Away-from-home washrooms - trending in the toilet

22nd of May 2015
Away-from-home washrooms - trending in the toilet

Automation, technology, inclusiveness, social changes – what impact are today’s key trends having on the public washroom? ECJ finds out what exactly is trending in the toilet.

Society has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The internet has revolutionised our way of life and enforced a new transparency on businesses and public facilities. Online reviews of everything from hotels and mail-order services to holidays and restaurants mean there is no longer any hiding place for sub-standard facilities. There is also a greater reliance on automation in all walks of life.

Social changes have led to an increasing acceptance of alternative lifestyles and a growing compassion for weaker members of society. So facilities for the elderly and disabled have improved and there has been increasing provision for single-parent families and transgender people.

These trends have had an impact everywhere – and the humble toilet is no exception.  Gender-inclusive washrooms have been opening up all over the world and on university campuses in particular. West Hollywood in the US has even gone so far as to ban gender-specific washrooms completely.

Parent-and-baby washrooms are replacing traditional mother-and-child facilities since it is accepted that fathers carry out more parenting duties than ever before. And automation and technological solutions are cropping up everywhere.

”Today’s consumers are becoming increasingly accustomed to high-tech solutions,” confirms SCA’s global brand innovation manager Maria Zevgren Sundberg. “Touch-free washroom systems are now popular for both hygiene and consumption-control reasons, and we are also seeing various other new types of technology entering the market.”

As an example, she quotes SCA’s own Bloe and Tork EasyCube products. Bloe is a toilet system equipped with a sensor that triggers an automatic flush when needed. And Tork EasyCube is a service that alerts facilities staff via their smartphone when a washroom’s dispensers need refilling.

“Tork EasyCube uses technology to create the ability to see what is needed on a cleaning route,” said Zevgren Sundberg. “It is a waste of time to check whether a dispenser needs refilling: that time could be used to clean the floor instead. And since Tork EasyCube also provides statistics about traffic flow it allows staff to evaluate cleaning needs and optimise their operations.”

“Trends indicate that smart systems and automation will become more important in the future,” said Zevgren Sundberg. “Connectivity is firmly on the agenda and we are seeing an increasing number of ‘internet of things’ solutions in society. This will probably continue to have impact on washrooms as well.”

As far as social trends are concerned, she says accessibility for all washroom users – particularly the disabled and frail – is becoming increasingly important. “One of the issues we have been addressing is the pull force required when dispensing soap,” she said. “We have easy-to-use dispensing systems on all our foam and liquid dispensers that allow them to be used by small children, the elderly and people with reduced strength in their hands.”

Managing director and president of Vectair Systems Paul Wonnacott agrees that technology is having a major impact on the washroom. “Technology is spreading far and wide and customers don’t just want it, they expect it,” he said. “Could you imagine places like Starbucks stopping its free wifi availability? Their customers would start a riot!"

He says some customers are taking online reviews more seriously than others. “For those who don’t, I would urge them to take more notice,” he said. “With the rise in social media and with so much communication going on online, we have to find ways in which to use this medium to our advantage.

“At Vectair we have a Facebook page and our community regularly interacts with one another. It is an open platform.”

He says the recent Ebola crisis has focused attention on the need for hand hygiene. “No-touch is a key buzzword at the moment when it comes to washroom trends,” said Wonnacott. “For customers concerned about touching a dispenser we have incorporated antimicrobial protection into the cover of our manual dispensers.”

Matching dispensers

According to Wonnacott there is a continuing trend towards co-ordinated washrooms. “Many European countries prefer their washroom dispensers to match, although the traditional white is perhaps now on par with new offerings such as chrome and black,” he said.

“Another trend - one that has come over from Asia - is that today’s washroom systems increasingly need to be quiet and discreet. In ladies’ washrooms in particular, systems that make little noise are required since they enable females to dispose of sanitary waste discreetly.”

Managing director of GOJO Europe Mike Sullivan agrees with Wonnacott that concern for aesthetics is a hot trend.  “Dispensers that look good and are easy to use – and are installed at convenient locations - play a valuable role in encouraging people to develop healthy hand hygiene habits,” he said. “The use of touch-fee technology meanwhile helps to improve hygiene levels.

“Efficacy is of course important, so companies should be able to prove the effectiveness of their soaps or hand rubs against germs through independent scientific testing.”

Julia Wörgötter from Hagleitner agrees that touch-free systems are increasingly being incorporated into the washroom.  “This trend for new technology is just beginning: Industry 4.0 has not entirely reached the washroom – yet,” she said.

