Proper disposal and recycling of batteries adds to the environmental preferability of touch-free fixtures, and they are known to encourage hand washing, but questions still remain. Do facility cleaning managers prefer manual or battery powered dispensers? And when should each be used?

In the restroom, the priority must be to protect human health. To this end, it is beneficial to provide paper towel dispensers and faucets that do not require hand contact. This is because, after hand washing occurs, touching a contaminated faucet or crank/lever on a towel dispenser can recontaminate the hands.

But that’s not to say that touch-free fixtures need to be powered by batteries. There are alternative options that eliminate hand contact. For example, there are roll towel dispensers where the user simply pulls the towels from the dispenser without the need of a crank/lever, or a spring operated faucet that turns off after a given amount of time. These options provide the same protection of health without the need for batteries, circuit boards, motors or other materials.

Providing touch-free options after hand washing will reduce infection transmission, but there are also advantages to automating additional systems in the restroom. For example, while users should wash their hands after flushing, not all do. Automating flush valves on toilets and urinals minimizes touch points and eliminates odors stemming from those fixtures.

As to soap dispensers, not all restroom users wash their hands, but 100 percent of those that take soap will wash it off. For that reason, it is less important to replace manual dispensers with touch-free options — because users will wash away contaminants after use. But there are definite benefits to automated soap dispensers.

Automated options are programmed to control soap usage/quantity, minimizing what is washed down drains, and controls a department’s bottom line. And, according to soap manufacturers, featuring touch-free fixtures helps perception and improves hand washing compliance among building occupants.

The bottom line is, protecting occupant health should be the priority of facility cleaning managers. Restroom fixtures should encourage users to wash their hands, while avoiding recontamination. And it should be done in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.

Managers should take a holistic approach to the restroom when deciding on touch-free options. If going touch-free, choose high-quality, rechargeable batteries, and then be sure to recycle them properly after use.

Healthy, clean and pleasant restrooms are the goal as we work to protect building occupants. And reducing the amount of batteries that are manufactured each year, many of which are improperly disposed of, is a huge side benefit that can also save facility cleaning managers money. 

STEPHEN ASHKIN currently serves as president of The Ashkin Group, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, co-founder of Green Cleaning University and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC. He is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and a leader in the green cleaning movement where he is often thought of as the “Father of Green Cleaning.”