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The Wholesaler - Features: September 2010: Keeping up appearances in the restroom

Keeping up appearances in the restroom

Special to The Wholesaler

Today’s commercial restrooms – especially when compared with the dingier models of yesteryear – have come a long way, earning due respect among specifiers, designers and building owners alike. Most agree that restrooms tell a greater story about a facility – about the building’s cleanliness and safety, the respectability of the staff and management, and the organization’s level of sophistication and overall success.

According to a recent annual nationwide survey about hand washing habits, a whopping 60% of the general population reported having a particularly unpleasant experience in a public restroom due to the condition of the facilities. To illustrate how a negative restroom experience can hurt business, nearly 40% said that as a result of that experience they left the facility without completing their intended business, while almost 30% said they will think twice about visiting that business in the future. One-fourth of disgruntled respondents said that they spread news of their bad experience to others via word-of-mouth.
But just as restroom design and maintenance can impact consumer’s impressions of an enterprise, it can also affect whether – and how – people wash their hands.

The second annual Healthy Hand Washing Survey by Bradley Corp., conducted in July 2010, also showed that a surprisingly high percentage of Americans, including kids and adults, do not wash their hands after using the lavatory in a public restroom. This lack of hand cleanliness is a disturbing finding, particularly in light of last year’s H1N1 flu outbreak and health experts’ repeated messages that washing with soap and water is the best way to prevent illness.

So why are people failing to wash their hands? Many pointed to the poor condition of commercial restrooms – a striking finding that is consistent with the original 2009 survey. Respondents complained of nonworking or clogged sinks, lack of supplies, and unclean or crowded wash areas. The primary reason cited for not using soap, or rinsing only with water, was that the soap dispensers were empty or in disrepair.

Coming clean in the restroom

Restroom visitors clearly have higher expectations for not only restroom décor and aesthetics, but also for a clean, well-maintained environment devoid of unsightly debris or germs.

While wholesalers and builders cannot control how well the maintenance staff disinfects restroom surfaces or dictate that all staff and users wash their hands, they can help ensure that restrooms are well-designed and stay cleaner, which, in turn, encourages hand washing behavior and a positive impression of a business or facility.

Part of the key is to select restroom products and fixtures that offer the “whole package.” Look for durable, attractive and energy-efficient fixtures designed to stand up to high-traffic environments and everyday wear and tear, while warding off common vandalism damage. The benefits of using such fixtures are many – not only are they easier to maintain and keep clean, they save labor costs and money in the long run. They also help the organization deliver a positive experience to its patrons.

Some suggestions:

• Eye appeal – To keep restrooms from feeling institutional and cold, select warm-colored natural stone or ceramic tile. Opt for durable solid-surface lavatory systems in earth shades that coordinate with other accessories in the restroom. Coordinating stainless steel accessories with solid surface lavatory systems in earth tone shades will complement the warm color scheme and other accessories in the restroom, creating a welcoming space. Good lighting also plays an important role in the aesthetics of a restroom because it lets patrons see how clean – and safe – the facility’s restrooms are. Keep lighting in the warm temperature range, and stay on the softer side.

• Low maintenance – Specify fixtures that are high quality and low-maintenance. One manufacturer now offers resilient natural molded quartz, as well as durable composite materials for sinks and basins that resist stains, chemicals, scratches and heat, thereby reducing the likelihood of repairs and need for replacements.

Other features that save money and keep restrooms tidier are built-in soap dispensers that drip right into the bowl, and infrared sensors that shut off flow after use. These can also repel vandalism – especially important in schools and heavily used facilities like shopping malls and airports.

• Low flow – Low-flow restroom fixtures have already become the standard in commercial and institutional restrooms. Toilets that once used 5 to 7 gallons per flush are now required to use no more than 1.6 gpf. Many specifiers are also opting for ultra-low-flow toilets and waterless urinals for their facilities.

• Photovoltaic cells – Another way to maximize savings and environmental efficiency is with light-activated lavatory systems. Photo­voltaic cells integrated into the top of a lavatory system convert either normal restroom lighting or day lighting into energy that is stored and used to power valves and sensors in the hand-washing fixtures. These fixtures eliminate the need for batteries and electrical hookups. By eliminating replacement batteries, these products not only cut operating costs but also help reduce the more than 2 billion pounds of batteries that are sent to landfills each year.

• Hands-free fixtures – Besides reducing waste, infrared fixtures provide the added benefit of reducing germs. To be sure, Americans are sensitive to hygiene and wary of touching objects that have been handled by scores of other patrons. Hands-free faucets in public facilities can encourage more hand-washing – and help prevent infections. Hands-free sensor-operated soap dispensers, motion-activated towel dispensers and automatic hand dryers are all popular choices.

Some manufacturers also provide anti-microbial coatings on door handles as another option to minimize germs and bacteria.

The design and maintenance of commercial restrooms are critical factors when it comes to customer perception – and hand hygiene. A well-planned restroom design with durable and efficient fixtures not only positively affects facility operating and maintenance costs, it bolsters public perception of the business and healthy hand washing behavior among users.

For information on this survey contact the author, Jon Dommisse, director of marketing and product development for Bradley Corpor­ation of Menomonee Falls, Wis. A USGBC member and manufacturer of locker room products, plumbing fixtures, washroom accessories, partitions and emergency fixtures, Bradley serves the commercial, industrial, health care, recreation, education, and corrections markets worldwide. Dommisse can be reached at Bradley Corp., W142 N9101 Fountain Blvd., Menomonee Falls, WI 53052-0309. For more information, call 800-BRADLEY or visit


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