Often credited as being at the forefront of the green movement by driving sustainable initiatives, the commercial cleaning and maintenance industry is also a testing ground and launching point for devices that reduce or altogether eliminate touch points.
Limiting contact with high-touch surfaces and the subsequent cross-contamination associated with their handling is especially important in restrooms, given the increased amount of communicable germs and bacteria present.
Because of this hygiene concern, manufacturers are developing and refining designs for devices used to wash, dry and disinfect hands, equipment used to clean the restroom and other high-traffic environments and tools that make a building occupant''s experience less stressful.
No-touch Hand Hygiene
The automation revolution is in full swing — and it is increasingly noticeable in a modern restroom.
It is readily known that decreasing the number of surfaces touched by restroom patrons will reduce the chances of those individuals falling ill from contracting germs and bacteria.
According to Dan DeCriscio, category manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional, by eliminating the need to touch a potential source of germs, touchless systems can help reduce their spread.
Manufacturers have been attuned to the many studies touting no-touch hand hygiene devices and have responded with a barrage of dispensers, faucets, handles and other items that eliminate the need to be touched.
"These systems can help make the task of using as well as maintaining the restroom easier, more efficient and more cost-effective while providing improved hygiene and sanitation features," notes DeCriscio.
Given the fast-paced lifestyle in today''s culture, it becomes crucial that the no-touch devices in a facility not only work properly, but also entice patrons to use them.
A broken automatic faucet, an empty paper towel dispenser or another device not functioning because of dead batteries does little good to promote hand hygiene.
"Proper hand washing remains a key factor in killing germs and bacteria, so it''s important to install no-touch hand drying devices that are both reliable and low maintenance," explains William Gagnon, director of marketing for Excel Dryer Inc.
Many of today''s no-touch devices require little to no maintenance other than routine cleaning and changing out batteries every couple of years.
"Most of the units are made of plastic and should be cleaned with a cleaner that will not negatively affect the plastic. Some dispensers include a Microban treatment that is molded into the plastic," adds DeCriscio.
Because of their ease of use and almost non-existent maintenance, facility managers and building owners around the world are retrofitting their restrooms with a variety of touch-free devices that add convenience to the lives of everyone.
"At the pinnacle of effective cleaning is the no-touch spray and vacuum system. In areas that are tolerant of wet cleaning, the process of chemical saturation, high-pressure rinse and vacuum recovery provide the highest degree of both disinfection and soil removal," states Peter Sheldon, vice president of operations for Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System.
Several varieties of spray and vacuum or spray and squeegee systems exist, all of which greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination from one area of a facility to another.
By relying on chemical processes instead of physical agitation, these machines are able to deliver superior levels of cleanliness while being less taxing on end-users — a benefit often overlooked because of the impressive germ and bacteria reduction levels.
Through the use of measurement technology like adenosine triphosphate (ATP) meters, we are able to prove that the use of no-touch cleaning procedures provide for the greatest degree of effective soil removal when compared to other cleaning processes.
"Traditional cleaning procedures, like string mopping, not only limit soil removal but also contribute to cross-contamination when mops and buckets are used in multiple areas," adds Sheldon.
The best example of this is the janitor who mops the restroom then uses the same mop to clean the floor in a kitchen area, unknowingly bringing germs and bacteria from the restroom into the area where food is prepared and consumed.
A Totally Touch-free Experience
While no-touch, touchless or touch-free devices are often associated with soap, hand sanitizer and paper towel dispensers, hand dryers and spray and vacuum or spray and squeegee systems, they also cover other things that reduce touch points.
Auto-flush toilets and urinals are another way of reducing the possible transmission of harmful germs and bacteria from one person to another.
Virtually no surfaces in restrooms are desirable to touch, especially surfaces of toilets and urinals, whose flush handles harbor high levels of germs and bacteria.
Some manufacturers even offer toilets with touch-free seat cleaning technology.
Although recent studies have shown that the toilet seat is one of the least germ and bacteria-ridden areas in a restroom, the stigma remains that touching a toilet seat can be detrimental to one''s health.
More rudimentary and certainly less automated no-touch devices include things like kick plates on doors and other door-opening devices.
Some facilities have realized that any hygiene benefits had by offering toilets and urinals that automatically flush and no-touch hand washing and drying devices are eliminated when patrons have to grab contaminated handles and push dirty doors to exit a room.
To solve this conundrum, simple devices that are activated by stepping on a lever with one''s foot, which causes the locking mechanism to deactivate and the door to open, have been installed — most notably in high-traffic restrooms.
As the commercial cleaning industry — and society as a whole — becomes more cognizant of the risks associated with touching contaminated surfaces, we can expect to see an increasing number of no-touch, touchless or touch-free devices in all areas of facilities.
Fewer touch points — be it in a restroom, office setting or a school environment — reduces the opportunity for cross-contamination.
The alternative is a built environment with numerous contaminated surfaces that contribute to decreased productivity through sick employees and the constant need for custodial professionals to clean and disinfect surfaces.