Cleaning a gender neutral washroom: what you should know

4th of October 2017
Cleaning a gender neutral washroom: what you should know

Gender neutral washrooms are becoming increasingly common throughout Europe, with many schools, universities, restaurants, workplaces and public buildings now adopting unisex facilities.


While this trend may seem controversial to some, it comes as a welcome move for progressive communities that appreciate the need for transgender people to feel comfortable when using the bathroom. Furthermore, gender neutral facilities remove the social stigma of parents helping children of the opposite sex when using toilets, as well as disabled people and carers of the opposite gender.


While the pros and cons of unisex toilets have been discussed at great length in recent times, most notably in the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to revoke guidelines allowing transgender children to use school toilets matching their identity, the general move towards inclusivity has thrown up interesting conversations amongst the professional cleaning community.


Sticking to the schedule


Owing to the fact that they don’t usually have urinals, gender neutral washrooms tend to be larger than gender-segregated amenities, with several individual cubicles naturally requiring more space. If urinals are present, they’re often partitioned away from the rest of the room, ensuring an element of privacy but also increasing the floorspace.


Furthermore, unisex toilets tend to have more individual sinks, longer counters, more soap dispensers and they’re likely to have larger mirrors. They will usually be busier, seeing as more people will be expected to pass through. Thus, ultimately, gender neutral toilets take longer to clean than staff may otherwise be used to.


As such, it’s essential that facility managers take this into account, ensuring contractors are given sufficient time to carry out their duties. Failing to adjust cleaning schedules accordingly can put staff under undue pressure, potentially leading to corners being cut and hygiene being put at risk.


A common objection to unisex toilets is the idea that men are dirtier than women, so the fairer of the species may be unfairly inflicted upon if they’re forced to share facilities. However, regular ECJ readers will be aware that, in reality, both sexes expect high standards of cleanliness.

In fact, some would say women’s toilets are often messier. When questioned on the gender divide, Roderick Mason, owner of a washroom supplier in America, told the Chicago Tribune: “Shredded toilet paper on the floor is something you only see in women’s rooms. It’s just all over the floor in every bathroom.”


Interestingly, Mason went on to make the point that gender neutral bathrooms may actually lead to cleaner facilities in the long run: “I would suspect that there would be more consideration for the other sex. You're always going to have slobs out there who don't care, but I would think that some people would change their behavior."


The jury remains out on that one for the time being, but there’s certainly nothing to suggest that a move to unisex toilets would see anyone suddenly encounter worse conditions than they currently do.


Quality cleaning guidelines


Sophie Rice recently wrote an excellent guide to creating a superior washroom experience, offering expert advice on high-quality hygiene, but I’d like to also advocate the colour-coding technique that can come in handy for gender neutral washrooms.


As mentioned above, unisex loos tend to be larger, which can lead to time pressures for cleaning staff, but by using colour-coded cloths, there’s a reduced risk of cross-contamination when in a hurry.


Essentially, the idea is to use different coloured cloths for different amenities. For example, blue for toilets, green for mirrors, yellow for sinks and counters, etc. This ensures you don’t spread germs from one area to another, and a strict approach will maintain a high level of hygiene, even if you’re cleaning against the clock.


While no oficial studies have been released on the impact of gender neutral bathrooms on cleaning standards, anecdotally I’ve heard a small portion of cleaning staff feeling uncomfortable about the issue. Thus, it’s important to provide reassurance that there’s no need to worry about entering gender neutral bathrooms; bringing down the barriers and embracing inclusivity should promote togetherness, not awkwardness.


Indeed, gender neutral bathrooms pave the way for removing the etiquette dilemma that exists when male cleaners enter female washrooms, and vice versa. In such instances, it’s considered good practice to put a sign up notifying patrons that a cleaner of the opposite sex is in attendance. For unisex facilities, a sign denoting the sex of the cleaner will become less of a necessity, as people will expect to cross paths with anyone and everyone.


Gender neutral toilets are already common across Asia and Africa, and the West is slowly catching up. Rather than presenting any problems, it should be business as usual for the cleaning community, but you may want to bear in mind these unspoken rules of toilet etiquette for unisex bathrooms.

Paul Thorn is Managing Director of Washware Essentials, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of unisex toilet facilities.


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