There has always been a lot of attention focused on the appearance of restrooms.
As the industry evolves into a greater awareness of health and emerging green issues, managers and providers are looking for ways to improve appearance while reducing costs.
But what do your customers think the priorities might be?
In a study conducted by Kimberly-Clark, two survey questions provide valuable insight into customer thinking.
When asked about the innovation they would most like to see in the restroom of the future, 57 percent answered "a germ-free restroom" and about 4 percent suggested improved amenities, such as "private couches or chairs."
In a follow-up, customers were asked which hygienic improvement they would most like to see; nearly 60 percent answered "a totally touch-less restroom."
When asked to identify the biggest problem they would like to see eliminated in the future, 51 percent responded the appearance of a "dirty restroom."
With few exceptions, most of us don''t consider the physical environment of the restroom appealing.
So, I suppose that''s the first challenge for property owners and managers.
What can be done to make restrooms more appealing?
One benchmark might be to compare your company restroom to a top restaurant or five-star hotel.
By using similar colors, designs, artwork, lighting or traffic flow, your restroom might become a place where the company''s image and brand is extended.
We could extend this idea of appearance to the style, color and shape of restroom fixtures to improve both aesthetics and functionality.
Wall-mounted sinks and toilets and ceiling-mounted partitions can be more attractive and will simplify floor care and cleanliness.
The effect of lighting is often overlooked.
Try halogen or light emitting diode (LED) lighting over sinks, wall accent lighting and stall-specific recessed soft fluorescent lighting.
Understand that people can leave your restroom feeling a little uneasy.
Did they pick up a germ? Did the dirt get on their cloths? Do they have eye strain from the lighting?
For a long list of reasons, people can leave restrooms with a definite feeling about the area and they carry that emotion out of the restroom and into their workspace.
If they leave the restroom agitated, worried or angry, those emotions will show up as complaints or poor work quality.
Alternatively, you can design and service restrooms to create a healthy, even uplifting, experience for restroom users.
I''m guessing that with or without a pandemic event, customers are most concerned about the health risks associated with using your restroom facilities.
It''s more than just the appearance of a clean restroom: Customers want these areas to be "germ-free."
While many of the concerns of customers can — and should — be defined, measured and improved by visual observation, a germ-free environment is an entirely different matter.
Germ-free can be defined by organic residue, gram-negative bacteria levels and ambient particulate levels.
Identifying these conditions requires more than the usual visual observation; they require professional-level measurement and testing, using professional-level equipment.
What kind of testing will identify health risks?
One tool option is the ATP meter, which is used to measure levels of adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecule present in all living cells.
Another useful tool is a MoniTek-type test used for the detection of gram-negative microorganisms, which could be an indicator of the presence of potential pathogens.
Ultraviolet (UV) lights can be used to identify organic residue.
Yet, there are few organizations that do systematic, regular health-risk testing, notwithstanding the concerns of facility occupants.
In one recent study of 47 restrooms, ATP levels averaged 64.3 RLUs (reflective light units) and ranged from one RLU to 790 RLUs — 30 RLUs might be considered acceptable.
These same restrooms averaged a 72.2 percent cleanliness rating.
While useful, testing 47 restrooms is not sufficient to establish a reliable standard reference point.
Fortunately, there are innovative organizations taking on the challenge to examine the health impact of cleaning, beyond appearance alone.
ISSA is beginning a study of school cleaning and health in conjunction with the University of Maryland.
Another broad-based study of cleaning and health is being conducted by the Integrated Cleaning Measurement (ICM) group with the participation of several universities, professional associations, manufacturers and professional groups.
This group is initially being coordinated by Allen Rathey.
These are exciting projects and the findings of both of these initiatives could provide valuable direction to all stakeholders in our industry.
Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and CEO of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, MD. He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management. Visit www.ealtd.com for more information.