Washrooms - what’s worst?

23rd of March 2018
Washrooms - what’s worst?
Washrooms - what’s worst?

No paper, no soap, bad smells, poor hygiene - what irks washroom users the most about the facilities they visit? And how can washroom providers put these issues right? Ann Laffeaty finds out.

We all have our pet hates about the public washroom. Some of us are particularly repelled by bad smells while others detest being confronted with dirty sinks or empty toilet paper dispensers.
Inefficient warm air hand dryers are a turn-off for many, particularly when we are forced to queue for them. And blocked, dirty toilets and messy floors are an issue for some.

But what are the biggest toilet taboos as far as washroom hygiene companies are concerned? And how do they address them - or preferably, prevent them from occurring in the first place?

“The worst-case scenario in any washroom is a lack of toilet tissue,” says Essity’s communications director Renee Remijnse. “Hand hygiene is the next most important issue and end-users dislike having to queue to use a hand dryer. Where people are unwilling to wait in line they may be tempted to leave the washroom with damp hands or dry them on their clothes. And their dripping fingers will then lead to messy, wet floors.”

Essity carries out global research into people’s washroom attitudes and publishes the findings every two years in its Hygiene Matters Report. The company’s latest report reveals that 62 per cent of people are concerned that public toilets expose them to health risks while 42 per cent of people avoid such facilities altogether.

Should be easy

However, keeping a washroom fresh, clean and hygienic while also being well stocked with products should be easy according to Remijnse. “But we all know that it is a challenge,” she adds. “It’s a question of choosing the right system for the washroom’s needs and combining it with a cleaning routine that fits the facility’s visitor peaks and profile.”

She claims a well-equipped washroom is easy to manage provided the maintenance team is armed with the right data and customer knowledge. “Since we introduced Tork EasyCube we can clearly see that data-driven washrooms are the solution for customer complaints,” she said.

Tork EasyCube uploads information about dispenser levels and washroom usage to the internet via sensors placed in dispensers and on doors. This data can be accessed remotely by cleaners and facility managers using a smart phone or tablet.

Plan in advance

“The system enables cleaning staff to know ahead of time which supplies to bring on their trolleys so that they can restock dispensers while taking the minimum number of trips,” she said. “This type of needs-based cleaning allows us to keep dispensers replenished around 99 per cent of the time.”

The company has also recently introduced a high-capacity hand towel system to address the issue of queuing for hand drying. Towels inside the Tork PeakServe Continuous system are compressed to allow the dispenser to hold 2,100 towels – more than twice as many as in other system according to Remijnse.

The most common complaints from customers relate to problems that render away-from-home washrooms unhygienic and unusable according to Jangro’s operations director Joanne Gilliard.

“These include blocked toilets, a lack of available toilet tissue and soap dispensers that are either empty or broken,” she said. “And it is often the case that one problem exacerbates another. For example a blocked toilet will not only be unfit for purpose, it will also cause bad smells because flushing is not possible. And if a hand towel dispenser is empty, water will drip on to the floor and those wet floors will harbour germs while also creating a risk of accidents.”

She agrees with Remijnse that running out of toilet paper is the worst-case washroom scenario. “These days there is no excuse for such an occurrence due to the huge choice of excellent toilet tissue dispensers available,” she said. “These often hold several rolls or tissue packs at a time which decreases the number of refills required and minimises the risk of dispensers running empty.”

A second bugbear among users is encountering a soap dispenser that is either broken or empty, says Gilliard. “One of the main jobs of a washroom is to ensure that everyone leaves the room with hygienic, clean hands,” she points out.

Personal preference

Jangro offers a range of dispensing units that are claimed to be accessible and easy to use for everyone. These include the Jangronauts range which is aimed at children and designed for use in schools, nurseries, restaurants, hotels and shopping centres.

“Everyone has a personal washroom dispenser preference but facilities often opt for one standard
model throughout,” said Gilliard. “Offering options such as manual and touch-free dispensers plus a range of soaps can help to boost hand hygiene compliance among all users.”

She claims that people’s expectations of washroom standards today are higher than ever. “Social media has played a part and there is generally a far greater awareness of health, hygiene and infection prevention,” she said.

Dirty, unhygienic facilities are among the pet hates of CWS-boco’s customers according to senior PR Madeleine-Lisette Pilpin. This emerged from research commissioned in 2017 in which the company polled the views of more than 1,000 people in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“Cleanliness was considered to be important or very important for 97 per cent of those surveyed, while 59 per cent of respondents claimed to consistently avoid public toilets,” she said. “And 73 per cent of people said they would be willing to pay for a truly hygienic toilet.”

The toilet seat is a particular concern for users, said Pilpin. “Only a quarter of respondents said they had no problem with sitting down on a public toilet seat, whereas 36 per cent said they never sit down,” she said. “And more than two-thirds of people claimed they wanted the option of disinfecting the toilet seat in the washrooms they visit.”

Like other manufacturers, Metsä Tissue has commissioned its own surveys into washroom visitors’ opinions says managing director Mark Dewick. The most recent study was carried out in 2015 and polled 3,500 people in Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, Finland, Norway, Poland and Sweden.

“We discovered that people were wary of warm air dryers and of picking up infections from the toilet seat, soap pump and taps,” he said. “And the elements they appreciated most were a clean toilet, a fresh supply of soft paper and a pleasant-smelling soap.

“From the study it is fair to say having no paper or soap along with messy floors represented a worst case scenario for customers. The message that emerged from our research was that people wanted washrooms that had been cared for, cleaned and well stocked.”

Supply inconvenience

A break in the toilet paper supply is an obvious inconvenience for everyone, according to Dewick. “Second to this is the perception that the toilet paper is not hygienic because it has been in contact with the floor or touched by others, maybe because of the way it is dispensed,” he said. “This is why a self-presenting toilet roll where the paper is kept hygienically inside the device helps to ensure that the paper is fresh and clean.”

Like Essity’s Renee Remijnse he says queues for warm air dryers are another pet washroom hate. “This can be easily avoided by supplying paper towels that people can grab and move away to dry their hands on if necessary,” he said. Metsä offers a range of Katrin hand towel dispensers.

Unlike other manufacturers, Dewick feels there has been little change in the public’s attitudes towards washrooms. “I don’t think people’s expectations are higher than they used to be  - I think they have always been high,” he said. “People expect the hygiene standards in public facility washrooms to be the same  - or better - than at home.

“However the advent of social media means that news stories both good and bad have become more prevalent and news travels further - and faster - today.  So it has never been more important for organisations to deliver high quality washrooms in order to protect their brand.”

Grubby washrooms, bad smells and discarded towels on the floor are some of the biggest gripes of Vectair’s customers according to head of marketing Louise Goldsmith. “A new study by Hotels.com reveals that people want cleanliness above all in their hotel experience, valuing it 35 times higher even than free internet,” she said.

“However cleanliness is as much about the perception of overall freshness as about the facility actually being clean.”

Small changes can alter a customer’s perception of a washroom, she said.  “For example, a simple change to using a hand dryer instead of paper towels can reduce the “messy” look of discarded towels on the floors while automatic air fresheners keep the environment smelling fresh without much extra effort.”

Vectair’s products include V-Air SOLID air fresheners and VIBE programmable large space fragrance dispensers.

“The fact there are several types of automated washroom systems that can be set to last 30 days or more means there is no real excuse for bad-smelling washrooms or soap dispensers with no soap,” Goldsmith added.

Continuous challenge

She believes it is a constant challenge to keep washrooms fresh, clean and hygienic at all times. “You are relying on members of the public to take responsibility for their actions and to have a level of respect for their surroundings,” she said.  “This is the biggest challenge – you can’t manage people. 
“But you can try to offer solutions that make their experience easier and encourage them to use the facilities in the best possible way.”

She believes the future of managing visitor complaints lies in the increasing use of smart technology.
“A smart washroom will feature the deployment of wifi, sensor technology and clever algorithms to enable soap dispensers and air fresheners to count how many people have visited the washroom and calculate when refills will be required,” she said.

“This is the future, without a shadow of a doubt. The challenge lies in whether a high-tech product can be manufactured at a price that the user is prepared to pay, given that the washroom is in an area where companies will cut back expenditure when times are hard.”


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