Touch-free restroom fixtures integrate a mix of convenience, aesthetics and technology to provide dependable performance and waste-reduction for end users. As the market grows and new touchless products continue to be introduced, building service contractors need to be familiar with how to effectively clean, maintain and stock fixtures and devices.

Trends in touch-free include the increasing popularity of towel dispensers that work with the wave of the hand or pull of the fingers on an automatic feeder, sensor-activated soap dispensers and the adoption of waterless urinals in appropriate sectors. Class-A offices are leaders in implementing the ultimate in touch-free restrooms, which provide users with a completely touchless experience at the sink, towel dispenser, waste receptacle and door.

Most facilities have yet to invest in restrooms to that extent, but as more companies are judged by the quality and cleanliness of restrooms, building service contractors are in a position to recommend touch-free systems.

“In the future, I think we’re going to see all restrooms become touch-free,” says Travis Ryan, general manager at Envirotech Building Services in St. Cloud, Minn. “Your reputation is based on the way your restroom looks. It doesn’t matter if you’re retail or you’re a manufacturing firm or you’re a school. People base appearance and the type of organization you are on the restroom.”

When facilities make the decision to install touch-free fixtures, they know that building occupants will feel good about using a restroom that reduces cross-contamination while looking sleek and modern. Also, the fixtures allow less waste, which is better for both landfills and budgets.

Cost Savings

The maintenance of certain fixtures, such as roll towel and soap dispensers, can save a janitor time. In large buildings, there are some labor savings from using touch-free fixtures, says Brad Klein, president of Houston-based Building Professionals of Texas Janitorial Service.

“You can see when you have to change it. You don’t have to open it up and survey it and then go get a handful of paper towels and make sure they’re sitting right. With the soap dispensers, it’s taking off one unit and putting on another, having to just go in and refill and do that kind of stuff,” Klein says. “So there is a little bit of a time savings and in a 20- or 30-story building, that might add up to 30 or 45 minutes a night.”

Controlled output — of water, soap or paper products — is a huge benefit of touchless fixtures. Towel dispensers can be adjusted to allow certain inch lengths of towel. At accounts that utilize traditional night cleaning, the need for a day porter may be reduced or eliminated because many touch-free fixtures do not need constant replenishing.

Saving product and reducing waste benefits not only the environment but also the bottom line of the purchaser of those products. Touchless towel dispensers are perhaps the best example of a green alternative that is getting major mainstream attention in all market sectors.

“It makes better use of the paper, because the touchfree dispensers are all roll towels and you’re going to get the best use of paper from a roll towel vs. folded towel,” says Kent Edwards, project manager at ABM in Stanford, Calif. “It does a better job of dispensing the paper in a controlled situation where you can make it as big or as small as you want it so that people don’t generate much waste. So from a landfill point of view, it’s very positive. From a paper usage standpoint, it’s very positive.”

Paper is not the only resource touchless fixtures can save. Water savings can be significant using low-flow toilets, waterless urinals and faucets that operate by sensor to be activated and automatically turn off after a set amount of time, such as 15 seconds. Automatic shut-off can also prevent simple human errors.

“One customer, a medical facility, went through and changed all their fixtures to touchless water fixtures because they actually had a problem that someone had left the water on, not very high, but left it on — and a piece of paper towel got stuck in the drain, and they ended up with four-floor water damage,” says Ryan.

Labor Savings?

There are unique cleaning specifications for touch-free fixtures. Many faucets and soap dispensers are designed to reduce the mess that comes from using more traditional methods.

But even though janitors have less mess to clean up, they do have an additional task: to ensure that the sensors are clean.

For the most part, though, the fixtures don’t necessarily cut down BSCs’ labor costs; the time it takes to clean a touchless faucet, for instance, is comparable to the time it would take to clean a traditional faucet.

“When it comes to faucets, people’s hands are dripping less because they’re not turning off the faucets. So it could become a cost savings from a day porter standpoint just to be more presentable throughout the day. But really you’re pretty much cleaning everything that you normally would,” Ryan says.

There is additional labor involved in changing batteries as well, says Edwards.

It’s important for janitors to keep a log of when batteries are changed out so they have a good idea of when they may need replacement, because a touchfree fixture that doesn’t work can produce high user frustration.

Many BSCs consider touchless technology to be the wave of the future. From new hand drying technologies in the face of increasing paper prices to continually improving motion sensors to products that address cross-contamination on door handles, the sector is continuing to evolve. Industry leaders expect that touch-free fixtures will become commonplace in the restrooms of tomorrow.