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The future of washroom hygiene 

09 July 2019

A breeding ground for germs, a potential minefield of safety hazards and one of the biggest sources of customer complaints, the washroom is central to the success or failure of a business. This is the reason Cleaning Matters hosted and filmed an engaging round table discussion with expert panellists on ‘Washroom Hygiene’ in May. Here are some of the key highlights…

Toilets and washrooms account for up to 70 per cent of the cleaning spend in most buildings, yet they remain the biggest source of complaints – and germs.  

Making a good first, and lasting, impression is paramount in washrooms, whether that be to encourage repeat business in hotels and restaurants, or to ensure staff health and wellbeing in the workplace. 

Cleaning Matters editor Catherine Hackett was joined by Denise Hanson, head of technical services at The British Institute of Cleaning Science, and Nicky Biggart, sales manager for Evans Vanodine International, to answer some important questions on this area and its future as part of a filmed round table discussion. 

It covered everything you need to know about cleaning and maintaining away-from-home washrooms to a high standard while maximising productivity and efficiency – and the potential consequences of not doing so. The latest trends and developments in the sector were also discussed along with what to expect in the years ahead.  

The importance of the washroom 

Opening up the round table, Biggart and Hanson shared their views on why the washroom is so important that it is often described as the ‘front window' of a business. 

“As a customer to a restaurant that I don’t know, I always use the washroom prior to ordering,” Hanson said. “If it isn’t clean, I take my custom elsewhere as if this highly visible area is poorly cleaned you can only wonder at the areas that customers do not see – like the kitchen.” 

Biggart agreed that first impressions count: you often don't get a second chance to make a good impression. In our age of high-profile social media platforms, poor hygiene or dirty washrooms are now “outed and shared” to millions of potential new visitors by unhappy customers.   

“Similarly, in workplaces, if washrooms are not maintained, workers tend to feel regarded as a commodity, not as a person,” she said. 

Ensuring every area of an establishment, especially the washroom, is spotless helps build customer confidence and establish relationships, meaning guests are more likely to return. An investment in cleaning is therefore an investment in business growth. 

The panel also discussed the trend for making washrooms a key part of the overall visitor experience, with businesses in the middle to premium end of the hospitality industry now investing in smart, contemporary and sometimes funky washrooms.  

If washroom aren’t kept clean and hygienic, loss of custom isn’t the only consequence. The spread of germs from ineffective cleaning and sanitising can lead to an outbreak of highly infectious illnesses such as the norovirus, which is not only unpleasant for the victims but, if traced back to a business such as a hotel or restaurant, can temporarily close it.  

Any health and safety incident can negatively affect a business' reputation, while staff absence and injury claims can all have a big impact on a business' bottom-line. 

Mistakes and challenges 

With the importance of the washroom unquestionable, the panel went on to discuss why it is that so many businesses are getting it wrong. 

Choosing the wrong products and a lack of training for cleaning operatives in terms of understanding what product to use and how to use it were seen to be key, and the latter can sometimes be fatal. 

Hanson explained: “One of the problems we see is people leaving cleaning products in the toilet bowl. This can damage the toilet and can pose a threat to people. For example, if someone drinks Coke, their urine can be acidic, which can react with the product in the toilet.” 

Shockingly, 12 people a year die from mixing toilet cleaner incorrectly.  

As Hanson said: “Anybody can clean, but can they clean properly?”  

Biggart added that incorrect chemical dilution from inadequate training can cause all sorts of problems. “Excessively concentrated mixes can leave residues on floors, creating a slip hazard. They can also damage the surface over time. Likewise, if chemicals are over-diluted, you might as well be using water.” 

Other common practices that go against effective and efficient training include not giving descalers five minutes’ contact time and going to clean the toilet bowl before the rest of the areas “to get it out of the way”. It’s best to flush toilets first, put products down, give them enough time to kill the germs and then come back to it. Otherwise, you’re just flushing the product away. 

Hanson and Biggart also explained that operators are under pressure to reduce costs, which can impact on the thoroughness of cleaning processes. Having to then balance this with risk management measures to safeguard the health and safety of staff is complex. 

But by establishing effective and efficient cleaning regimes, training can increase staff productivity, which is crucial in a sector of tight margins.  

Of course, over time, processes and places of work change, so it’s important that companies refresh products and training if the cleaning need changes. 

The panel agreed that washrooms can be quite formidable spaces to keep clean in themselves.  

Washroom fittings and the range of materials used in surfaces such as marble, stainless steel, slate and glass bring new challenges for the selection of the appropriate cleaning products to use. Ensuring the surfaces are not damaged during the cleaning process while enabling effective and hygienic cleaning to take place is key. 

Depending on where they are, toilets can be hit with a high density of people at certain times of day. 

For example, at an airport and on an aircraft, you may have 300 people on a flight, and all the contact points are a hazard from check-in to boarding. In scenarios such as these, washroom hygiene is crucial. 

“You’ll never totally eradicate bacteria. What we are seeking to do is use the right product in the right environment to minimise risk,” Biggart said. 

Damage in a washroom is often a problem and cleaning staff are usually the first to notice something is wrong. Hanson stressed that it’s important that cleaning staff can report, for example, a broken tile back to the FM team.  

Another issue is that the cleaning team can get blamed for washing floors if, due to faulty seals, there is water leakage. So highlighting this damage beforehand is crucial. 

Infection prevention & control 

The discussion went on to take a closer look at solutions for preventing and controlling the spread of infection. Both surface hygiene and hand hygiene can play a considerable role in helping to prevent the transmission of germs in washrooms where door handles and taps are some of the key contamination hot spots.  

