No-touch restroom technology is becoming commonplace. From door handles to cleaning systems, restrooms are being designed for use and cleaning without the need to touch surfaces.
More than 4.5 million office and commercial buildings in the United States are used daily by about 150 million workers. The spread of hand-washing-related infections in these facilities costs American companies more than $8 billion annually in direct costs—such as medical care—as well as in loss of productivity.
The mode of transmission for many infections may be direct or indirect. Direct contact is one infected person touching someone else. Indirect contact is the result of touching a contaminated, inanimate object such as a restroom fixture, handle, toilet seat cover, or door. Touching these surfaces compromises even an effective hand-washing routine because clean hands are simply reinfected as soon as the contaminated surface is touched again.
One of the best ways to minimize transmission of infection is to install no-touch fixtures and systems in restrooms and hand-washing areas. Cleaning professionals can also protect themselves from these same germs by wearing gloves, and for cleaning, using no-touch cleaning systems.
No-touch Restroom Technology
The mid-1980s saw the introduction of automatically activated faucets and dispensers using infrared sensors to activate the fixtures. Today, many of these are being replaced by "antenna systems" that detect motion in and around the immediate area of the fixture.
The primary benefits of these systems are health-related—with no need to touch the fixture, risk of contamination is minimized. In addition, they offer more control over the amount of water, soap, and paper dispensed in the restroom.
Some of the more recent advances in this technology include these:
Toilet seat covers. In 1979, the first toilet seat covers that automatically cover the seat with plastic were introduced in Europe. The system became very popular throughout Europe, where it is said, "the bathroom is a direct reflection of the business or building owner." These systems are now common in the U.S. as well.
Doors. Many newer restrooms in large facilities are now being designed without doors, using a maze-type entry, which protects the users' privacy without requiring them to touch door handles or knobs, surfaces often covered with bacteria and germs. These maze systems started in airports but are now common in all types of facilities.
Dispensers. Automated paper towel dispensers are now very common. Not only do these systems eliminate contact but they also offer ways to manage paper towel use.
Not long after touch-free technologies for restrooms were introduced, a similar approach to cleaning, which addressed many of the same issues and health concerns, began to take hold. The goal of this method is to equip the custodian with an effective, multipurpose cleaning system that makes cleaning healthier, safer, faster, and more efficient.
No-touch cleaning (also known as spray-and-vac cleaning) involves spraying cleaning solution and disinfectant onto soiled fixtures, walls, and floors, then rinsing the areas clean using pressurized water (up to 500 psi) and vacuuming them to remove moisture and soils. Nearly twenty years after the introduction of these systems, many users agree that they do clean faster and more efficiently without the need to touch soiled surfaces.
"No-touch [restroom cleaning] systems are actually empowering populations to practice better hygiene by removing the necessity to touch dispensers, buttons, cranks, or levers. This reduces the risk of cross-contamination," says Barry Michaels, a senior microbiologist for Georgia-Pacific. They also help reduce waste, clutter, and excessive paper use.
Similarly, these systems are proving to be a safer, faster, and more efficient way to clean.
With all of these developments, the totally touch free restroom is on its way to becoming commonplace. Common sense, no-touch technology, including cleaning systems, will mean "the risk of infection in the workplace, the school, and other facilities can be significantly reduced. This will have a dramatic effect on the health of our buildings—which in the business environment has a direct effect on the bottom line," says Michaels.
Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, having owned, operated, and then sold three contract cleaning companies in Northern California.
He is the author of two books about the industry and continues to be a frequent writer for the industry.
Robert is now president of AlturaSolutions Communications, which provides communications and marketing services for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.