Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that maintaining a hygienic environment would be vital for any facility aiming to welcome employees, guests, or both.
Cleaning, disinfecting and hand hygiene became more important than ever for businesses of all types, from retail and grocery stores to restaurants and hotels. In fact, in April 2020, a survey found that 78 per cent of Americans were washing their hands six to 15 times per day.
Improving infection prevention efforts involves making it easier for all building occupants to keep their hands clean. As the number of vaccinated people increases and they become more comfortable visiting public spaces again, there will be greater demand for clean washrooms. This trend is playing out alongside two related stories: the hygienic advantage of paper towels over jet air dryers and the shift toward touchless washroom experiences.
Hygiene risks in the washroom
Research shows that a toilet or urinal flush can spread aerosolized particles carrying SARS-CoV-2 through the air. A separate study found that the number of viral particles increased after a toilet was flushed, and their concentration in the surrounding air remained high for 30 minutes or more after the flush. This adds to the list of hygiene hazards already present in washrooms, such as toilet clogs or contaminated surfaces with hidden infectious pathogens.
Given these risks, and the public’s awareness of them, the demand for solutions that can support health and hygiene in these environments will remain high. Businesses must assure returning guests and employees that their well-being is a priority or risk reputational damage and losses.
On top of more frequent cleaning and disinfecting routines, some businesses are investing in solutions that provide additional hygienic benefits. For example, one such solution is toilet paper that releases enzymes that eat away at grime in pipes. This helps prevent toilet clogs, that can spread germs and result in odours that signal a lack of cleanliness in washrooms. More products are also emerging that are manufactured with antimicrobial materials.
Proper hand hygiene is key
Hand hygiene doesn’t just require proper handwashing with soap and water or the use of hand sanitizers. It is also important to dry hands thoroughly. This is because wet hands attract and spread microbes more easily than dry hands.
During the pandemic, many operators have pivoted from jet air dryers to offering paper towels in washrooms. Numerous studies suggest that paper towels are the more hygienic way to dry hands. For instance, recent research showed that people who used jet air dryers spread a “significantly higher” number of pathogens to both clothing and surfaces than those who used paper towels.
In fact, Germany has updated its Occupational Safety Rule to require paper towels, specifically recommending that “warm air dryers should be avoided.” Companies have followed suit, including large multinational corporations. These decisions reflect the reality the most current science presents.
Carefully considering which paper towels to install is key. Facility managers should make sure paper towels have adequate absorbency, strength and softness to support effective hand-drying and guest satisfaction.
Creating a touchless experience
With automated washroom solutions now a “must”, according to industry experts, facilities are assessing how they can go touchless. Many businesses have a mixture of automated technologies and high-touch surfaces in washrooms, such as automated sinks and paper towel dispensers coupled with manual-flush toilets and urinals. Operations should assess how they can achieve a maximally touchless experience.
Fortunately, retrofitting commercial washrooms to install automated technologies is easy and often relatively inexpensive. This involves replacing the obvious targets, such as manual soap dispensers, toilet flushes and paper towel dispensers with automated or mechanical touch-free options. There are even touchless paper towel dispensers that use silver-ion technology to repel pathogens on its surface, addressing contamination quietly and steadily.
Facilities may place door tissue dispensers and corresponding wastebaskets near exit doors to eliminate the final risk of hand contamination before leaving the washroom. There may also be opportunities to install automated hand sanitizer dispensers near exits to signal that hand hygiene is a priority in and beyond the washroom. To further reduce touchpoints, some facilities may choose to eliminate washroom entrance or exit doors altogether as long as the space remains private.
Moving toward better washrooms
The pandemic has forever changed how people approach hand hygiene. Proper hand hygiene is not only important for reducing the spread of COVID-19, but other illnesses, including those like influenza that recur annually. With experts predicting that other pandemics are possible and even likely in the coming years, businesses must continue to promote best practices.
Washrooms present risks to public health and safety, and so they must be spaces where cleanliness and hand hygiene are taken seriously. Organizations that carefully consider hand drying methods and touchless options are better positioned to show they truly value the well-being of every person who steps inside their building.
Maria Ramirez is Director of Sales at Sofidel, a world leader in the manufacture of paper for hygienic and domestic use, including its Papernet brand of sustainable hygiene solutions. For more information, visit www.papernet.com/americas.