Biggart explained that accurate dosing of chemical hygiene super-concentrates via controlled dispense systems can play a big part in helping to create a safe environment for visitors and staff as it means that the products not only clean to their full potential but disinfect and sanitise surfaces, killing germs and eliminating dirt. 

Accurate dosing every time also reduces waste, ensuring cleaning tasks are completed first time, increasing the productivity of the cleaning workforce.  

Hanson explained that cloths should be clearly colour-coded so that everyone can easily identify that the correct cloths are being used in the washroom area but, frustratingly, there isn’t an industry standard on this. 

The risk is of the same cloths and cleaning equipment being used to clean high-risk areas such as toilets and then the same items used for cleaning wash basins and other surfaces in a washroom, thus spreading harmful germs to these areas.  

“If we just get the message across that certain cloths are only used in toilets that would be huge,” she said. 

As mentioned earlier, how well the operative is trained plays a fundamental role in helping to reduce cross-contamination in the washroom.  

However, the responsibility for infection prevention not only lies with the cleaning team – it's also vital that users of the washroom wash and dry their hands properly.  

According to Hanson, around 40% of people still don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. The panel talked about using high-quality hand products as a way to encourage visitors to wash their hands properly and reduce incidences of cross-contamination and illness – a major cost-saving in the long run. Innovations such as touchless dispensers that minimise the number of surfaces people touch in a washroom can also help. 

Biggart also explained how fragrance can make a good first impression in a washroom, reflecting the ambience of the place, and also encourage cleanliness. Hand-wash, for instance, when pleasantly fragranced, encourages more enthusiastic use and therefore better hand hygiene. 

The use of fragrances in cleaning products is very subjective, however. It depends on the environment – for example, no one wants to walk into a nice hotel washroom and smell bleach – but Biggart said: “Fragrance should never be used to hide poor cleanliness. It should be a hint, not overpowering.” 

Trends & developments 

The discussion then moved on to the latest trends and developments in washroom hygiene. In terms of cleaning chemicals, Biggart said that auto-dosing and auto-dispensing will continue to take error out of the process, and allow people to focus on cleaning. 

The challenge with super-concentrated products is safety. There needs to be a risk assessment, and staff must be trained in COSHH.  

“The availability of Evans online COSHH E-Learn modules and the newly launched Risk Assessment portal provide flexible, on-the-move guidance on how to manage the safe use of hygiene chemicals in our customers’ business and how to safeguard staff who use cleaning products in their everyday working life.” 

Meanwhile, the Biocidal Product Regulations is transforming the away-from-home cleaning industry on using quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs), phosphorous and other chemicals. This brings challenges for the manufacturers of chemical hygiene products supplying the cleaning industry in terms of innovating effective, affordable and sustainable green products. 

Biggart added that there is a growing trend for chemical hygiene super-concentrates in reduced packaging that can be recycled after use, but this presents further challenges to balance the risk assessment need for safeguarding cleaning operatives handling them without compromising the safe transportation and storage of cleaning chemicals. 

The round table also highlighted one of the biggest problems facing the sector – cleaning is still not viewed as a career even though many businesses would close down without them. Both Hanson and Biggart stressed that cleaning operatives are hidden ‘Cinderellas’ carrying out their duties often with little recognition, but who are crucial to keeping restaurants and hospital wards open.  

Hanson explained that training can help to change this by making operatives feel valued and proud to be in the sector. This in turn increases retention rates and provides progression opportunities to those that show the skills. This is important as you also need people that can pass training down.  

The future 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already appearing in away-from-home washrooms and helping the cleaning industry to work smarter rather than harder. Software is being used that gathers real-time data from washroom sensors and enables cleaning operatives and managers to access this information via a smartphone or tablet. This allows them to check remotely when a washroom is experiencing particularly heavy traffic or when a dispenser requires refilling. By targeting only those washrooms that require attention, it saves time, meaning cleaning operatives can add value elsewhere. 

The panel agreed that it is great to see some cleaning processes being automated but at present you can’t take a robot into a washroom – cleaning challenges are high and will need to be met by people on the ground. 

In the future, we will see heavier regulation. This will bring innovation and we will probably see different styles of products, maybe a reduction in ranges, and fewer cleaner/sanitiser combinations, with more dedicated products. If we won’t have dual products, the industry will have to change its cleaning processes, shifting to two stage working. 

Some active ingredients will be no longer be available because of environmental issues at the point of extraction; manufacturers are looking at supply chains to make sure products come from a sustainable source. 

With businesses looking at reducing their plastic packaging globally, the future could see new problems arising from the spread of germs including norovirus, listeria and E. coli. 

Biggart explained: “I predict there will be a greater issue in supermarkets at the vegetable counter as less packaging is used. It will be a challenge for retailers to ensure people handling unwashed vegetables wash their hands with good quality soap and dry their hands as well.”  

As advancements in technology continue, the panel discussed whether online training feature would more heavily in the future. Online training has its place and is important for supporting learning and refreshing knowledge but everyone agreed that, when it comes to learning new skills, there is no substitute for hands-on, one-to-one training, where you can ask questions face-to-face.  

“If a company buys a £13,000 floor scrubber, I wouldn’t allow someone to drive it after only watching a YouTube video,” Hanson said. 

The discussion concluded with the pair reemphasising the important role of cleaning operatives and how cleaning is a science, underpinned by technical knowledge and practical abilities. The panel would like to see more recognition for what cleaning operatives do, and the vital role they play in not only the success of a business but in the day-to-day health, safety and wellbeing of all. 

Watch the full round-table discussion online now at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSCRdO0A6Qs