Away-from-home washrooms - living up to expectation?

29th of May 2023
Away-from-home washrooms - living up to expectation?
Away-from-home washrooms - living up to expectation?

ECJ finds out what people expect to find in away-from-home washrooms - and whether or not this is actually being delivered.

Washrooms come in all shapes and sizes. Some are purely functional and only offer the bare essentials - namely soap, toilet paper and hand-drying facilities. Others go the extra mile to impress visitors and will perhaps feature plush surroundings, hand creams and an attractive background for selfies.

But what do visitors actually want from a washroom? Is a safe and hygienic environment more important than aesthetics? And do factors such as efficiency and sustainability matter much to the typical end-user?

The global pandemic has put a firm focus on hygiene, says Northwood Hygiene’s marketing manager Paul Mulready. “People are washing their hands more frequently as they learn to live with Covid-19 and they expect washrooms to be clean, hygienic spaces that inspire them with confidence,” he said.

“There is also a growing appreciation of touchless fixtures because these come with the reassurance that the toilet paper and hand towels they use has been untouched by anyone else.”

Northwood’s touch-free Hybrid Roll Towel dispenser presents towels in a single-sheet format to help reduce the spread of germs, according to Mulready.

Washrooms are part of the visitor experience in a luxury establishment, he says. “Guests here will want to see stylish fixtures plus premium products such as quality soaps and scented hand creams,” he said. “Premier venues would also expect to be tagged on Instagram or Facebook and would want any comments about their washrooms to reflect positively on them. So these must be of a
high standard.”

A washroom visited daily as part of the user’s routine would invoke different expectations, he adds.  “Workplace toilets still need to be clean, hygienic and well stocked, but people are not going to linger for long in these settings,” said Mulready. “So all dispensers and consumables should help to make the experience quick and efficient for the visitor.”

Washrooms are often the first or last place port of call in any establishment, he says. “It can be immensely frustrating to find there is no toilet paper, soap or hand towels and a negative experience could leave a lasting impression on the visitor,” he said.

High-capacity units will ensure a long-lasting supply and reduce the risk of frustrating run-outs, he says. “This will also cut down on the number of service visits required by operatives to re-stock.”

Customers are becoming increasingly interested in the issue of sustainability, according to Mulready. “Washrooms come under close scrutiny because they make heavy use of consumables such as paper towels and toilet rolls,” he said. “We all prefer to use ethical products and minimise waste, so visitors should be provided with sustainable products and energy-saving solutions. These will reassure
them that the company is doing its best to be responsible.”

Fast and efficient

Most people want the process of using the washroom to be hygienic, fast and efficient, says Losdi’s marketing and communications manager Pau Ortiz. “Washroom visitors simply want to get on with what they were doing beforehand as quickly as possible,” he said.

“This means all dispensers should be designed to work efficiently. But washrooms should also be sustainably managed.” Losdi offers a range of washroom dispensers and hand dryers and has recently redesigned its product packaging to make it more eco-friendly.

People’s washrooms requirements depend on the type of facility concerned, says Essity’s communications director Jenny Turner. “Hospitality washrooms should reflect the venue’s brand values and match the customer’s expectations,” she said. “However in other environments, factors such as cleanliness, good soap and paper provision and quick access with no queueing will take priority over plush surroundings.”

Offering basic hygiene products should be a minimum requirement in every washroom, she says. “This has become even more important since Covid,” says Turner. “And improving sustainability has become essential in our everyday lives and is increasingly top of mind.”

Essity offers a paper hand towel recycling service to help companies reduce their carbon footprint. Customers signing up for Tork PaperCircle have their used washroom hand towels picked up from their premises and taken to local Essity mills where they are turned into new tissue products.

It can be a challenge to operate a washroom proactively rather than reactively, according to Turner. “Running out of soap, bad smells and paper towels on the floor are all common complaints,” she said. “But the biggest complaints of all relate to the toilet paper running out.”

She says smarter ways of working can help to address these issues. “High-capacity solutions and data-driven cleaning can increase efficiency, save time and improve the working environment for cleaning staff,”” she said. Essity’s Tork Vision Cleaning, which uses sensors to allow cleaning staff to check on refill levels remotely, is claimed to ensure soap and paper dispensers remain stocked 99 per cent of the time.

Kimberly Clark Professional’s UK general manager Craig Bowman agrees with other commentators that hygiene, safety and health are top priorities for most washroom users.  “They also want soaps and sanitisers that leave their hands feeling clean without drying them out,” he said. “And they like facilities that allow for quick and effective hand drying.”

End-users value reliability and want to see systems that prevent run-outs, he said. Kimberly-Clark’s new Scott Essential Rolled Hand Towel is 380 metres in length which means it is particularly long-lasting, he claims.

Comfort, fresh-smelling air and peace and quiet are also important to many washroom users, according to Bowman. “And while hygiene and safety are top priorities, sustainability is of equal importance for many,” he adds.

Kimberly-Clark’s RightCycle system offers a closed loop recycling service for hand towels and also allows customers to recycle their dispensers. The plastic, cardboard and metal screws in the units are extracted and used to make new products such as car parts and children’s toys.

