Certainly, the appearance of a public restroom is an important indicator of its cleanliness and an area of a facility the public will notice and respond to, either positively or negatively. In fact, the state of the restroom might even determine if visitors to your facility will ever return.
However, the actual hygienic cleanliness of your restroom goes beyond what may be visible on the surface. Because water can encourage the life and growth of bacteria and other undesirable microorganisms, even the tidiest restroom is subject to contamination. Ideally, a truly hygienic restroom requires forethought in physical design and in the installation of the most appropriate fixtures, followed by stringent and regular maintenance.
A study in restroom redesign
Fairplex, located approximately 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, has been the home of the Los Angeles County Fair since 1922. With a footprint of nearly 500 acres, the venue includes the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel and Conference Center, The Millard Sheets Art Center, a KOA RV park, a grandstand and infield with seating for 10,000 people, the Finish Line Sports Grill, 12 acres of fairgrounds and parking for 30,000 vehicles. In addition to the month-long Los Angeles County Fair, held annually in September, Fairplex is the site for approximately 500 sports and entertainment events every year.
On average, more than 1.5 million visitors attend the L.A. County Fair each year. Accordingly, the venue has 300 to 400 year-round employees, but the number skyrockets to close to 2,000 during the Fair. Jim DeMonaco, director of facilities, joined Fairplex in 2012. One of his first goals was to renovate the public restrooms—which had seen their last major renovation more than 50 years ago.
DeMonaco launched an extensive redesign program for the Fairplex restrooms. Among the new installations were waterless urinals that would save the facility more than 10 million gallons of water a year; one-piece flooring with a central floor drain for quick clean-up; motion-sensor lighting that switches off when the restroom is not in use; multiple sinks formed of a single piece of counter material; hands-free faucets; high-pressure toilets; and most importantly, replacing paper towel dispensers with high-speed hand dryers to save on costs.
Finding a hand dryer that met multiple criteria
DeMonaco discussed his criteria in selecting a hand dryer model. “My first priority was enabling hands-free operation. In public restrooms, the paper towels tend to fill up the trash very quickly and people tend to throw them on the floor. The immediate impression to guests is that the restroom is not clean. So one of my objectives was to do away with the paper towels and go with hand dryers. Part of this decision was also the money we would save because we wouldn’t have to spend $100,000 a year for paper towels.”
DeMonaco took a methodical approach to find the hand dryer that would fit perfectly in the renovated restrooms. “I was concerned about drying time, so the hand dryer of choice had to be in the top 10 percent of hand drying speed,” he said. “I was also concerned about noise and wanted the dryers to be relatively quiet. I was looking for something that was durable, that would stand up to the constant use, but also had an attractive design. Additionally, the dryer unit needed to be small so that I could put multiple dryers in a convenient place. Our plan was to mount them above the sinks so guests didn’t have to move from the sink to use them.”
Another key factor in choosing a hand dryer was the heating element. DeMonaco wanted a hand dryer that would work with or without a heating element to save electricity and hand drying time.
In terms of cost savings and efficiency, Fairplex has been able to cut its paper towel budget in half, but there’s much more. “Labor is another important savings,” said DeMonaco. “We’re not cleaning the restrooms as often or as long. We’re not emptying trash as much, so that reduces the entire waste disposal chain. I went from one attendant per restroom to one attendant per two restrooms. Obviously, the more important and tangible benefit was that our guest satisfaction ratios rose overall for the Fair experience. I can’t attribute all of it to the restrooms, but I think that’s a large part of it.”
Planning the redesign
Following are six key issues to take into consideration when designing or renovating a restroom—small or large.
- Physical design. In order to make your restroom as functional as possible, the countertops, toilets, and urinals should be at the proper height and distance from the wall for the age of people who will be using them. For instance, for adult users countertops should be 34 inches high; toilet seats 17-19 inches high; and urinals 17 inches high. Make sure hand dryers, soap dispensers, toilet paper dispensers, and trash receptacles are placed where movement flow and logical usage dictate their optimal use.
- Fixtures. Are your faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers, and toilets hands-free to reduce cross-contamination? This may require the replacement of earlier equipment models and brands, but fixtures or devices equipped with motion sensors have the added benefit of offering energy-efficiency and the ability to reduce costs by only turning on when someone is using them.
- Extend service life. Some hand dryer manufacturers incorporate antimicrobial technology to inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold and fungus, extending the dryer’s service life. The use of antimicrobial technology can be incorporated into wall paint and flooring as well.
- ADA accessibility. Do your accessible restroom stalls provide enough space for a wheelchair to properly turn and adjust so all patrons are able to use the facilities in the cleanest manner possible? Leave a clear floor space 60 inches in diameter in the stall, or create a T-shaped space 36 inches wide. Additionally, consider that parents with children often use accessible restroom stalls because they need to assist their young children, and they also require extra space. Remember to position in-stall trash receptacles so they don’t interfere with wheelchair or multi-persons maneuverability.
- Trash receptacles. Used paper towels can overflow trash receptacles, and then likely will end up scattered onto the floor. This not only provides the potential for serious bacterial growth, it also gives the appearance of an untidy, unclean restroom. Automatic hand dryers keep a restroom appearing cleaner and eliminate the frustration of trying to use a jammed-full dispenser or searching for one that is empty. Additionally, they also reduce the need for maintenance. The motor life of some hand dryers is now two-to-three times longer than ever before, and this could mean 10-15 years of worry-free service and a cleaner looking restroom.
- Soap dispensers. Similar to the paper towel mess, soap mess on the countertop can offer a negative perception of the cleanliness of your restroom and discourage people from washing their hands. Consider using foam dispensers which drop soap drip-free into the hand from an automatic dispenser rather than liquid dispensers, which can leave a soap string that may pool onto the countertop or in the sink as well as clog the drains. Faced with such a mess, many users will avoid using soap all together.
Regular maintenance made easier
Few people look forward to cleaning restrooms, but this unavoidable task is easier and more efficient when the space is well designed and the installed fixtures support easy and clean usage as seen by Fairplex in its redesign. When soiled paper towels are left scattered in restrooms, your maintenance crew faces the undesirable chore of gathering them up somehow and, in the process, exposing themselves to the bacteria and viruses the towels may carry. The same is true when soap drips onto countertops and into the sinks. Public restrooms with these issues will need to be cleaned often, adding to the cost of labor as well as increasing the risk of infection for your employees.Whether your facility is a restaurant, recreational/entertainment center, school, office or retail location, the cleanliness of the publicly accessible restrooms is a concern for users, particularly in high traffic areas. Where there is water—bacteria, viruses, and parasites tend to thrive—often unseen, but still a potential danger to the well-being of patrons and employees. By utilizing basic design principles and taking advantage of the new technologies available in restroom fixtures, these concerns can be dramatically reduced for those who use the restroom, as well as for those who maintain it.