Putting hygiene in a box

26th of October 2016
Putting hygiene in a box

ECJ asks manufacturers how they ensure that their dispensers deliver hand hygiene in the washroom – and finds out whether hygiene is the customer’s top priority in any case.

Practically all away-from-home washrooms are equipped with soap and toilet paper housed in dispensers. Most of them also offer hand drying facilities in the form of an air dryer or a dispenser for textile or paper towels. In some cases the main aim of these units is to improve product delivery or help to reduce costs. Other dispensers have a smart appearance in order to create a cohesive look that enhances the washroom’s image. But how important are these attributes compared with the simple ability of a dispenser to improve hygiene in the washroom?

That all depends on the type of washroom in question according to Bobrick’s international marketing projects manager Jaime Kotin. “The main function of soap and towel dispensers is to allow patrons to wash their hands easily, quickly and thoroughly,” he said. “Hygiene is a key consideration for any building operator, but its importance will vary depending on the building type and the level of maintenance quality.”

He says managers typically consider other factors such as ease of maintenance, dispenser outlay, cost of soap and paper refills, sustainability, aesthetics and accessibility alongside hygiene.
“Hygiene might well be the top priority in healthcare and food processing environments whereas high-traffic facilities such as airports and casinos may prefer dispensers that offer economies in use,” he said. “And while hygiene is likely to be considered important in a high-end office, the priority here will probably be the need to exhibit a prestigious image.”

However he concedes that all washroom dispensers play a crucial role in improving and maintaining hygiene. “High quality dispensing solutions not only encourage patrons to wash and dry their hands, they also simplify the cleaning and refilling process for maintenance staff,” he said. “Ease of maintenance is important because when dispensers run out of soap or paper, people are unable to use them and this allows bacteria to proliferate throughout the washroom.”

Kotin claims Bobrick’s counter-mounted soap dispensers are easy to use and quick to refill via a jug. “There is no need for maintenance staff to reach under the counter and remove panels, and this encourages them to fill the dispensers as soon as they are running low,” he said. Among Bobrick’s latest products is the Designer series of automatic, no-touch, counter-mounted soap dispensers.

A washroom dispenser needs to fulfil many functions according to Metsä Tissue’s UK and Ireland sales director Mark Dewick. “It should dispense just enough hygienic product in an easy, efficient and environmentally-friendly way while also delivering good value in terms of cost in use,” he said.

While hygiene is an important requirement, he claims that maximising hygiene in a washroom dispenser is not always easy. “The dispenser is a point of contact for everyone who uses the washroom which means that the risk of cross-contamination is high,” said Dewick. “Since a simple hand wash will not remove all the germs from the hands there is potential for the dispenser to become a breeding ground. Meanwhile, the ‘sneeze effect’ of a flushed toilet can result in germs circulating around the washroom.”

Katrin Inclusive dispensers are designed to protect the product from contamination, he says. “The hand towels are ‘self-presenting’ which means there is no need for the user to reach inside the dispenser to find the paper or to touch the dispenser during use at all,” he said.

The dispensers are also said to be easy to clean and have few areas where germs could collect. “Our systems also have a very high capacity which means there is no need for an extra roll to be left lying around to gather germs,” said Dewick.

He also says one way in which washroom hygiene can be improved is by making dispensers easy to use to encourage hand hygiene. Katrin Inclusive dispensers feature braille text, contrasting colours and large ‘push faces’ to take into account the needs of children, the elderly, the disabled and the visually impaired.

Different priorities

He agrees with Kotin that customer priorities vary greatly according to sector. “Food-safe products are required in a food environment whereas in a healthcare setting, hygiene is key,” he said. “But since healthcare professionals wash their hands frequently they also require dermatologically-tested products that can help to prevent sore hands and skin conditions.”

Hygiene is a crucial consideration for CWS-Boco’s customers according to product management team lead Silke Zugel. “In sensitive sectors such as food service and healthcare the main function of a dispenser is to maintain or enhance hygiene and to meet legal hygiene requirements,” she said. “Compliance with hygiene standards and regulations should be the top priority when developing dispenser systems.

“For example, there are specifications for the portioning of cotton towel segments for cotton towel dispensers. And disinfectant dispensers must carry instructions on the length of time the user should spend rubbing in the disinfectant for optimum effect.” However, she adds that perceived hygiene is just as important as measured hygiene in the washroom.

“An adequate number of dispensers that are constantly being refilled will reassure the end user and provide the perception of hygiene,” she said.

According to Zugel, dispensers need to function in a way that helps to enhance hygiene in use.  As an example she says touch-free dispensers can help to improve washroom hygiene. “Users prefer this type of dispenser since the soap and towels are dispensed with no contact whatsoever,” she said.

CWS offers Paradise Disinfect NT, a touch-free disinfection solution for use in the washrooms of airports, railway stations, shopping centres, offices and public institutions. The company also offers soaps and lotions supplied in sealed bottles to prevent the risk of contamination before use.
Besides high levels of hygiene, the company’s customers also seek products that are reliable, easy to use and easy to refill.

“Demand for sustainability is also on the rise,” said Zugel. “The cost of dispensers must of course be reasonable, and maintenance intervals are another issue. So in some cases, dispensers need to have a large capacity so that staff need not spend too much time refilling them.”

EU sales manager of Ffuuss Victor Guasch agrees with Zugel that the customer’s perception of washroom hygiene is crucial. “Any washroom hygiene system should have a visually clean and well maintained appearance,” he said. “This is important because end users are not usually informed about the hygienic features of any washroom appliances they use.”

Hygiene is the key

Ffuuss’ washroom hand dryers have built-in hygiene features, according to Guasch. “For example, we use antibacterial additives in our injected plastic housings and H13 HEPA filters to guarantee hand drying with clean air,” he said. “This is especially relevant in food handling and hospital environments where high standards of disinfection are required.”

Creating hygienic systems is also vitally important for Vectair according to managing director and president Paul Wonnacott.  “While our customers tend to focus more on price and aesthetics, hygiene is key for us,” he said. “However, this often comes at an extra cost to the manufacturer. For example, covering a dispenser with antimicrobial protection will increase the price of the unit so it is important that customers understand why it is important.”

He says Vectair’s customers tend to seek stylish designs that enhance the aesthetic appeal of their washrooms. “We don’t want to compromise this by using unsafe systems so it is our job to combine the two,” said Wonnacott.

Vectair offers touch-free Sanitex soap dispensers plus a manual version that incorporates antimicrobial protection into the dispenser cover. This is said to reduce bacterial growth by 99.99 per cent. Both versions feature a sealed soap cartridge to prevent the risk of contamination before use.

Wonnacott agrees that the focus on hygiene varies from sector to sector. “Healthcare establishments are naturally more concerned about hygiene because they are dealing with vulnerable people,” he said. “This means that transmitting any germs could be deadly. The same goes for food establishments where the staff need to be careful not to contaminate any food they serve.

“Other sectors such as leisure and hotels will also be concerned about safety but are arguably more worried about factors such as style, technology and being up-to-date with the latest trends. They will want to ensure that their washroom dispensers look great while co-ordinating with their modern design ethic.”

He says most customers demand dispensers that are durable and easy to use. “They also want them to be discreet and capable of functioning efficiently without disrupting the surrounding environment,” he said. “And it is important that a washroom dispenser should be simple to install and easy for the washroom visitor to use. If it needs instructions once it is up on the wall, it shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

SCA’s European dispensers assortment manager Verena Ristau agrees. “There are some soap dispensers on the market that don’t make it obvious what to push or where to put your hands to access the soap inside,” she said. “Dispensers should be intuitive.”

She says washroom dispenser hygiene tends to be top of mind in the healthcare and food processing sectors, whereas a hygienic image is important in the hospitality sector. “We discovered this when developing our new Tork Image Design range of dispensers,” said Ristau. “It came out clearly in research that dispensers need to look clean and blend in with the environment to make customers feel that the managers of the establishment care about them.” Tork Image Design dispensers have a brushed stainless steel surface treated with an anti-fingerprint coating to preserve their shiny appearance.

Durable and intuitive

SCA stops short of treating its washroom dispensers with antibacterial coatings, says Ristau. “We feel there is no real need for these,” she said. “Bacteria doesn’t grow on dry surfaces and since all our dispensers are designed to be touch-free there is no need for washroom visitors to come into contact with them in any case.”

A good dispenser should be functional, reliable and easy to service, she adds. “It should make the job of the maintenance staff as easy as possible and this in turn will reduce labour costs,” she said.

According to Risteau it is important that dispensers and refills work together to maximise hygiene. “For example our soap cartridges have single-use pumps which prevent any build-up of soap or mould, while our hand towels are wrapped in plastic which means there is no need for the janitor to touch the paper before use,” she said. “And our Tork SmartOne dispenser is hermetically sealed so that people are unable to reach their hands inside.”

So while factors such as cost, sustainability, aesthetics and efficiency all matter greatly, manufacturers agree that hygiene is one of the most important considerations when designing a washroom dispenser. As Vectair’s Paul Wonnacott puts it: “We are not just here to make the washroom smell nice and look pretty.”

And Metsä’s Mark Dewick adds: “The whole point of washing and drying your hands after using the washroom is to practise good hand hygiene. So it is extremely important that the dispenser adds value to this hygiene function rather than work against it.”


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