She feels that relatively few customers have realised the importance of washroom apps and reviews. “Reviews for restaurants, hotels and recreational facilities are normal, so reviews of washrooms and public washrooms might also be normal eventually,” she said.

Touch-free options are available on all Hagleitner dispensers says Wörgötter, and she adds that sustainability is another emerging trend in the washroom. “Environmentally-friendly soaps and sustainable paper products are of growing importance.”

Group commercial director of Airdri James Clark echoes this sentiment. “Sustainable products should be accessible to everyone – those using wheelchairs, adults, children, the elderly, the partially-sighted and the hard of hearing,” he said. “The shape, size, power or noise of some dryers can alienate people from using them, and this has implications for effective washroom hygiene.

“Our aim is to produce a range of innovative, inclusive products that accommodate the requirements of every organisation and its end-users.”

Reduce touch points

Airdri has recently launched two new hand dryers: the Quest and Quazar. “Both these models were submitted to the UK Noise Abatement Society for Quiet Mark assessment,” said Clark.

Marketing vice-president at Excel Dryer William Gagnon agrees with the consensus that technology is having a significant impact. “Automatic solutions improve hygiene by reducing the number of touch points in the washroom,” he said. “This helps to prevent the spread of bacteria while also increasing efficiency through water and energy conservation.”

He says social trends are also driving changes in washroom design. “For example, we are seeing more family-friendly environments such as baby-changing stations in both men’s and women’s rooms,” he said.

He feels that online reviews are having an impact on today’s toilets. “A washroom says a lot about a facility and online reviews not only influence the public’s perception of cleanliness, but also how likely guests are to return to that facility.”

Washroom review apps

And he adds that digital review platforms and apps that echo word-of-mouth feedback can extend the message for days, weeks or even months. “A well-maintained washroom equipped with the latest technology should be top of the list for any facility manager or owner looking to improve the customer experience,” he said. “Washroom review apps are currently on our customers’ radar on a limited basis, but we expect this technology to become more popular within the next few years.”

Among the company’s high-tech offerings is a smartphone app that is currently in its final stage of development. This incorporates dual functionality for both the facility manager and Xlerator hand dryer users, says Gagnon.

“Facility managers can use the app to control the new features of Xlerator to adjust the speed and sound or turn up the heat while also controlling the infrared sensor range,” said Gagnon. “The app can also be used to troubleshoot maintenance issues and measure usage data such as thenumber of cycles and energy used.

“Meanwhile, washroom patrons will be able to use the app to learn about the environmental savings offered by Xlerator hand dryers versus paper towels, and share that information in an interactive format to increase awareness for sustainable solutions.”

He feels sustainability will be one of tomorrow’s key trends in commercial buildings. “Technology - including smart systems and automation - will be the catalyst for change so that facility managers can track performance and improve upon it,” he said. “Washrooms are a great place to start working with smart systems and automation to track and reduce energy and water usage - two key components of sustainable buildings and FM.”

Metsä Tissue’s UK and Ireland sales director Mark Dewick agrees with other manufacturers that technology will play an increasing role in the washroom industry.

“While this includes touch-free systems, other technology is evolving too,” he said. “For example we are increasingly seeing the ability to assess the quantity of product being used and how much is left in the dispenser, with paging alerts to support this data. Variable sheet length and vandal alarms are also available while online training and mobile assistance are becoming increasingly common.”

He feels the industry - rather than end-user demand –  is driving technology, however. “End-users mainly want clean, hygienic products but manufacturers are increasingly trying to find ways to deliver added value,” he said. “There should be a balance between technology and value for money in terms of washroom spend.”

According to Dewick, organisations are becoming more aware of how the washroom reflects their brand. “Online reviews and video footage are both increasingly common because mobile devices are everywhere,” he said. Metsä offers touch-free dispensers for soap, hand towels and air fresheners.

As far as social trends are concerned, Dewick believes that sustainability continues to resonate with customers while combined washroom facilities for men and women are becoming common both in bars and in new builds where space is limited.

“Aesthetics will also become increasingly important as the upturn starts to take effect and restaurants, bars and hotels begin to fight for wallet share,” he said.  “They all want their facilities to be state-of-the-art and they want their washrooms to reflect this.

“But according to research we carried out recently, cleanliness and hygiene are still the number one requirement for end-users. A beautifully designed, high-tech and well-appointed dispenser will serve no purpose if it is empty.

“Fashions come and go but the need for cleanliness and hygiene will never go away.”


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