Housekeeping managers have discovered that touch-free restroom products are much more than just trendy and good-looking. They reduce the spread of germs and illness, a concern that’s high on everyone’s radar. Implementing such products not only keeps the housekeeping staff healthier, it reduces absenteeism for building occupants, helping an organization stay as productive and profitable as possible.

Of the many popular touch-free products available, paper dispensers are of particular interest at the moment. Why? They’re becoming more sophisticated at reducing paper expenditure, and labor spend as well.

When changing over to a touch-free paper dispenser, savings and return on investment vary by facility. The bottom line is often determined by the number of hand dries received for the money. This formula must be calculated for individual facilities based on the old and new scenarios, factoring in paper, restroom traffic, metering associated savings such as labor.

Papers Impact

The amount of product used can directly relate to the type of paper within the dispenser. Sheet size, roll width, paper grade, ply number and bleaching can all affect paper cost. There are also single-fold, multi-fold, c-fold and roll; recycled, virgin and combinations of recycled content.

With folded towel systems, experts agree that people almost always take two towels, but often three or four whether due to habit or because they’re not taking the time to unfold the towels properly.

“Most people will use three to four folded towels per hand dry, and 16 to 18 inches of roll towel on the touch-free type dispensers,” says Steve Neumyer, vice president of sales at Associated Paper, a distributor in Conyers, Ga. This “average towel use” number can go up for folded towels, because unlike roll towels, they are at risk for being wasted due to overstuffing, or falling out of dispensers onto the floor.

Controlling Usage

One way to minimize or control the amount of paper used is to control what is available. Many of today’s touch-free roll dispensers can be programmed to regulate the portion of towel dispensed. The savings of pre-portioning can be substantial. One manufacturer claims that controlled dispensers can reduce towel usage 20 percent over uncontrolled roll towels, and 40 percent over folded towels.

President of St. Louis-based Renard Paper Company David Renard, says that with the roll units he sells, a portion can be programmed for 8-, 12-, or 16 inches. Some dispensers also have a timer that can be set for a two, four, six, eight-second, or longer delay before another towel is dispensed. The delay can also be adjusted to accommodate the speed and frequency of restroom traffic.

Intense, high-traffic locations such as casinos and stadiums, and during peak seasons at shopping malls, may require greater lengths and shorter delays to keep customers moving through. At non-peak periods, or in facilities where time is not as crucial, shorter lengths and longer delays can make perfect sense.

“You can fine-tune the length, time and quality of product,” says General Manager of Carson City, Nev.-based Tahoe Supply Company, Nick Spallone, adding that the units he’s familiar with open up with a tool from the manufacturer, and then it’s easy to adjust the portion and time delay, or to activate the motion sensor.

“My recommendation for our customers is to look at the flow of the restroom and watch people washing their hands,” he says. “If you’re having to wait in line because the sensors are not quick enough, you can adjust it.”

Labor, Storage And Waste

Using touch-free paper dispensers will save additional labor dollars by minimizing the handling and storage of refills. Some facilities have even cut storage quantities in half. One went from storing 110 cases to only 55 cases of roll towel at any given time.

“Their old dispenser held 5,304 sheets of folded towel, and needed refilling twice as much as roll towels,” says Spallone. “Labor was reduced and in a large facility, those minutes turn into hours, which can be used to do other tasks. We’re so tight on labor as it is, finding ways of creating additional time to do things is a huge advantage.”

Renard agrees. “What really helps the building owner is the reduction in labor needed to refill,” he says. “Ninety percent of the cost of cleaning is labor. Multi- or c-fold towels won’t have backup — you just have to make sure it’s full all the time. Also, with a translucent front or LED indicator, the custodian can tell at a glance if they need to do anything with that dispenser — they don’t have to open it to check it. That speeds things up.”

Handling and labor are essential, but storage also plays a roll in savings.

