Washroom dispensers - the legacy of Covid-19

17th of September 2020
Washroom dispensers - the legacy of Covid-19

ECJ considers how soap and paper dispensers will need to adapt to suit our socially-distanced washrooms - while also balancing the all-important issues of hygiene and efficiency.

Customers’ demands are changing dramatically in the wake of Covid-19 – in the washroom as well as everywhere else. Facility cleaning has suddenly moved to the top of our agendas and we are being forced to adapt to a new norm which involves social distancing and meticulous hand hygiene.

This has put enormous pressure on away-from-home washrooms which are often crowded, congested places. Many toilets are limiting the number of people who may enter at any one time, while others are remaining closed altogether. But this is counter-productive since hand washing is considered a vital defence against the virus.

With systems and practices evolving globally to reflect the post-Covid-19 world, one would expect washroom manufacturers to be looking at ways of adapting their products to embrace the new norm.
But most assert that the issues of hygiene and cleanliness are already fundamental to their products’ design. “Our Katrin washroom dispensers incorporate features that help protect users from Covid-19 – but they were not designed for this,” says Metsä’s managing director Mark Dewick. “Covid-19 is just one of many things that can quickly spread if washroom hygiene is not managed well.”

Katrin dispensers are easy to clean and have no crevices where dirt or germs could collect, he says.
Metsä’s range includes touch-free soap dispensers - demand for which has been “going through the roof” according to Dewick. However when it comes to hand towels, he feels that manual systems where the towels self-present also offer hygiene benefits.

“When a portion of the towel sticks out of the dispenser and is ready to pull whenever you need it, you only have to touch the tissue you use,” he said. “The action of withdrawing the tissue then leaves the next one self-presenting for the subsequent visitor. And this means no-one needs to touch the dispenser itself which avoids the cross-contamination issue.” Metsä’s Katrin range includes self-presenting towel units.

According to Dewick, these dispensers also help to speed up washroom use and reduce queues. “There’s no need for the user to wait by the dispenser to dry their hands -  they can simply grab a towel and move to the waste disposal area while doing so,” he said. “And this fast-moving flow will keep washrooms as clear as possible which will in turn improve safety.” A hand sanitiser dispenser placed by the exit will help to provide extra confidence for the washroom visitor, he adds.

Wary visitors

The pressure is on to meet the higher expectations of today’s Covid-wary washrooms visitors according to Essity’s communications director Renée Remijnse. “The demands on hygiene in public spaces are now higher than ever, with 86 per cent of end-users in a recent survey claiming to have higher expectations of public washrooms to provide a safe environment,” she said. “Most respondents also said that facilities with unhygienic washrooms made them feel unsafe.”

Tork dispensers have a touch-free operation and are claimed to be easy to clean while offering single-sheet dispensing to avoid the risk of cross contamination.

Like Dewick, Remijnse believes that self-presenting towel units are a particularly hygienic option. “Research shows that a visible paper tail will prompt the user to clean his or her hands – and this can improve hand hygiene compliance by 23 per cent,” she says.

Rather than advocating the use of automatic systems that avoid hand contact with the dispenser, Remijnse believes It is more important to promote hand hygiene. “Our dispensers are already designed for minimal contact, but the highest risk of contamination in any environment is still via the hands and from airborne droplets,” she said. “This means hand washing is crucial and people need access to hygienic, easy-to-use dispensers that give them the confidence to use them.”

Tork dispensers are said to offer a straightforward operation and require a low push- or pull-force to make it easy for visitors to access the soap or paper inside.

The ability to move traffic swiftly through the washroom will become more important than ever when capacity is reduced to allow for social distancing, says Remijnse. “Separate areas for hand washing and drying will support this along with the use of paper hand towels that can be dispensed quickly,” she said. “When the user is able to take a towel and step aside, the whole operation becomes significantly faster than when using a jet air dryer.”

According to Remijnse a hand towel from a Tork PeakServe dispenser may be accessed in just three seconds, allowing the user to move away from the dispenser and leave it free for the next visitor.
She believes the use of hand towels in general will become more widespread in future. “A total of 61 per cent of end-users in our survey claimed they used paper towels to avoid touching surfaces in public washrooms,” she pointed out.

People will avoid using public washrooms wherever they can in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic – that is the prediction of Jangro ceo Joanne Gilliard. “When they do have to use a washroom they will avoid touching doors, handles, dispensers or anything else that other people might have contaminated before them,” she said.

Touch-free systems have become increasingly popular with Jangro’s customers over the past few years – and Gilliard believes this trend will continue.

