Raising the bar in washrooms

18th of March 2016
Raising the bar in washrooms

A new chain of smart, upmarket toilets have recently appeared in Europe’s city centres while upgraded facilities are cropping up in stadiums and many other locations.  What effect have these had on standards in public washrooms across the board? ECJ finds out.

Over the past four years, a chain of more than 200 premium toilet shops have opened throughout Europe. The 2theloo concept was created to fill a perceived gap in the market for public toilets than can be relied on to be clean, hygienic and well stocked. Late last year also saw the opening of a cutting-edge toilet facility in Beijing, China. Situated near the government offices, the Fifth Space features vending machines, ATMs, wifi and charging stations for the country’s ever-popular electric scooters. There are now plans to open other Fifth Space washrooms both in Beijing and in other Chinese cities.

Meanwhile national toilet awards schemes have been flourishing and are potentially raising washroom expectations the world over. The UK’s Loo of the Year Awards is now in its 30th year and similar schemes operate in the US, Canada and Japan to name but a few.

And at some public venues – such as at festivals and sports stadiums – systems are being put into place to address the issue of notoriously poor washrooms. The most fastidious of festival-goers can now opt out of the traditionally unpleasant toilet experience linked with open-air concerts and can buy a wristband allowing them access to exclusive washrooms.

Companies with names such as The Seat of Luxury, When Nature Calls and VIPee’s are vying with each other for the lucrative festival toilet-user trade. In a similar way to 2theloo, these services provide people with a guarantee of a clean, hygienic toilet complete with hand washing facilities, mirrors and sometimes even luxury extras such as blow-dryers and hair-straighteners.

The fact there is a growing market for these types of premium washroom concepts means an increasing number of people are no longer willing to tolerate those grim public toilets of the past. And this growing intolerance of yesterday’s washroom standards has inevitably had an impact on the types of facilities today’s washroom hygiene companies provide.

Tork manufacturer SCA is the strategic partner of the European 2theloo chain of upmarket washrooms. Visitors to 2theloo pay a small fee that can be redeemed against purchases of items such as hand sanitisers, bottled water and energy drinks in the integral ‘toilet shop’.

High quality experience

“Ventures such as 2theloo and washroom award schemes have the benefit of raising standards in away-from-home washrooms,” said the company’s European washroom product director Gilles Bétourné. “They result in washrooms that offer hygiene, comfort and a high quality experience in public facilities where hygiene was not commonly quoted as the main descriptor.”

The UK’s first 2theloo opened in London last summer and others can be found in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and several other countries. According to Betourne, standards in the AFH washroom market are rising in general – not only because of concepts such as 2theloo, but also due to new technology and increasingly advanced systems.

“The presence of sensor-operated systems and automatic cleaning processes in washrooms can help to provide superior hygiene and a better user experience,” he said. “Some suppliers are also going more digital and are offering interactive devices in the toilets themselves.”

Bétourné adds he has observed a consistent demand for higher standards of hygiene and comfort in the washroom.  He feels manufacturers are having to work harder to provide more upmarket, attractive and ultra-hygienic systems.

“However, there is still a demand for basic and functional hand towel, soap and toilet solutions and this is particularly the case in in public sector and less demanding environments as schools and petrol stations. But even in these environments the quality requirements are increasing and standards are rising.”

Head of export at Hagleitner Oliver Stärz believes that washroom awards schemes – along with ventures such as 2theloo – can help to strengthen awareness of the need for clean, upmarket washrooms. “However I also think that imposing ‘critical control points’ such as in HACCP can have more influence,” he said.

Despite the new wave of upmarket washrooms, he disagrees with the theory that standards in away-from-home washrooms are rising in general. “There is a big market for new business cases such as Sanifair, 2theloo, etc but if public washrooms were clean and well organised in the first place, people would not be willing to pay for using a toilet,” he points out.

“The demand for upmarket washroom systems is steadily increasing in line with the various possibilities on offer for new business solutions,” he said.

“There is still a market for basic toilet paper and functional hand towel and soap systems. However it would be particularly important to create an awareness of the fact that systems such as refillable bulk soap dispensers are no longer an adequate solution for a healthy washroom environment.”

Award programmes are a particularly good way to raise awareness of the need for hygiene in the away-from-home washroom according to vice-president of marketing at Excel Dryer William Gagnon.

“Whether or not these are raising washroom standards in general, they are certainly raising awareness of the need to improve the user experience in public washrooms,” he said. “People care about cleaner and more sustainable toilets and they care about hand hygiene in order to prevent the spread of disease and illness.”

He agrees with SCA’s Betourne that sensor-operated taps, soap dispensers and other fixtures are improving the user experience while increasing hygiene by reducing the number of touch points.
“There is also work in progress to provide the next generation of upmarket, attractive and ultra-hygienic systems,” he said. “For example there are new technologies and products designed to be used on washroom door handles that prevent people from feeling the need to use a paper towel  when they open the door. These include copper door handles that have self-sanitising properties.”

He says that with the current demand for smarter, more attractive and more efficient buildings, it is only logical that people will also expect their washrooms to offer similarly high standards.

“For the foreseeable future we think there will be a market for toilet paper and that soap will remain a key product for hand hygiene,” he said. “But when it comes to more sustainable improvements, products such as no-touch foam soap dispensers and energy-efficient hand dryers are gaining a lot of traction compared with regular soaps and paper towels.”

According to Metsä Tissue’s UK and Ireland sales director Mark Dewick, anything that is designed to make using a washroom a more pleasant experience can only be positive. “The use of washrooms is such a fundamental element in our lives but there is a general unwillingness to discuss this basic human need,” he said. “The publicity around 2theloo and national award schemes helps to break down this taboo.”

He says Metsä’s research programme highlights a distinct preference among the public for a pleasant toilet experience. But he feels that whether away-from-home washroom standards are rising in general is open to interpretation and opinion.

He adds there should be minimum standards one can expect in every washroom. “All washrooms should be equipped with functional toilet paper, hand towels and soap,” he said. “Whatever the design, colour and concept, all the basics hygiene needs still need to be met.”

He says the key to better washrooms is to have a full understanding of what is required. “A great design, beautiful colours and electronics are all good things, but none of them guarantees hygiene,” he said. “The only way to achieve good hygiene standards is to reduce everything down to its simplest level - and this comes down to the provision of water and soap and advocating proper washing techniques and effective drying.”


Related Articles

Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited