July/August 2013

Touch-Free Fixtures Tap Into Hygiene

Touch-free innovations offer a number of benefits to a facility, including increased cleanliness and hygiene, operational savings, and a level of sophistication to its restrooms.

Kristin Meyers, Moen Commercial

Health-conscious end-users are behind the demand for hands-free products in commercial restrooms. Today’s society is germ obsessed, with industry reports estimating that approximately 30% of people avoid using a public restroom due to their fear of germs and other bacteria that reside on the surfaces of fixtures they would touch. However, the public is more likely to use restrooms with hands-free fixtures instead of manual types. The result is that specifiers and building owners are incorporating an increasing number of touch-free products in new-construction, renovation, and retrofit projects.

In today’s restroom stall, there are two primary touch-free elements that help reduce the spread of germs and bacteria:

  • Automatic toilet-seat-cover dispensers: Industry studies on toilet seats found that in restaurants, gas stations, and other public places, 97% of toilet seats harbor micrococacceae, which can cause skin reactions. Installing automatic toilet-seat-cover dispensers separate the user from such bacteria.

  • Sensor-operated faucets are an excellent choice in locker rooms for hygiene as well as eliminating the chance of water being left running.
  • Sensor-operated flush valves: High-efficiency flush valves increase water savings for commercial properties and can significantly reduce contamination in a restroom. These flush valves also promote energy savings with the help of an infrared sensor beam that activates a flush cycle only when a user is in range, ensuring optimal performance, efficient operation, and cost savings. Visitors are also accustomed to touch-free elements in the sink area of a commercial restroom. When these products are used in combination, visitors can remove as much as 99.9% of germs, according to Richard DiPaolo, an expert in the janitorial/sanitation industry.
  • Automatic soap dispensers: Dispensers automatically distribute a pre-measured amount of soap for hygienic hand washing, eliminating bacterial colonies left behind on traditional products. They also feature easy-to-use bag refills that further reduce contamination.
  • Sensor-operated faucets: Hands-free electronic faucets are a smart choice to help reduce the spread of germs in any facility. It’s no surprise that professional groups give these fixtures good grades. A joint statement issued in April 2011 by the American Society of Healthcare Engineers, Chicago, and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Washington, praised electronic faucets because they “lessen the risk of recontamination of hands after washing.” Sanitary control isn’t the only benefit offered by electronic faucets. They also help conserve water and reduce the chance of flooding. The plumbing-management team at Vanderbilt Univ. Hospital, Nashville, TN, reported that the use of hands-free electronic faucets for the past seven years has been a great success. They install electronic faucets in public areas, so there’s no worry about visitors turning something on and walking away with it still running. In other words, these fixtures are a win for everyone.
  • Automatic paper-towel dispensers and electronic hand dryers: While hands-free faucets play an important role in keeping bacteria off hands in a commercial restroom, automatic paper dispensers are also an integral component. The Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, recommends the use of paper towels over hand blow-drying devices. Research shows that end-users are more likely to choose paper towels, leading to less cross-contamination. Damp hands are 1,000 times more likely than dry hands to contract and spread germs.

Reliable, touch-free restrooms

There’s no denying the popularity, demand, and need for touch-free products. However, if the products don’t perform properly on demand, it is frustrating for the end-user. Consider the following factors to limit operation issues, ensuring these fixtures perform reliably from the user’s entrance to exit.

    Public restrooms of all kinds conserve water with touch-free technology installed.
  • High-quality products: When specifying automatic fixtures in a commercial restroom, be sure to select high-quality products. Specifiers should be careful about selecting electronic products from unknown or obscure manufacturers just because prices are lower. Reputable manufacturers provide sensor-operated fixtures that feature durable, solid brass, chrome-plated construction to withstand constant use. Vandal-resistant features are also a plus, preventing tampering or damage that can render them inoperable. Higher-quality products also include more advanced and reliable electronic components that help limit over-flushing and false sensing, two of the most common complaints associated with touch-free restrooms.
  • Select the right settings: For a touch-free restroom to receive high marks, the facility-management team must be familiar with traffic and usage patterns. Observe the flow of the restroom and see where and why lines are forming. In high-traffic locations or during peak usage times and seasons, it’s important to adjust the settings on sensor-operated products accordingly. For automatic paper-towel dispensers, greater paper lengths and shorter delays between paper feeds will keep visitors moving through more quickly, whereas shorter lengths and longer delays work well in facilities where time is not as crucial.

In the stall, dual-flush valves adjust automatically, using advanced electronics to ensure that every flush uses the right amount of water. Dual-flush valves rely on the timing of the individual in the stall to determine the strength of the flush in commercial water-closet applications, automatically reducing water usage by as much as 37% without sacrificing performance. The sensor-operated valves allow the user to be in range for as long as 60 seconds for a reduced 1.0-gallon flush. After 60 seconds, a full 1.6-gallon flush is activated, potentially saving thousands of gallons of water each year.

Keeping things flowing

Products that feature a mechanical manual-override button ensure that systems are always operational. If a product lacks such controls, the only way to solve functionality issues is to replace faulty components. If the warranty has lapsed or the manufacturer doesn’t cover replacement parts, keeping products operational can be costly.

Since touch-free products are automated, it’s important to perform regular service and maintenance checks to ensure that batteries are not dead and dispensers are not empty, leaving products unusable until the issue is resolved. If a facility does not have the resources to keep up with battery checks and replacement on a regular basis, selecting products with optional AC power adapters will keep restrooms running smoothly.

Touch-free restroom technology will evolve and advance as available products, features, and equipment continue to improve. Ultimately, touch-free innovations offer a number of benefits to a facility, including increased cleanliness and hygiene, operational savings, and a level of sophistication to its restrooms. With the right products in place and appropriate maintenance, touch-free fixtures and devices will reliably provide these benefits for years to come.


Kristin Meyers is marketing and product manager for Moen Commercial, NorthOlmsted, OH.

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