Innovative washroom products that reduce health risks — and building service contractors who can explain how new technologies can deliver a healthier environment — are becoming hot commodities. Not only can the right washroom products help reduce illness and related absenteeism, they can compliment corporate and employee branding strategies.

Touchless technology
In the past, some restroom visitors have been reluctant to wash their hands, because they perceived touching the soap and paper dispensers as more unsanitary than not washing. Today, cross contamination is prevented through “touchless technologies,” explains Steve Laratta, senior market development manager at Georgia-Pacific in Atlanta.

Touchless items are available at all levels of the technology scale, from towel dispensers that require the users to handle only the paper, to soap and paper dispensers that activate through infrared sensors.

Georgia-Pacific offers a touchless towel dispenser, and Laratta says sales have been so successful the company intends to introduce more such dispensers soon.

“Hands-free is a big trend,” agrees John Drengler, senior segment manager, commercial/industrial market at SCA Tissue North America in Neenah, Wis. “People are looking to drive costs and vacancy rates down, while appeasing tenants. Companies like ourselves are promoting hands-free dispensing – mechanical hands-free and electronic sensors, for soap or toweling. It’s a good investment for property owners.”

“I think [touch-free dispensers] will continue to be commonplace, but their growth is somewhat based on the economy,” adds Rich Gray, vice president of marketing of the distributed products division of Rochester Midland Corp., Rochester, N.Y. “There’s a higher upfront cost to install the units, but over time, there’s usage savings and reduced vandalism.”

High-capacity rolls
Another innovation protecting the health and welfare of employees and BSCs are Georgia Pacific’s high-capacity toilet tissue dispensers that bring the product to the user as the roll diminishes, so the user doesn’t have to reach up blindly, or “into the abyss” as Laratta says, and risk contamination.

Another company, SCA, also offers rolls of tissue or toweling up to 800 feet long, which requires less maintenance and works well in washrooms with high traffic where having a constant, steady stream of paper products and dispensers that can weather heavy use, even vandalism, is critical.

Many companies offer recycled tissue in large rolls, so, BSCs can add value to their green clients by minimizing what ends up in their waste stream.

Foam soaps
Another way to reduce waste is through foam soap. Right now, foam soap is only a small part of the market, but Dennis Vehr, marketing manager at Deb SBS, a manufacturer of commercial hand soaps and dispensers, thinks its time is coming — soon, and for many reasons.

According to Vehr, foam shaves approximately ten seconds off the 30-second average time it takes to wash and rinse with liquid, which pools initially, so takes more time to spread evenly over hands.

“You get such great topographical coverage that you use less product to do the same job — 30 to 40 percent less soap,” he states. Where employees are asked to wash frequently, foam can add up to big savings.

“In a large facility you can document the savings of thousands of gallons of water using foam soap,” Vehr continues. “In the southeast last year we had to go on water rationing and the City of Charlotte went around to the major facilities – conventions centers, etc. and asked for plans to reduce water usage. Many people pointed to foam soap.”

Vehr says not only does foam soap reduce cost of product use, it reduces cost to the environment because less product ends up in the waste stream.

Metered odor control
Metered odor control systems also are growing, says Stuart Diamond, brand manager for Waterbury Companies Inc., Waterbury, Conn.

Waterbury’s system features include preset timers that spray a metered dose; refills that last for 30 or for 90 days; and LED displays that notify the BSC when it’s time for a replacement. Diamond recommends systems be installed at least seven feet high and away from air ducts or door openings for maximum effectiveness.

He admits the product costs slightly more to operate than a fan system but says it’s drastically more effective.

“Odor control is not a luxury item,” he explains. “Odors are associated with an unclean, unhealthy environment, and indeed many odors stem from bacteria. They offend employees and customers, effecting morale.”

Rochester-Midland offers a combined odor-control and cleaning-product dispenser, which dispenses both products directly into toilet bowls or urinals on a set schedule.

“The detergent, on a routine basis, keeps the toilet clean longer and makes it easier for a worker to clean,” Gray says. “In other cases — for instance, if someone forgets to flush — the deodorizer can help mask the odor.”

Gray says the direct-delivery system is growing, because it’s “difficult to find people who enjoy cleaning restrooms.”

Building brand awareness
Dispenser designers today see their products as canvases that can be used to communicate. Deb SBS dispensers, and those from some other manufacturers, can be imprinted with a company logo, design or message, increasing branding opportunities.

For instance, a contactor with control over specification can purchase soap dispensers with the company logo, so every time the building occupants wash their hands, they see the BSC’s name. Or, they can choose a health or hygiene message, reinforcing their public-health commitment.

Growing expectations
With health-related legislation in the U.S. slowing catching up to European standards it’s just a matter of time before innovative systems gain momentum.

“There’s a heightened awareness of personal hygiene,” says Laratta. “People have an expectation that products in the washroom will match that awareness.”

Discreet Disposal
Even feminine hygiene is being transformed by today’s health and business climate. An entrepreneur named Tim Buttweiler, president of Innovative Hygiene Products and a building service contractor, unveiled a new system of disposing of sanitary products in January.

Acrylic dispensers holding paper pouches are mounted by the toilet-tissue dispensers. Sanitary items are inserted into a pouch, folded over, and dropped into the wastebasket in the restroom’s common area. Buttweiler suggests removing the metal, paper-lined receptacles from the stalls.

The benefit is that women don’t have to reach their hand into a container to dispose of the used item, risking contact with germs, infections or coming into contact with hazards such as discarded hypodermic needles. Of course, the same protection carries over to the cleaner.

“We had one employee stuck at a medical facility by accident,” recalls Buttweiler. “He was very alarmed about it for several months. He didn’t have AIDS, but it caused a lot of anxiety. A woman could be stuck also/ You need to remove the exposure.”

Although the pouch isn’t see-through, bringing soiled goods out of the stall for public disposal does compromise individual privacy to some degree, which means a period of adjustment for most users. But Buttweiler believes the benefits speak for themselves. “Facilities managers and HR departments see the virtues very quickly.

“Metal or plastic disposal boxes are antiquated,” Buttweiler explains. “We service beautiful offices and bathrooms of corporate headquarters. The female employees are expected to risk contamination, and have to look at what’s inside of it?”

These disposal systems are just the beginning, says Buttweiler. He has a drawing table full of new products he hopes will improve restroom hygiene.