“You’re getting a lot more paper on a roll, which reduces storage by 35 to 40 percent, which is an added benefit if you are tight on space,” says Spallone. “And you’re getting more paper on the wall — putting the product where it needs to be.”

Manufacturer advancements, such as the automatic stub roll feature of touch-free dispensing minimizes waste by eliminating wasted end rolls.

“In the past as much as 10 percent of a roll would end up in the garbage can,” says Spallone. “Custodians don’t want to leave it, because then the dispenser could run out. With the new dispensers they can put the stub into the location in the dispenser to feed through, and there’s no waste. When you consider labor and waste reduction, the savings of touch-free automation is tremendous.”

Energy Considerations

Some managers are reluctant to make the switch to automatic dispensers because of concerns with increased energy or battery expenses. Touch-free automated dispensers typically come with three to six D-cell batteries, which cost from $4 to $6 total per dispenser to replace.

The frequency of their replacement is based on the amount of use. Renard says that with the units he sells, the suggested battery life is about 18 rolls. There is also a light indicator that tells when batteries need to be replaced or sense the motor is struggling.

Neumyer says that batteries are easy to replace, and in his experience, typically last between one and two years.

“Newer generations are more efficient,” adds Spallone. “They’ve really created better systems and batteries are lasting much, much longer.”

“You can also get some paper dispensers hard-wired for electric,” Neumyer adds, “but the number of installations of those is small.”

The Total Package

Insiders agree that the growing insistence for touch-free restroom products spans all industries. They also agree that health-conscious consumers are behind the demand.

“I’d say that touch-free is becoming a high priority,” says Neumyer. “Five years ago that wouldn’t have been the case.”

Thankfully, manufacturers continue to build in value-added features, making the products even more beneficial and cost effective for housekeeping managers and the facilities they serve.

Lauren Summerstone is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.



Additional Money-Saving, Touch-Free Restroom Products

In addition to touch-free paper towel dispensers, faucets and soap dispensers, auto-flush toilets and water-free urinals offer savings as well.

Nick Spallone, general manager at Tahoe Supply Company, says touch-free soap dispensers with concentrated foam soap cuts the amount of soap on hands by 60 percent, which reduces the time it takes to rinse and the amount of water used.

“It’s a significant water savings,” agrees Steve Neumyer, vice president of sales at Associated Paper. “In a draught area, that’s a big deal.”

Automatic flushers for urinals and commodes keep facilities more hygienic and attractive by ensuring a flush every time and preventing damage by people who use their foot to flush. Experts comment that the savings is mainly in labor — the decrease in maintenance of repairing handles from kicking, or odor problems caused by not flushing.

Neumyer says he thinks the jury is out on savings realized from waterless urinals. They’re not hard to maintain, but like other cutting-edge technologies, they requires a whole different mindset.

If not maintained properly, these products may not perform properly. Neumyer explains that an inspection recently conducted within a school district revealed that over 80 percent of the waterless urinals were not being taken care of properly.

“It’s a training thing,” he says. “It is a different cleaning concept. We have subsequently been put in charge of helping them take better care of their school.”

— L.S.


Case Study: Paper savings

Although every facility’s savings will differ, Nick Spallone, general manager at Tahoe Supply Company shares a scenario he prepared for a client, who went from a multi-fold towel to a touch-free roll towel dispensing system.

“To compare apples to apples, we plug in how many towels are in a case, and then take the roll towel and figure how many times that dispenser pulls and dispenses,” he says.

In his scenario, the average person uses three, 9.5-inch long by 9.125-inch wide multi-fold towels per hand dry.

With 4,000 sheets per case, this amounts to 1,333 hand dries; a portioned 9.5-inch long and 7.75-inch wide roll affords 2,652 hand dries.

Next he takes the average price per case — $25 for multi-fold towel, and $48 for roll towel — and divides by hand dries per case, to get the cost per 1,000 hand dries. The result: folded towels cost $18.75; metered rolls, $18.10.

— L.S.