Back to Basics is an article series that highlights important, but possibly overlooked, information facilities management professionals should know.
I have a friend who is not a fan of public restrooms for obvious reasons. However, when nature calls, we all must listen. When we stopped at a recently renovated Interstate 95 service plaza, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the facility’s restroom not only was touchless but also looked very clean. The appearance of restrooms, and the availability of touchless features, says a lot about the pride that owners and facilities management staff have for their facilities, which often are part of a retail or restaurant establishment, like this one.
A touchless restroom has LED sensors on fixtures that can detect when someone arrives or leaves. These devices use battery power or have an AC transformer.
The American Restroom Association (ARA) advises facilities professionals who are upgrading public restrooms in commercial buildings or building restrooms as part of new construction to consider designing touchless restrooms not just for comfortability but also to reduce the spread of disease and control usage of restroom supplies. Facilities managers should also keep in mind that because touchless features are more efficient, they can save money on supplies and utilities.
When it comes to disease prevention, a study by the National Library of Medicine showed that 89% of restroom surfaces, like restroom door handles, toilet and sink handles, soap dispensers, paper towels, and hand-dryer machines, had bacteria.
Therefore, facilities professionals should consider the following touch-free features:
1. Reconfigure the Entrance and Exit
To create a touch-free multiuser restroom, the National Environment Agency suggests installing an offset entrance maze. This not only eliminates the need to touch a door but also improves ventilation.
Moreover, the ARA advises facilities professionals to consider installing single-user or family restrooms next to multiuser restrooms to ensure everyone can use the restrooms comfortably.
Facilities professionals who have space limitations for their multiuser restroom or are designing a single-user or family restroom should also consider installing a sensor outside the restroom that allows users to wave their hand to open the door. Another option is a foot-operated sanitary door opener that has a foot pedal at the bottom of the door.
2. Automatic-Flush Toilets and Urinals
Automatic-flush toilets and urinals improve hygiene because they eliminate the need to touch the toilet or urinal handles. They also make using the facilities easier because those who have mobility issues do not need to push a flush handle. However, according to the Sierra Club, improper sensor placement can result in “phantom flushing,” or flushing when nobody is around. Therefore, the ARA advises that sensors be installed farther away from the fixture so that toilets and urinals do not flush before the user is done.
3. Automatic Soap Dispensers
To prevent users from having to touch a pump with their hands that many may have touched before, install an automatic soap dispenser and an automatic hand sanitizer. When users place their hands underneath it, the dispenser will pour out the same amount of soap or sanitizer. Soap dispensers and sanitizers also should be properly mounted to the wall so they cannot be ripped off.
4. Automatic Sinks
Professionals advise placing the sensor at the lip or base of the faucet’s spout to allow the faucet to turn on. The sensor can also be on a timer to stop running water 10 to 15 seconds later, and a consistent temperature can be set. While automatic sinks still need to be disinfected and sensors cleared, they will be easier to maintain and have less skin oil.
5. Automatic Hand Dryers
Once users wash their hands, they have to dry them, so many facilities have chosen to be environmentally friendly by installing automatic hand dryers, which automatically come on when users put their hands under them. Newer hand driers take up even less energy than older ones and take less time to completely dry users’ hands.
However, a study by Penn State concluded that hand dryers spread the most amount of germs and bacteria, and the National Library of Medicine cautions against the installation of hand dryers in sensitive facilities such as hospitals, catering establishments, and food preparation areas. Those facilities should consider an automatic paper towel dispenser that dispenses paper towels when users place their hands near the sensor.
6. Touch-Free Trash Cans
To keep the restroom clean, especially of paper towels, be sure to have waste receptacles either built into the countertop next to the paper towel dispenser or in a separate area near the exit with no lid, making it easier to dispose of trash.
7. Smart Restroom Technology
Consider making your restroom a “smart” restroom so that facilities managers can get an alert when paper towels, toilet paper, soap, or sanitizer is running low so they can be replaced promptly. This would eliminate having to open individual compartments to check levels.
Facilities professionals should also ensure that any changes made to their restrooms follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are done in a way that encourages cleanliness.