Around 40 per cent of people are concerned about pressing physical buttons on a hand dryer according to lead scientist at Dyson for Business Dr Salome Giao.“Our research also shows that 24 per cent of people believe they could be drying their hands with unclean air,” she said. “Many older warm air dryer models cause hygiene and environmental concerns among users. For example, people might be concerned they could be consuming high amounts of energy and contributing to a business’ carbon footprint.”

Dyson hand dryers have a touch-free design and HEPA filters to alleviate such concerns, she says. They are also claimed to use a sixth of the energy of conventional dryers. “With our Dyson Airblade we place hand hygiene, the reduction of CO2 emissions and cost efficiency at the forefront of design,” said Giao.

First impressions

Most people simply want away-from-home washrooms that are well-stocked, fresh-smelling and clean, says P-Wave’s sales and marketing manager Mark Wintle. “First impressions count and if a washroom doesn’t smell pleasant, customers will assume it isn’t clean,” he said.

Some venues will choose to enhance the experience for customers but cleanliness and hygiene should remain the top priorities, he added.

“Washrooms need to be functional above all else – and it is the things you don’t see that can matter most,” said Wintle. “Operators need to concentrate on the basics rather than worrying about fancy backdrops because nobody appreciates it when there’s no toilet roll, the soap dispenser is empty or when the washroom obviously hasn’t been cleaned properly.”

Queues are another bugbear for washroom visitors, he says. “Minimising queuing will always be a challenge and lines tend to form when dryers are out of action or when there is an insufficient number of clean and working cubicles,” he said. “But reducing queues for the gents’ can be as simple as using efficient urinal screens to avoid them becoming blocked.” P-Wave offers odour-eliminating urinal screens plus a range of passive and active air fresheners.

Hygiene and cleanliness are most people’s top priority in any washroom, says Brightwell’s marketing executive Nikoleta Hornackova. “It is also important the facility presents a positive experience that unmistakably reflects your brand,” she says.

Must suit requirements

“Washroom systems should be designed to suit each brand’s requirements. The luxurious ambience of a restaurant, the practicality of a motorway service station or the fresh feel of a contemporary office should continue effortlessly into the washroom.”

The Brightwell range includes bespoke options allowing customers to personalise their dispensers with colours, logos and shapes to suit their brand. Sustainability is a key issue for many of today’s customers, according to Hornackova. “Demand for sustainable, efficient and durable products will continue to grow as the world focuses on tackling climate change and reaching net zero emissions,” she said. “And people are becoming more interested in how washroom products are manufactured.”

End-user expectations have changed since the global pandemic, says GOJO’s UK and Ireland managing director Chris Wakefield. “Cleanliness has always been important, but feeling safe about the hygiene of public spaces is now front of mind,” he said. “People want to see impeccably clean and hygienic facilities to reassure them that businesses are taking their health and safety seriously.”

The level of opulence required will depend on the environment concerned, he says. “Function trumps fancy backgrounds in hospitals, for example, but there is merit in creating a more luxurious experience in upmarket hotels and restaurants,” said Wakefield. “The rise of social media and the ‘#bathroomselfie’ can bring commercial benefits.”

Every away-from-home washroom should provide a positive user experience whatever its location, he adds. “This means ensuring all equipment is in good working order as well as being well stocked and easy to maintain,” he said. “It also means organisations must carefully consider the hand hygiene facilities they offer. After all, one of the primary functions of a washroom is to ensure that its occupants can leave with clean hands.”

According to Wakefield, washroom users are becoming increasingly unwilling to touch dispensers, taps and dryers. “This is particularly the case if the fixtures look unclean or are leaking,” he said. “The fact that so many different people are touching a dispenser’s pump to access the product might put many people off cleaning their hands at all.”

Touch-free dispensers are becoming increasingly popular, he says. “These are intuitive to use and release the exact dosage every time to reduce mess and ensure a positive experience.”

Fast access and ample space are other key requirements of any washroom, he says. “Users are unwilling to wait around in cramped or congested washrooms, so businesses should think about how people will move around the space,” he said. “They should then install equipment accordingly – for instance, choosing slim, wall-mounted dispensers for smaller washrooms. And while sustainability is also growing in importance, performance will always be the key driver.”

Align with your brand

Like other commentators, Vectair’s vice president of marketing Chelsey Schwartz believes most visitors expect their washroom environment to align with the facility’s brand.

“Your impression of a washroom is just as important as any other guest-facing space and its atmosphere should reflect that,” she said. “So everything should match the ambience your brand wants to deliver from the wall coverings to how the washroom smells and the quality and type of hand care provided.”

Most people want a clean, safe and hygienic washroom above all else, she says. “Operators should therefore focus on making sure this is reinforced when a customer enters the room,” she said. “It should start with a tidy space and continue through to full soap and towel dispensers and a fresh scent.

“Facilities should focus on excelling at the basics. And they should only elevate the experience once they have mastered all the essentials.”


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