I’m sure you’ve read one of the many studies that show people aren’t washing their hands properly after restroom visits away from home. Given the tremendous public health benefits, you should ask yourself what you can do in facility restrooms to increase the likelihood of hand washing.

Timing Is Everything

If we clock the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended hand washing protocol at 5 seconds for wetting hands, 20 seconds for lathering and scrubbing, and 10 seconds for rinsing, it takes a little time to do it right.

To aid in the process, manually operated faucets allow the water to run as long as needed for proper hand washing. Sensor faucets are similar, since they run as long as a presence is detected. But metered faucets have a pre-set, adjustable run time between one and 45 seconds. If metered faucets shut off before 10 seconds, users have to repeatedly press the handle with soapy hands to rinse.

For restaurants and food service operations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code 2013 requires a flow of water of at least 15 seconds without the need to reactivate the faucet. Faucets that shut off too quickly can be frustrating to users, not to mention messy from dripping soap.

You should program faucets to give users enough water time to wash and rinse their hands properly. But don’t overdo it. Conserving water by fixture is important.

Our hands send a lot of feedback to our brain about how things feel. If your patrons use a WaterSense faucet at home, they’ll get up to 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) of flow. By comparison, commercial bathroom faucets may be limited to 0.5 gpm or less. Users want to feel like their hands are getting clean, so a small investment in a better aerator (whether bubble, laminar, or spray stream) can increase satisfaction and use.

Changing Temps

You may not be able to alter the temperature much if the faucets are single supply, but you should do a temperature check if you have a tempered stream or dual supply. According to the CDC guidance, Show Me the Science — How to Wash Your Hands, “The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.”

While health care and food preparation facilities may have a minimum required water temperature, there are plenty of non-regulated faucets where “Goldilocks water” (not too hot or cold) might encourage washing and rinsing without hands turning red or blue.

Soap Selection

Switching to foam can have several benefits. For starters, numerous articles have outlined how patrons using foam use less soap (usually around 0.7 ml, versus 1 ml for liquid soap) and less water, since the foam is pre-lathered. Users may also perceive foam soap as a better quality experience.

Furthermore, foam soap delivers more hand washes per package than liquid, so dispensers need to be refilled less often, which also reduces storage, packaging and transportation impacts. Foam soap refills may be available for your current dispensers, but if not, it is worth exploring a switchover with your supplier. 

MARK PETRUZZI is Senior Vice President of Outreach and Strategic Relations with Green Seal. He’s in his third decade of striving for more sustainable purchasing and operations by using his engineering powers for good.