“As the world emerges from the pandemic and enters a new type of normality, end-users will demand clean and hygienic hand washing facilities and show a new reluctance to touch equipment such as taps, dryers, toilet flushes and soap and sanitiser dispensers,” she said.

Like Remijnse she believes there could be a higher demand for hand towels in place of electric dryers. “Paper towels are perceived as being a more hygienic hand drying solution, and a towel can also be used to open doors without having to touch the handle,” she said. She feels customers might also invest in sanitising dispensers at washroom exits to provide an additional layer of protection.

Speeding up use

Designed for use in schools, Jangro’s Jangronauts dispensers feature hand washing hero characters aimed at encouraging hand washing among children. According to Gilliard, speeding up washroom use will be hugely important in the wake of Covid-19. “Social distancing measures are leading to many schools reducing the number of pupils accessing the washrooms at any one time,” she said.

“However, efficiency should not come at the expense of washing the hands properly and it is crucial people wash their hands for the correct length of time and implement the right technique.”

The public today expects higher levels of protection and safety in the wake of the coronavirus says Hagleitner’s junior product manager Dominik Hadjiyski. “Covid-19 has shifted the focus from simple hygiene towards cleaning and disinfection,” he says. “People used to largely trust hotels and restaurants to provide safe environments, but they now have higher expectations which means the protection provided by these facilities should be as tangible as possible.

“Disinfectant dispensers in public areas will therefore probably become an integral part of the landscape – and people will expect to see them there.”

Like other manufacturers, Hagleitner claims its dispensers already reduce the risk of contamination from bacteria and viruses. “For example, our disinfectant dispensers are touch-free and the product inside comes in a vacuumBAG sealed system which protects it from contamination,” said Hadjiyski.

He agrees with other manufacturers that socially distanced washrooms will create a demand for efficient systems that speed up throughput. “We have tackled this problem by developing dispensers that meet specific needs,” he said. Hagleitner’s paper towel dispenser can be adjusted on a five-point scale ranging from a time-delayed setting to ultra-fast frequency.

All washroom dispensers should be designed with hygiene in mind, says GOJO vice-president Chris Wakefield. ”The Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous global impact – but all viral epidemics including SARS, swine flu, seasonal flu and norovirus have the potential to spread quickly if infection control measures are not in place,” he said.

The aim of soap dispensers is to ensure all washroom visitors leave with clean hands, so it is vital not to contaminate these units, he says.

“Our touch-free dispensers have become increasingly popular and I expect there to be further demand for dispensers with higher hygiene ratings,” he said.

Later this year GOJO will be launching the Purell  ES8 Dispenser which has an integrated battery to provide continuous touch-free dispensing.

Improving washroom traffic flow is more critical than reducing the amount of time spent in the washroom, says Wakefield. “We need to ensure people do not relax their attitudes to hand hygiene after the pandemic has eased, and that they continue to wash their hands properly for the recommended 20 seconds,” he said. “Dispenser efficiency has a role to play here - and again, touch-free technology can make all the difference if the dispensers are simple and intuitive to use.”

Working in the real world

In an ideal scenario, hand washing stations would be spaced two metres apart with Perspex dividers between them, according to Wakefield. “However, this is not an option for most washrooms in the real world and businesses will have to work with the spaces they occupy,” he said. “In the short term this may mean limiting the number of users in the washroom while a socially distanced queue forms outside.

More opportunities

“But I think additional opportunities for cleansing the hands will become more commonplace, with perhaps a sanitising dispenser placed at washroom exits to give users a final chance to ensure their hands are completely clean before leaving.”

Like other manufacturers, Brightwell Dispensers has noted an increase in demand for touch-free systems in the wake of the pandemic. “Anything that is touched regularly can become a breeding ground for germs, but touch-free solutions reduce the risk of cross contamination,” said marketing manager Nicole Mathes.

Brightwell offers Modular soap and hand sanitising dispensers in touch-free units. According to Mathes, cleanliness and hygiene have always been at the top of the company’s agenda when manufacturing its products.

“As businesses adapt to new requirements due to the Covid-19 pandemic, maintaining high hygiene standards will become a priority,” she said. “We are continuously monitoring the market and listening to customer feedback in order to plan for the dispensers of the future.”

GOJO also has an ongoing monitoring process. “Infection prevention has always been our top priority and we invest heavily in R&D,” said Chris Wakefield. “We are continually looking for ways of developing our offering.”

Essity’s Renée Remijnse says her company is also constantly investigating ways of optimising its dispensers, adding that Covid-19 will be considered in any innovations. And Hagleitner has already begun work on a new hygienic dispenser family.

 “Our 50-year-experience in hygiene has led to the development of products that can cope with challenging circumstances such as those we are experiencing today,” said Hadjiyski.


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