Curbing Vandalism

Designing durable locker rooms and restrooms

By Arnie Wilke

andals likely waste millions in taxpayer dollars each year by defacing and destroying public facilities. From making a statement by tagging with spray paint to breaking fixtures out of anger or boredom, park and recreation restrooms are often a target. There are lots of opportunities to destroy something and plenty of privacy in which to do it.

Preventing all vandalism is impossible, but in many cases, recreational facilities can be protected by planning for it in the first place. Installing more durable fixtures and washroom accessories can help. In the long run, it is less costly to select better quality than to make frequent and costly repairs. And since some vandalism, like graffiti on toilet partitions, seems inevitable, it is important to choose products that are easily cleaned or repaired.

Opt for durability

For high-traffic areas that are prone to abuse, there are a number of newer products designed to resist vandalism.

If vandals are scratching toilet partitions or even trying to knock them down, investing in stainless steel partitions, for example, can be money well spent. Stainless steel is extremely durable, and a textured stainless finish does not easily scuff, show marks or scratch. It is also easy to clean.

For areas with moderate traffic, solid plastic partitions are an attractive and durable choice. They are the ideal choice for moist restroom environments like those found in locker rooms, swimming pool areas and fitness centers because they won't rust, dent or absorb odors. Plus, they are available in a range of colors to coordinate with solid plastic lockers.

Look for solid plastic partitions made of 30 percent post-industrial recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic and those carrying a good warranty. In better partitions, the color goes all the way through, which means they will never need painting and scratches can be easily repaired. Solid plastic resists impact, and graffiti can be easily wiped away with everyday cleaners, so the partitions will look great for years to come.

Another area that seems to attract the interest of vandals is the hand-washing area. How many times have you heard about china lavatories being smashed off the wall, or handles broken off of faucets? Broken mirrors, clogged sinks and faucets left running—the potential for damage can seem endless.

Replacing broken, chipped or stained china lavs is expensive. Instead, opt for a solid-surface lavatory system. Commercial solid-surface materials resist stains, burns, chemicals and impact. In the unlikely event that the surface is damaged, it can be easily repaired with everyday cleaners or fine-grit abrasives.

These fixtures are a timesaver when it comes to cleaning because the bowl is usually designed as a continuous, smooth surface with rounded edges and no crevices for dirt build-up. Soap dispensers built into the units mean excess soap drips into the bowl, not onto the counter or floor, which can cause slips and falls.

Solid-surface lavatories can be found in a number of different colors and configurations for one or for multiple users. Some units have the look and feel of individual lavatories, while others offer multi-height options that comply with requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and can be used in family restrooms.

For restrooms in more remote locations, look for fixtures with options like built-in tankless water heaters or light-activated energy management systems that require no electrical hookups or batteries. These types of features can save on maintenance headaches and can help save the facility money on water and energy use.

Go hands-free

The latest generation of touchless technology is another important step toward curbing vandalism. If users do not need to touch a fixture, they are less likely to get frustrated and want to break it or knock it off the wall.

Soap dispensers, towel dispensers and even hand dryers are all offered in hands-free models. Without handles or knobs to break, there are simply fewer surfaces on these accessories for vandals to damage. Touchless fixtures and accessories also help reduce waste since they only activate when a user is present, or dispense a pre-determined amount.

Capacitive sensing is a new type of touchless technology being incorporated into faucets that is more reliable for users and difficult for vandals to damage. Rather than having an infrared sensor window under the spout that can be punctured, capacitive sensing detects a user's presence from any angle of approach around the entire spout. This omni-directional zone reduces user frustration—an important aspect of preventing damage to equipment.

Look for special features

Durable materials are part of the equation, but heavy-duty construction is also important. Fixtures and accessories are available in different grades, from residential to the specialized equipment used in correctional facilities. Manufacturers offer a range of products to meet the needs of recreation facilities that fall somewhere between these two extremes.

Be sure to evaluate what you are getting for the money because the least expensive option typically will not include critical vandal-resistant features. High-quality, commercial-grade dispensers and accessories have tumbler locks and full-length piano hinges that prevent tampering. When possible, select recessed fixtures to further decrease opportunity for damage.

Do not be afraid to ask manufacturers or their representatives questions to learn why their products vary in price. Ask how plumbing fixtures and accessories are constructed and about the expected lifecycle. Can the product you are considering hold up to daily cleaning with harsh chemicals that eliminate germs? What about impact resistance and denting? Is there a higher-capacity model available that will reduce time needed for stocking?

These are just some of the considerations. Washroom product manufacturers can be a helpful resource in identifying the types of solutions that best fit your unique application.

By considering your specific situation—whether it's a remote restroom in a wooded park or a busy locker room at the community center gym—you and your suppliers can find the best solution to fit your facility's needs.


Arnie Wilke is a senior product applications manager at Bradley Corporation, a leading manufacturer of plumbing fixtures, washroom accessories, partitions, emergency fixtures and solid plastic lockers. For more information, visit

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