Even before COVID, the American public had a dim view of public restroom standards.
In fact, 70% of the respondents reported a recent unpleasant public bathroom encounter. This is up from 51% four years ago. Bradley Corp 2019.
And don’t forget from the same source that:
“94% of U.S. adults would avoid a business in the future if they encounter a dirty restroom.“ (passenger feedback shows this is even higher)
Since COVID, there has been an increasing hygiene concern with the public – who see restrooms as not only unclean but now more of a risk for COVID. In response, restroom operators and facility managers have responded with an increase in contactless features and technologies. We agree that there are many good reasons to have a touchless restroom, but these hi tech improvements, by themselves will not be enough. Customers may not return.
What we will cover:
- The Tech Enabled Restroom
- What are Contactless fixtures?
- Contactless Restroom – Architectural and Design Changes
- The Costs of Going Contactless
- Contactless fixtures and design are not enough – enable the cell phone for feedback as well
The Tech Enabled Restroom – Smart Toilets and Bathrooms
COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on company operations, office spaces and even the restroom It is largely driven by an ever concerned public: According to Bradley, going contactless or touchless is prudent.
91% of Americans believe it’s extremely or somewhat important that public restrooms are equipped with touchless fixtures.
To further highlight this, a recent study by Airports Council International confirmed that only 1 out of 5 travelers do not yet have the confidence in health and safety systems at the airport to travel! Moreover, in the top 3 airport areas where travelers believe they have a higher risk of catching COVID is the restroom. Reclaiming passenger confidence to fly again means addressing their concerns about restroom performance as part of the airport experience..
This airport feedback concern however, is not just with passengers or the the public. In fact according to CB Insights, the number of earnings call mentions of “remote collaboration” and “virtual collaboration” have soared since Q1’20, as companies look to adapt to unprecedented conditions. Therefore, COVID has forced a much needed redesign or at least rethinking of the restroom that was long overdue.
It seems that the tech enabled restroom is the strategy of choice for facility managers when re-opening to the public. Specifically, these contactless restroom accessories addresses overcoming hygiene concerns by removing the need to touch. So ‘touchless’ is in and ‘contactless’ is the way to go. In doing so, the internet of things promises to make using the restroom easier and safer with technology that can assist with cleanliness, queueing, controlling water temperature and even never being out of toilet paper. These intelligent toilets for permanent restrooms now get considerable publicity – so let us now look at the detail.
What are Contactless Fixtures?
There are many opportunities to change out existing fixtures for contactless or no-touch ones. Sensors on each device detect movement which then triggers the unit. The main ones include:
- Soap dispensers
- Towel dispensers – or just use automatic driers
Architectural and Design Changes to Restrooms
There are many architectural changes possible (usually with a bathroom renovation or change to design layout) that are affecting business and domestic restroom designs – many involving sensors.
- Design elements like eliminating doors, adding S-curved and automated doors, and widening doorways eliminate the need to touch doors
- Door handles can be eliminated
- …Even on planes
- Stalls forming a perimeter around communal washing stations with open circulation delivers one-way traffic and better for social distancing
- Smart lighting reduces the need to switch on any lights
- Some high-touch restroom surfaces are available with antimicrobial coating (even these must pass the publics hygiene scrutiny).
- For other high-touch areas like sinks, nonporous materials with seamless construction like solid surface and natural quartz helps prevent bacteria, and mold accumulation
The Financial Costs of Going Contactless?
So many design, touchless technology and hardware solutions exist in the quest for contactless as facility managers think about re-opening, and even more guidelines exist. Many upsides exist over and above the improvement in hygiene. For example, water and soap reduction through shut-off. There are downsides to consider:
- Cost: There are a wide range of touch sensitive faucets that are priced in the thousands. Clearly they represent the top end, but going touchless is not cheap. Not all public toilets can go this route. Not all public toilets can go this route – and we assume they do not apply to portable restrooms.
- Maintenance: The more machinery in place, the greater the maintenance burden – both preventative and repair. Moreover, additional staff training is needed to avoid breakdown during cleaning.
- System change costs: with manual fixtures, it is easy. Some touchless require you to use a remote control to change anything
- If the fixtures use batteries – there are at least eight major pitfalls and much higher costs
- User dissatisfaction: Related to the above, but everyone has stuck their hands under an automatic faucet in a public restroom and nothing has happened. Or worse, had water that was far too hot because of malfunctioning sensor
Other Contactless Restroom Downsides
Over above the initial capital investment and ongoing operational costs, there are three other major considerations. The first of these is fundamental:
They do not prevent some of the basics of COVID transmission. Smart bathrooms have been around since the 1980s. But do they help against the Corona virus?
None of this newfangled technology matters, if you don’t do the old-fashioned thing and wash your hands — thoroughly. “I think the greatest thing we can do is proper hand-washing after all, clean hands save lives” – CDC
- They do nothing to improve social distancing, so person to person transmission is still possible
- They do not cover every eventuality eg. water on the floor, bad odor, unruly users etc.
- There is no cleaning regime improvement by the janitorial team
- It may be touch on individuals with disabilities to use contactless
Restroom Feedback from Users is Still Vital
It is the last point that is critical to understand. When considering re-opening restrooms, no amount of costly hi-tech, however well intentioned removes the need for immediate user feedback. Clearly the touchless restroom is a great first step in helping combat COVID and regain public trust, but contactless by itself only takes this so far.
It is still vital to allow restroom users to immediately report any issues, hazards or maintenance problems. Moreover, this can be done without any fancy external technology. The cell phone of any restroom is ideal for 1click immediate alerts to the right staff within seconds. This means facility personnel can remove the hazard, fix the issue – well before other users are affected.
Building managers should plan for the hands-free future, but must ensure there is a touchless and complimentary feedback and alert tool. Flushcheck enables touchless feedback via the cell phone of both restroom users and staff . This helps improve service standards and maintain their brand’s image by delivering restroom hygiene and safety. Contactless Restrooms – Smart Fixtures are NOT Enough.
For more detail including a short video – check the webpage.