For years, people have tried to avoid touching restroom fixtures with a variety of unorthodox approaches. Some restroom patrons try to dispense soap or toweling by pressing buttons with their wrist or elbow. Others flush their toilets by pushing handles with their feet.

Building service contractors can make the restroom experience more pleasant for these patrons and encourage additional people to wash their hands after using the restroom by educating their clients about touch-free fixtures, including faucets, soap and towel dispensers, and commodes and urinals.

Faucet handles, soap and towel dispenser levers or urinal and commode handles are commonly touched items where germs can linger. These types of places are called fomites. Touch-free products are designed to reduce bacteria transmission and allow restroom visitors to bypass the fomites. Users can flush a toilet by simply moving away from it; wash their hands without turning or pushing a knob; and dry their hands by touching only the toweling they will use. Because the products are activated by infrared sensors instead of levers and handles, touch-free fixtures reduce the potential for cross-contamination and the spread of colds, flus, skin infections and intestinal illness — all of which are commonly spread in public restrooms.

However, the benefits of touch-free fixtures extend beyond reducing the spread of cross-contamination. These types of products also help limit waste of consumables such as soap and toweling. Touch-free dispensers distribute a set amount of product and have a delay before dispensing the next allotment. With touch-free sinks, restroom users are unable to waste water or leave faucets running. By reducing waste, these products are also reducing the cost of products for a facility.

Touch-free products also improve the public image of the restroom. When toilets aren’t flushed regularly, germs are allowed to build up, odors form and toilets become easily clogged. However, touch-free toilets flush as soon as the user steps away from them and are also set to flush regularly at times of inactivity. In addition, there is less chance of restroom vandalism with touch-free products. Vandals are discouraged because it’s not as easy to take an excess amount of towels to clog sinks or toilets.

Installing touch-free fixtures could mean potentially large up-front costs for facility managers, but they should see a return on investment in as little as six to nine months. With a switch to touch-free restrooms, facility managers will not only be spending less on consumables, they will also be providing their tenants with a cleaner, more hygienic environment.

Excerpted from the February 2006 issue of Contracting Profits.