A restroom is the area of a building that tends to generate the most complaints. People entering a restroom expect it to be as clean and comfortable as their home bathroom. And nowhere is this expectation believed more than for restrooms in high-end or “Class-A” facilities.

Class-A buildings typically have excellent location and access, attract high-quality tenants and are managed professionally. The facilities feature high-quality building materials and competitive rents, according to the Urban Land Institute’s Office Development Handbook.

When a person enters a restroom, he or she usually will note its general cleanliness, the operation of dispensers and the quality and availability of the toilet paper, soap and towels within them. If any of these things are sub-par, it can taint that person’s opinion of the rest of the building.

Building service contractors need to do their best to prevent one bad restroom from ruining the whole building in their clients’ eyes.

The right touch
According to a 2001 survey by Kimberly-Clark Professional, cleanliness was the overwhelming factor as to whether respondents had a good impression of a restroom. Similarly, a majority felt that unclean conditions create a bad impression.

Sheri Epstein, associate director of research at International Facility Management Association (IFMA), Houston, agrees.

“Customers look for general cleanliness in restrooms. They ask themselves if the restrooms appear and smell clean,” she says.

Another aspect of the public’s perception of restroom cleanliness is whether dispensers are in working order, Epstein adds. Whereas routine cleaning is, of course, necessary, installing the right dispenser from the start can help raise public opinion with little maintenance.

Even though only eight percent of survey respondents felt that dispensers affect restroom cleanliness, facility managers have found that dispensers can have an impact — especially if they are touch-free products.

Touchless dispensers don’t require the user to push any buttons or levers to distribute the towel. In addition, they only allow the user to touch the toweling they will be using. Some dispensers feature sensors that dispense toweling when hands are placed in front of the dispenser. Others allow only the tail of the towel to be exposed.

“I find that more restroom users are seeking sensor or touchless dispensers,” says Epstein. “They are concerned about germs and they don’t want to touch dispensers.”

“Recently we have been moving toward the hands-free services where the sinks and sometimes the soap dispensers are hands-free” adds Rob D. Perkins, senior operations manager of Hines, a property-management firm in Houston. “We have soap dispensers and folded towels rather than the rolled towels. In many cases we have little tissue dispensers that are architecturally pleasing on the counter.”

Touchless dispensers do cut down on cross-contamination and also encourage users to wash hands more frequently.

In addition, touch-free products create less waste. Pre-determined towel lengths and delay times for both toweling and soap can limit the amount of product a user can take. Without set measurements, users typically take more soap and toweling than is necessary. Less usage also will require less frequent refills.

Increased numbers of restroom dispensers appear to have been upgraded to touch-free systems — in 2001, only 12 percent of survey respondents wanted to see more touch-free products compared to 71 percent in 1999.

It’s what’s inside that counts
Dispensers, however, are not the only item in a restroom affecting users’ impressions.

“The quality of paper and the texture of soap are more important than the type of dispensers,” says Robert Stewart, president of Major Commercial Cleaning Co., in Nashville, Tenn.

In another Kimberly Clark survey, 74 percent of respondents said softness and texture in a restroom tissue is either very important or somewhat important to them (two-ply tissue is the minimum thickness for usage).

“We usually go to the high-end, two-ply toilet paper,” adds Perkins. “Firms are becoming more environmentally conscious, and going toward the coreless toilet paper tissues. You get a lot more on the roll and a lot less waste on the packaging by having the coreless toilet paper tissues.”

Selecting quality products and dispensers along with daily cleaning will help to routinely create a good restroom impression. And no matter how good the rest of the building looks, a BSC is only as good as its dirtiest room.

Ken Fracaro is a freelance writer in Hixson, Tenn.