Three high-class men's toilets lined up

The arrival of the pandemic didn't just present historic public health challenges brought on by an entirely new disease; it instilled an increased awareness of the importance of cleaning for health. These new expectations for, let's say, ultra-clean restroom facilities, increased the demand to keep these areas clean. 

“These trends existed before the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated them,” notes Keith Schneringer, director of merchandising and sustainability for Envoy Solutions, San Diego. 

The various side-effects of the pandemic also led to the Great Resignation. Cleaning teams lost many employees, most of whom never returned when shutdowns ended.  

The new paradigm ushers in a perfect opportunity for distributors to help clients recharge restroom cleaning processes, technologies and products.  

Restrooms Go High Tech 

The big winners in a post-pandemic world are companies and innovators working in technology.   

“Our customers look to do things better, faster and cheaper. We are seeing an acceleration of people willing to adopt innovative technologies,” says Schneringer. 

End users seek products and equipment that help frontline workers perform tasks faster, better and more safely, as well as technologies that deliver on a promise to keep things sanitary and maximize occupant health. Topping their lists are things like Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, QR codes, touch-free restroom fixtures, and advanced cleaning tools and products. 

“A distributor must act as a partner who shows end users what’s available, and makes sure it fits into their operation,” Schneringer adds. “A distributor can develop a customized technology solution.”  

For instance, before specifying any technologies, it’s important to distributors understand the typical daily flow of restroom traffic.  

“Knowing how the restroom is used helps determine the needed technology,” says Schneringer. “Ultimately, you must produce solutions that address specific needs.” 

Discussing labor savings helps end users embrace innovative technologies, adds Ailene Grego, president and CEO of SouthEast Link, Atlanta. “Everybody is trying to do more with less,” she says. “You need to drive efficiency.” 

For example, disinfecting a surface has always required someone to spray on the disinfectant, let it dwell and wipe it off. Grego recently saw a product that will eliminate this task: The machine fogs the entire area, then is left to dwell and dry.  

“Previously, people didn’t want to talk about equipment that could lead to job elimination,” she says. “Now the conversation has shifted.” 

Charlie Moody, president of Solutex Inc., Sterling, Virginia, agrees that innovations can help address the labor shortage. Still, he warns end users not to rely too heavily on technology. For example, an IoT device on a paper towel dispenser can sense when it needs restocking. But if technicians only visit restrooms when they receive alerts, they may miss moments when a toilet gets stopped up or paper towels litter the floor. 

“We should view technology as a tool to help customers manage things better. But we should never view it as a true substitute for human capital,” Moody says. 

Meeting Higher Expectations 

Statistics show that the average person visits a restroom two to three times during the workday, making it a strong impression point.  

“People judge the cleanliness of the entire facility on the cleanliness of the restroom,” says Moody. 

Here, IoT sensors can help end users improve visibility into the state of a restroom between cleanings. IoT sensors on dispensers can track stock and notify technicians when products get low.  

This is one advantage to share with customers. But the historical usage data these systems collect and their benefit when it comes to streamlining operations is crucial.  

“With historical data, you can see trends,” says Schneringer. “When you pair that with sensors that monitor traffic in and out of the restroom, you can accurately predict when dispensers will run out and plan replenishment and staffing around those trends.” 

Grego says this strategy is a marked improvement over the way most end users handle this today. Typically, a custodian walks into a restroom, checks the dispensers, then needs to decide whether they should change out products now or wait until the next cleaning. This might mean they toss the last remaining soap in a dispenser, or they skip refilling paper towels — only to have a customer complain 20 minutes later.  

“Sensors can alert technicians via an app when dispensers get down to 10 percent. Now frontline staff can target the dispensers that need to be changed,” says Grego. “There’s less waste and they can spend less time in the restroom.” 

She also reminds distributors to tell customers that the batteries powering the sensors need checking, too. These batteries have a shelf-life of six to eight months. When the batteries die, toilets with sensors will not flush unless flushed by hand, sinks will not pour water, and dispensers will not distribute products or send alerts when stock is low.  

Grego adds that QR codes can also be beneficial. Patrons can scan these codes to alert custodial teams of issues — low stock, plumbing issues, cleanliness concerns, etc. — in the restroom.  

“This technology also allows workers to check restrooms less often,” she notes. “This ties to being more efficient with fewer workers.”  

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Touchless Restroom Fixtures Meet Occupant Preferences