With cross-contamination-related disease scares increasingly being reported in public institutions, hygiene has become a huge concern for facility owners and managers. Hygiene is one of the major driving forces behind innovations in touch-free restroom equipment. End-user preferences and design are also big factors influencing the newer products on the market.

Some environments, such as food service and food processing, require the use of touch-free equipment. Restrooms in all types of facilities are some of the most common breeding grounds for disease, and many people are not comfortable touching fixtures such as faucets, towel dispensers, flush handles and even door handles.

As frequent hand-washing has long been lauded as the most powerful preventative measure to combat the spread of infectious disease, encouraging that practice is one of the most important things a building service contractor can do for occupant health. The cleaning industry has been quick to respond to health concerns, offering products that intuitively and effectively allow the user to complete a task without ever touching a restroom surface.

Touch-free technology is developing at a very fast rate, reaching all types of products and manufacturers. Products that focus on both function and design aesthetics are now being created, appealing to end-users not only for hygienic purposes but also for style and looks. In a completely touch-free retrofitted restroom, an occupant can experience an auto-flush toilet or urinal, a premeasured amount of soap dispensed to their awaiting hand, water that turns on as sensors are activated, paper towel or air dryers activated by motion sensors and a disinfected door handle upon exit.

Surround sensor technology is in some cases replacing the traditional infrared sensors to enhance design aesthetics. Manufacturers are also improving sensor installation flexibility, sensor sensitivity and battery-power options to ensure ease of use for both user and janitor. Battery-operated electronic devices can boast a longer life, depending on the battery used, and the ability to work at all times.

Other ways in which touch-free equipment is being improved are in operations — from more intuitive towel and tissue dispensing to greater ease in installation to solar-powered faucets. Manufacturers are even tapping into other senses in addition to touch, with audio message systems that remind users to wash their hands.

Excerpted from the January 2007 issue of Sanitary Maintenance.