Hands spread an estimated 80 percent of common diseases. Despite this fact, however, many public restroom users still don’t wash their hands. Patrons are afraid to touch the fixtures and they want to quickly exit the room, because they believe it to be filled with germs, according to recent surveys.

Unfortunately, people who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom are actually spreading the germs they fear into areas outside of the restroom and passing them on to others.

Touching a contaminated object is the number one source of spreading disease, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but the CDC also states that hand washing is the most effective way to defend against colds and the flu.

Building service contractors can help encourage building tenants to wash their hands by promoting and utilizing the best soap and towel products.

Supplying Soap
Good hand washing starts with the right soap. Many BSCs are embracing the current soap trend: foam soaps.

“Our customers like them,” says Tony Razo, regional manager for the Gurnee, Ill.-based SCC Cleaning Co. “The foams both promote adequate hand washing and reduce waste. I’ve noticed that liquid soap cartridges don’t empty out as well as the plastic containers of the foam soaps.”

Foam soaps can also be a cost savings in the long run, says Kim Jones, senior project manager at Sprint’s World Headquarters campus in Overland Park, Kan., a client of Woodley Building Maintenance Co., Kansas City, Mo.

“A little dab of foam can go a long way when washing hands,” she says.

In addition, foam soaps can be easier on plumbing fixtures because there isn’t the waxy buildup that lotion soaps cause, which helps reduce drain backups, says Jones.

Another current trend used to encourage hand washing is waterless hand sanitizers.

In recent months, Jones has started placing hand sanitizers at the security desks located at the entrances of each of the 15 buildings on the Sprint campus.

“And there’s one sitting on each concierge desk,” adds Jones. “They’re provided as a courtesy and are very popular with the Sprint employees.”

Paper Products
Washing hands is only part of the health equation. Restroom users still need to dry their hands to be effective in reducing germs. The location of towel dispensers in relation to the sinks plays a major role in encouraging patrons to dry their hands.

“If towels are located near the sinks, people are more likely to use them,” says Razo. “Otherwise, they use the ‘shake method’ to dry off, and this gives you a wet floor.”

The type of toweling is also important when promoting an effective hand-washing program. There are many options to consider and BSCs have differing opinions on the matter.

Multifold towels allow patrons to only touch the towels they are going to use. However, this type of toweling can be expense if not properly installed, says Razo.

“Multifolds don’t always dispense effectively and can create waste,” he says. “You go to grab one and can pull out three or four instead.” Razo prefers roll towels because they force the customer to tear off the amount that they need.

Conversely, roll towels in a restroom can discourage hand washing because people don’t like to work mechanisms with wet hands, says Paul Condie, vice president, GMI Building Services, San Diego. Patrons don’t like to touch them because of their fomite characteristics: contact points where pathogenic organisms can gather and be spread, Condie explains.

The highest collection of germs in a restroom is not found on toilets, but on buttons, cranks and levers on towel dispensers, according a study commissioned by a paper towel manufacturer.

Touch-free dispensers are growing in popularity because users only need to touch toweling and not the dispenser. BSCs appreciate that these dispensers limit the amount of toweling dispensed.

“Whether restroom users are aware of the dangers of germs or not, the presence of touch-free technologies [in the restroom] promotes the image that the facility is modern and cares about public health,” says Razo. “More to the point, today’s automatic dispensers play a role in promoting hand washing and drying because they are sensor operated. There’s no contact with this type of dispenser.”

Center-pull towel dispensers are another popular touchless option. These dispensers are not sensor operated, but still dispense one towel at a time and users can only touch the towels they will use.

“They don’t require battery replacements or the labor involved in replacing them,” says Jones.

Even though patrons don’t need to touch the dispenser, cleaning staff should still clean around the dispenser’s lower edges because they do get touched inadvertently, adds Jones.

Ensuring Stock
Encouraging hand washing by installing the latest soap and towel products will be pointless if staff allows supplies to run out.

“No one likes to go in and use a restroom only to find soap or towels missing,” says Razo. “Imagine what kind of opinion they have of that building’s management.”

Scheduling routine restroom checks can help keep dispensers stocked. At Coastal Building Maintenance in Miami, Jose R. Menendez, director of operations, has all evening crews fully stock the restrooms. During the day, matrons or porters are on-hand to check the supply level at routine intervals.

But supplies can still run out quickly and unexpectedly. Ensuring dispensers are always well stocked often comes down to motivation: if workers take pride in their job, they usually will be diligent about prevent supplies from running out, says Razo.

Some BSCs are turning to new product design elements to help keep dispensers stocked.

“Because hands-free dispensers are mainly battery powered, they indicate when re-stocking is needed,” says Condie. “That’s valuable. There’s nothing as good as a flashing light telling you when to put in more supplies.”

Many product manufacturers are making their dispensers larger to help prevent run out, and BSCs appreciate this feature.

“Jumbo rolls are easier to keep stocked than others,” says Jones. “The larger the roll, the better. And with soaps, the larger the bottle, the less frequently you have to re-stock.”

In addition to supplying the best soap and towel products, BSCs can also include signage in the restroom to remind tenants to wash their hands before returning to work. Anything that prompts users to wash hands will help provide a cleaner and healthier work environment.

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.