Jon Dommisse is director of strategy & corporate development for Bradley Corp. Dommisse can be reached through Bradley Corp.
Looking beyond the pandemic, public restrooms will never be thought of in quite the same way. The uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 has impacted the perception, functionality and design of commercial restrooms. Similar to how 9/11 changed air travel and the iPod transformed how we listen to music, the coronavirus pandemic is certain to alter public bathroom design.
COVID-19 has also affected how people view and react to the cleanliness and condition of public restrooms. In particular, restrooms and plumbing systems in commercial businesses are now under the microscope of everyone who uses them. Bradley Corp.’s Healthy Handwashing Survey found that 86% of Americans are more conscious about coming in contact with germs as a result of the coronavirus. The mere thought of touching germs lingering on restroom surfaces and breathing in the germy “toilet plume” caused by flushing toilets is on many people’s radar.
Even so, people still need to use restrooms. Restroom use is a reality that is not going away any time soon especially now that more businesses and establishments are reopening. During the pandemic, the survey found that public restroom usage has continued. Just 13% of Americans said they completely avoided using a public restroom while 50% visited restrooms just as they always had. Another 37% said they were uncomfortable but had, at times, utilized a public restroom when necessary.
Moreover, the public’s concern about contracting the coronavirus has led to a spike in handwashing and even hand drying, which also prompts people to use public restrooms when they are out and about. The survey revealed that nearly 90% are washing their hands more frequently or more thoroughly as a result of the coronavirus. In terms of frequency, 57% are washing up between six to 15 or more times a day. 73% are drying their hands more frequently or more thoroughly. Seeing that medical experts say that handwashing with soap is one of the best ways to protect oneself from contracting viruses and flus, is positive news.
The Business ROI of Clean & Hygienic Restrooms
While restrooms clearly serve an important purpose in buildings, the general public expects better cleaning, sanitization and functionality in restrooms today and going forward.
Research shows that consumers increasingly evaluate businesses based on the condition and appearance of restrooms. These factors even influence spending behaviors. According to the Healthy Handwashing Survey, 69% of consumers said that experiencing clean restrooms in businesses actually increases their spending — a number that has increased significantly each year the question has been asked of respondents. In fact, almost three out of four consumers make it a point to visit a business because they know it has nice restrooms.
Conversely, unclean restrooms can damage the businesses associated with them. Almost 60% of Americans will leave a business immediately or are unlikely to return after experiencing an unpleasant restroom.
There are a number of strategies that specifiers, designers, engineers and business owners/managers can proactively take to improve hygiene/cleanliness, maintenance, user convenience, safety and cost-effectiveness, such as the following.
Touchless Restroom Fixtures
While almost every industry is incorporating touchless technology throughout buildings these days, there is especially an increasing demand for them in commercial washrooms. 2021 research shows that 84% of Americans want touchless fixtures installed in public restrooms so they can avoid touching levers, handles, buttons and other surfaces that numbers of other people are touching.
Going touch-free is associated with positive ROI, as 70% say they are more likely to return to a business if they know it has touchless fixtures in its restrooms. 56% have a negative impression of a business that lacks touch-free fixtures.
The good news is that sensing technology has never operated better. Today’s advanced touchless technology for faucets and soap provides a smooth and reliable handwashing experience. Optimized sensing eliminates false activations while enhancing accuracy and power consumption. Many metered touch-free faucets also have multiple low-flow options to match water savings preferences and multiple run time options to fit the application, and some even include data for operations, such as usage, to save on maintenance.
Touchless restroom fixtures add a significant level of comfort for Americans when they are out and about and need to use a public restroom. We have all become more cognizant of potentially germy touch points, so eliminating an area of concern is another way we can help resume our normal lives again.
Sink Materials & Faucet Technologies
Specifiers are also focusing more on selecting sink materials that support restroom cleanliness and maintenance. Using smooth and nonporous materials with seamless cast-formed construction like solid surface and natural quartz helps prevent bacteria, mold and delamination accumulation. These materials are durable, sustainable, nonporous, and easy to clean and repair.
Washbasins are now being engineered with self-cleaning functionality. More models are being designed with a mechanism to stop germs and bacterial growth in the fixture between uses. Some models can be programmed to purge water every 24 hours for 5 seconds, if the unit has not been activated within that time. In effect, stagnant water is drained from the piping system and flushed with water to minimize the risk of bacterial growth.
Touch-Free All-in-One Handwashing Systems
Newer handwashing models are designed with all touch-free handwashing elements (soap, faucet and dryer) integrated into the fixture, making handwashing more accessible, personal and hygienic for each user.
Handwashing fixtures utilizing soap, faucet and dryer all in one unit can help to contain water inside the basin. These all-in-one models eliminate the need for people to move away from the sink to access a paper towel, hand dryer or waste basket with wet hands. Water trails on countertops and restroom floors not only look sloppy and germy and irritate restroom users, they can create slips, falls and extra maintenance.
All-in-one handwashing fixtures also eliminate the need for specifying separate fixtures on the countertop and/or walls, which can create a cluttered and clunky appearance, and necessitate more maintenance.
Multi-Feed Soap Systems for Sinks
Today’s washroom trends also focus on making maintenance more efficient. For example, frequent and messy soap dispenser filling is a significant maintenance pain point in facilities. New models of touch-free soap dispensers feature a smart sense system with LED light indicators to display low soap and battery, making maintenance more predictable and efficient. Newer top-fill multi-feed models are also designed more ergonomically and are easier to fill. Handwashing systems are also being designed with larger soap dispensers to cut down on the amount of refills required.
For years, the industry has promoted washroom designs and equipment to maximize space and traffic flow in restrooms. While tempering traffic flow is still important, COVID-19 has triggered a new emphasis on modified layouts and individual containment in restroom spaces to cut down on germ exposure. Therefore, for multi-user restrooms, features like occupancy monitors and fully enclosed restroom partitions are becoming more popular, as are new washbasin designs with increased space between the handwashing areas to allow for social distancing while washing hands. In fact, more facilities are installing sinks just outside the restrooms and within hallways. Restroom layout designs, like eliminating doors, adding S-curved and automated doors and widening doorways, are also gaining traction.
We are seeing clients consider using more robust HVAC systems throughout their facilities but especially in shared spaces such as in restrooms. Ventilating with outdoor air is vital to diluting airborne contaminants.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the coronavirus appears to spread indoors through close personal contact and via poor circulation of building ventilation systems. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) advises that ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through air.
While there are a number of infection control technologies and measures available for today’s post-pandemic restrooms, it is still important to limit crowding in restroom areas, wash hands with soap and water, dry hands completely, wear masks and follow advanced cleaning and disinfection protocols.