presented at the 2005 International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) trade show in Atlanta, GA.
Professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, Dr. Charles Gerba, who is still active in JanSan research, presented "Micro-organisms in Public Washrooms" at a media briefing sponsored by Scott Paper Company.
Gerba gathered data on public restroom contamination to show how frequently and easily specific high-contact washroom surfaces can be contaminated.
Using recent advances in microbiology, the research for the paper "focused on a bacterial sampling of public washrooms to enable us to develop an understanding of the washroom sites that pose the greatest risk of contamination to patrons and employees."
According to the paper, "Even when the bathroom looks clean, it may not be so from the standpoint of microbial contamination. In a recent study, we found, for example, that 15 percent of the toilet seats in quick-serve restaurant restrooms in the Tucson area were contaminated with coliform bacteria."
Gerba noted several washroom "hot zones" that end users should be aware of and address with specific cleaning protocols or antimicrobial products.
These hot zones include: The toilet, the floor surrounding it, the sink and counter, and high-touch objects such as handles.
"Aside from hand-to-object transferral, contaminants are spread throughout the washroom via microbial aerosols ejected from the toilet bowl during flushing," reported Gerba.
Prior to presenting this paper at ISSA 2005, the University of Arizona Microbiology Department conducted bacterial sampling of quick-serve restaurants in the Tucson area.
Twenty-five sites were studied, key surfaces were examined, and the percentages of sites contaminated were reported.
The findings included: Fifteen percent of sites had contaminated toilet paper dispensers; 19 percent, contaminated toilet seat; 62 percent, floor of stall; 31 percent, hot water tap; and 15 percent, cold water tap.
Recent studies, including those presented at this year''s Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) Symposium, validate Gerba''s findings of microbial contamination in public restrooms.
In other words, very little has changed in this area, despite better supplies, cleaning practices, and restroom designs.
However, it is a positive sign, as noted in SDA''s study, that effective hand hygiene continued to improve since the mid-1990s, when Gerba noted that as many as 50 percent of all Americans do not wash their hands before leaving the restroom.
Today, restroom hygiene has significantly improved and manufacturers'' product technologies have played a big part.
"The cleanliness of restrooms is always a top priority in any facility," says Doug Calvert, president of Cannon Hygiene USA, a worldwide restroom hygiene services company and franchiser of restroom hygiene products and services in the United States. "For this reason, so many buildings are now designing restrooms that require no touching whatsoever and may have touch-free doors, no faucet handles, no-flush handles, touch-free paper dispensers, or automatic air dryers."
And, according to Brena Resnick, managing director for Clean Care Systems, which offers a self-cleaning, carbon lithium battery-operated automatic toilet seat, most of this demand is customer-driven.
"Today, people are more aware than ever about the dangers of cross contamination as well as the risks involved with visiting a public restroom," says Resnick. "The message facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) are giving to customers is, ‘We care for your well-being and you can feel safer when using touch-free devices.''"
"When restroom users see touch-free fixtures, two things come to mind: This facility is doing its part to keep us healthy and, because of this, we must do our part to prevent the spread of disease," adds Calvert, whose company provides, services, and maintains no-touch feminine hygiene disposal units as well as a variety of other restroom products.
According to Wientjes from Technical Concepts, which is a leading provider of touch-free products, there are three main factors that drive technology application in the restroom:
Health and personal hygiene. Surfaces in public restrooms are an important potential source of undesirable germs. Various studies confirm the presence of harmful microorganisms, low hand-wash compliance, and increasing awareness of restroom visitors on the importance of personal hygiene on health. Maintaining a high restroom cleanliness level, a high hand-washing compliance, and addressing the public''s growing concerns about touching restroom surfaces and fixtures are therefore key.
Image. Enhancing or safeguarding the company''s image through the cleanliness of the restroom is more important than many building owners/facility managers realize. Research shows that around 70 percent of visitors rank finding a clean restroom as extremely important and a similar percentage responded that they would avoid a facility in the future if they found the restroom to be dirty.
Economics. Cleanliness affects the economics of a facility in multiple ways, both positively and negatively. Clean and hygienic restrooms will enhance the visitors'' and staff''s experience, reducing absenteeism and helping customer retention. More structural improvements, such as touch-free soap dispensers, fixtures and hardware will all increase the lease value of the building, eliminate expenses from fixture abuse and damage, and cut excessive water/sewage cost. Any investment will easily be offset by an attractive return, while ecological certified cleaning products, water and energy savings are helping the environment as well.
"Facility owners and managers are recognizing these factors and many are really starting to see the benefits of creating a positive restroom experience for their customers, tenants and employees, while reducing costs, increasing value, and making a positive contribution to our environment," adds Wientjes.
Still, some of today''s restrooms are severely outdated and impractical, but "this is not acceptable now that we are more aware and know we can make a change," says Resnick.
Not only can facility managers and BSCs help protect health, but utilizing today''s technology innovations would help facilities save money as well.
"Today, end users can save money on plumbing, paper product usage, soap, and other supplies, while also enhancing cleanliness," says Resnick. "And, it tells a powerful story of the entire facility."
For a complete automated restroom, says Wientjes, the return on investment is usually in excess of 35 percent, which is a payback in less than three years.
These savings are the result of reduced energy and water usage and controlled dispensing of commodity products.
"Expect more and improved automation in the years to come," says Calvert. "Newer systems are much more reliable."
The evolution of restroom technology allows you to operate in a cost effective manner, while protecting the environment and health.