Restrooms & Locker Rooms

Coming Clean in the Restroom
How Well-Maintained Restrooms Encourage Hand-Washing

By Jon Dommisse

By their very nature, public restrooms are havens for germs. So when you factor in the host of germs being passed around within recreational facilities where people are constantly touching equipment—from dumbbells to water fountains—it's clear to see how recreational facilities' restrooms easily become germ breeding grounds.

Over the past year, Americans have gained a heightened sensitivity to the spread of germs largely due to the H1N1 virus. And with annual cold and flu season in full swing, concerns over germs continue: Research published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that 63 percent of gym equipment carries the cold-causing rhinovirus.

We've all heard medical experts say the best way to protect yourself against contracting such viruses is to frequently wash your hands with soap and water, particularly after coughing or sneezing, using the restroom, and before and after eating. To see if the H1N1 virus has impacted Americans' hand-washing behavior, we surveyed a representative cross-section of the American population about their hand-washing habits in public facilities. Some findings include:

  • 54 percent said they "wash their hands no more nor less frequently" in public restrooms since the H1N1 virus emerged.
  • 87 percent said they washed their hands with soap and water after using public bathrooms, but other responses indicated that some may have exaggerated how often they actually did the job correctly. For instance, 55 percent also admitted they have on occasion just rinsed their hands before leaving a public restroom.
  • 68 percent of parents said they believed their school-age children wash their hands after using the restroom. If that is accurate, it still leaves one in three children walking around with contaminated hands.

With the ongoing threat of a serious infection like H1N1, why are so many people dropping the ball when it comes to hand hygiene? According to the survey, many cited the quality and condition of public restrooms.

When respondents were asked why they did not wash their hands before leaving a public restroom, they complained of nonworking sinks and unclean or crowded wash areas. Some, however, admitted that they simply didn't feel the need to wash—although 28 percent of them said they used a hand sanitizer instead. The primary reason respondents cited for not using soap, or rinsing only with water, was that the soap dispensers were empty.

Recreational facility owners and managers can help encourage hand-washing by continuing to improve their restrooms so people feel comfortable using their facilities. In addition to encouraging frequent hand-washing for staff, members and patrons, managers need to ensure their facilities are regularly cleaned and sanitized.

For many, there is a direct link between restroom appearance and hand-washing behavior. Just as the cleanliness, design and attractiveness of a restroom can influence a first impression of a health club, gym or waterpark, well-designed and maintained restrooms can help encourage use. Members are keenly aware of restroom and locker room environments—the cleanliness, privacy, functionality and condition can all affect their perceptions and overall experience.

There are a variety of strategies and products to consider in restroom design. These approaches not only encourage hand-washing, they provide facility owners other benefits, too:

Aesthetics: Selecting warm-colored natural stone or ceramic tile for restroom and locker room areas along with good lighting will give the space a modern earthy glow. Newer stainless-steel washroom partitions and accessories with unique textures give a contemporary and high-end look to restrooms while they resist scratches and hide vandalism. Coordinating stainless-steel accessories with solid-surface lavatory systems in earth-tone shades will complement the warm color scheme, coordinate well with other accessories in the restroom and help create a welcoming space.

Touchless technology: Sensor-operated faucets, soap dispensers, motion-activated towel dispensers and automatic hand dryers are preferred among users and facilities managers alike. With publicity about widespread flu epidemics, the public is especially sensitive to hygiene and wary of touching objects that have been handled by others. Hands-free faucets can encourage more hand-washing, thereby helping to prevent infections.

For example, capacitive sensing technology has an electrical field surrounding the entire faucet that detects a user's presence from any angle of approach to trigger water activation. In effect, capacitive sensing eliminates false activations and provides consistent operation. Reduced maintenance is another benefit for owners, since there are no above-deck sensors, handles or knobs to vandalize.

Automatic hand dryers have also benefited from upgraded mechanicals. Newer models use 80 percent less electricity than other hand dryers, while drying hands in as little as 10 seconds—about three times faster than most hand dryers. The energy to operate these hand dryers is generally less than 10 percent of the cost of paper towels, including labor costs for ordering, storing, replenishing dispensers, collecting and disposing of paper towels—not to mention the environmental benefits of eliminating excess paper waste.

Solid surface materials: Selecting surfaces that are easy to clean and have fewer places for germs to hide makes for a cleaner hand-washing area. Many facilities have found solid-surface lavatory systems to be the best long-term solution because they are extremely durable and the integrated bowls are much easer for staff to keep clean.

Designed with no sink rims or caulk seams that can trap dirt on the lavatory deck, solid-surface lavatories are nonporous and naturally resist germs, and unlike laminate materials, they will not warp or delaminate. Since lavatory systems have sprayheads mounted into the header of the lavatory, there are no faucets or handles to clean around or vandalize. Plus, the material is naturally resistant to bacteria.

In addition, new antimicrobial accessories—grab bars, door latches, door pulls, etc.—can be used to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria, mold, mildew and fungus that comes into contact with the product surface and users.

Improving and maintaining your facility's restrooms offers significant business benefits—and public health benefits. While making a positive impression on users, clean and well-designed restrooms will support hand-washing—and germ-fighting.


Jon Dommisse is director of marketing and product development for Bradley Corp. 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. For more information, visit

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