A recent study from the education industry illuminates perspectives about using public restrooms. The APPA Center for Facilities Research, the leading association for educational facilities professionals, along with ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, wanted to know how students ranked their schools' restrooms and if the areas' cleanliness (or lack thereof) impacted students' feelings toward the schools and their academic achievement.
The associations surveyed 1,500 students at five key U.S. universities. They asked respondents to rank their schools' restrooms using five levels of cleanliness:
- Level 1: highest rating-spotless, orderly, clean
- Level 2: slightly untidy-some light dust, smudges, and fingerprints, but otherwise receiving high marks
- Level 3: casual inattention-obvious soil, stain, and dust problems on surfaces
- Level 4: moderately dingy-heavy amounts of soils, stains, dust, and fingerprints along with overflowing trash bins, trash on the floor, and odor problems
- Level 5: beyond dingy-appears to have been neglected for quite some time with major accumulations of soil, excessive trash, and odors
Eighty-eight percent of the students reported that a lack of cleanliness becomes a distraction at Level 3; 81 percent said Levels 1 or 2 are needed to induce a positive feeling about restrooms; 80 percent said that a rating of Level 4 or 5 negatively influences their thoughts about the quality of the restrooms, their school, and their own health and results in higher stress levels.
"This [study] reinforces the benefits of cleaning," says ISSA Executive Director John Garfinkel. "And it has a great deal of public-relations power. [Effective restroom cleaning] informs students and their families that their school cares about the health and the well-being of their population."
Ending Anxiety and Avoidance
Based on these findings, it can be assumed that restrooms with Level 1 cleanliness help students stay focused on getting an education. Additionally, the study indicates that a school facility with a high-rated restroom as to cleaning and appearance adds to personal confidence and self-esteem.
"Bathroom cleanliness is far more important than a lot of establishments understand," says Daniel Howard, Chairman of the Marketing Department at Southern Methodist University. "A host of research in the area of service quality and consumer behavior shows that the physical attributes of a facility, including the cleanliness of restroom floors, counters, and fixtures, has significant impact on people's perceptions of whether that business or organization can meet their needs. That, in turn, has an effect on whether people will return and do business with that organization again."
Further, dirty restrooms can trigger "anxiety and avoidance," according to Wade Rowatt, Associate Professor of Psychology at Baylor University. Dirty restrooms "can serve as a cue that an establishment is poorly managed or has a sloppy, unprofessional staff," he says.
With current economic conditions, facility managers want to do everything possible to retain and attract new customers. "The last thing [they] want is to lose [customers and students] because their restrooms are not clean," concurs Matt Morrison, Communications Manager for Kaivac. "However, because of tight budgets, they want to have hygienically clean restrooms that don't break the bank."
Morrison says there are cost-effective-and cost-saving-ways to have restrooms with Level 1 cleanliness. Traditional methods of restroom sanitation tend to be time consuming, labor intensive, and physically stressful, Morrison says, requiring cleaning workers to kneel, crouch, and bend. "And it's not very sanitary, either," he adds. "We now have studies that tell us that as a cleaning cloth or mop gets used, it can spread as many contaminants as it removes."
No-touch cleaning systems, also referred to as spray-and-vac systems, are one way cleaning workers can clean as much as 67 percent faster,* cutting labor costs. Additionally, according to the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI), no-touch cleaning systems provide more effective, hygienic cleaning.**
These systems release a properly diluted amount of chemical onto soiled surfaces, which are then rinsed with water. One no-touch system includes a wet/dry vacuum to recover solution, soils, and contaminants and speed the drying process.
Although the survey of students discussed earlier has helped us better understand the importance of proper restroom cleaning in all types of facilities, levels of cleaning will always be subjective; what seems clean and spotless to one person may not necessarily be so for another. But especially during these economic times, there really is no recourse but to provide the most clean, hygienic, and healthy restroom environment possible.
*Based on studies conducted by ISSA and reported in ISSA 447 Cleaning Times.
**CIRI is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to raise awareness concerning the importance of cleaning through scientific research.