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Washroom hygiene – what are the considerations?

21 August 2023

Washrooms should be cleaned to a safe and hygienic standard. And, as Denise Hanson observes, this always requires proper training.

WE CAN all agree that any washroom should be hygienically clean and appropriately stocked with the necessary supplies such as toilet paper, soap and hand towels or efficient and effective hand dryers.

Indeed, independent surveys show that retail outlets and restaurants can lose customers if the facilities that they provide are deemed unsatisfactory by the customer.

But what do the general public see as an acceptable standard? The following picture shows a w.c. that appears to be of a reasonable standard but there is a major issue, the cleaning operative has left the cleaning chemical in the toilet bowl instead of brushing and flushing. What a lot of the public are unaware of is that this chemical could be dangerous to them. As trained cleaning professionals we are aware a toilet descaler is usually acidic in nature, so that it can effectively remove limescale. But acids can cause chemical burns and I think we can all agree that splashback from this w.c. could be extremely unpleasant!


Keeping washrooms hygienic

So how should washrooms be cleaned to a safe and hygienic standard? BICSc would always recommend training for this task, after all, we need not only the user of the facility to be safe but the cleaning operative as well. 

We recommend using an independently accredited disinfectant. It is worth considering whether you also need the product to be effective against viruses, fungi and/or spores.

In brief:

  • EN 1276 standard specifies a suspension test for establishing whether a chemical disinfectant or antiseptic has bactericidal activity
  • EN 13697 method is to establish the bactericidal, fungicidal, or even yeasticidal activity exhibited by chemical disinfectants or antiseptics intended for food, industrial, domestic, and institutional applications
  • EN 14476 certificate demonstrates they can kill a number of viruses including norovirus, poliovirus, adenovirus, and influenza, due to its antiviral ingredients.

The cleaning operative should apply the product from the dirtiest areas to the cleanest, allowing appropriate contact time for the more heavily contaminated areas. They should then clean from the cleaner areas to the dirty ones – this limits the chances of cross-contamination.

BICSc strongly advocates the use of colour-coded cloths and equipment to further minimise cross-contamination, whilst we still do not have an industry standard, the common use of red for washroom areas is consistent across the cleaning world. BICSc takes this one stage further suggesting a red and white cloth for the sanitary appliances. During my time in facilities management, my approach to this was to use microfibre for the general washroom areas and to supply a disposable cloth for the sanitary units, further limiting the chances of cross-contamination at my sites.


Cleaning operatives should be provided with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely carry out their washroom cleaning duties and they should ensure that all equipment used is cleaned, laundered, or disposed of as appropriate, at the end of their tasks. 

I am aware that space is usually limited for the storage of cleaning equipment, but the use of utensil holders can maximise the space available and ensure the area not only looks more professional but is also conducive to good practice in limiting the opportunities for cross-contamination as this puts both the operative and the user of the facilities at less risk of infection.



Sanitary and safe washrooms

The provision of sanitary and safe washroom facilities should, in my opinion, be a basic human right but if we look at the current state of public washrooms this doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) found the following issues when they looked under the lid in 2019:

  • Public concern over the lack of toilets acts as a ‘loo leash’
  • The ‘loo leash’ puts as many as one in five (20%) of the public off venturing out of their homes as often as they would like – rising to two in five (43%) people with conditions requiring frequent toilet use
  • Deliberate dehydration is practised by over half (56%) of the public and is known to seriously affect health and exacerbate existing medical problems.

RSPH has published a report revealing the dire state of our public conveniences and its impact on the public’s health: Taking the P***. The report reveals that three in four of the public (74%) say there are not enough toilets in their area – a damning reflection of the nearly 700 council-run toilets that have closed down since 2010. 

This poses issues for the more elderly members of our society, and it is shown to decrease their mobility as they are unwilling to go out when they are unsure of the availability and or condition of the toilets in the area. I’m sure we all have an older friend or relative where this is the case.

The lack of facilities also has an impact on the over 500,000 people in the UK who have been diagnosed as suffering with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is not a condition that only impacts on the elderly population, it can affect adults and children of all ages and is a lifelong debilitating condition with no cure. The charity Crohn’s & Colitis UK produce a specific Can’t Wait Card for their members to show to staff when out in public if there are no public facilities nearby to gain access to washroom facilities, perhaps if there were more good quality public toilets available this card would not be needed. More details can be found at https://crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/info-support/become-a-member/cant-wait-card For sufferers who travel the card is available in multiple languages.

Promoting high standards of hygiene

Key in the fight for adequate washroom provision is The British Toilet Association Limited (BTA) – a not-for-profit members organisation working to promote the highest standards of hygiene and provision in all “away from home” toilet facilities across the UK. They have been voicing their concerns on the matter since their founding in 1999.

Working with Changing Places, BTA is campaigning for appropriate facilities to enable people with challenging life conditions to have access to daily activities that most of us take for granted, without the added concern of being able to find a suitably equipped washroom. The judging of the Golden Service Awards over the last few years has certainly demonstrated to me the growing popularity of these facilities, proof that this campaign is having an effect.

With a positive vibe, BTA also actively promote and reward the provision of quality washrooms supporting the “Loo of the Year Awards”. These awards recognise the operatives that go that extra mile in championing clean and welcoming public facilities. Recognition for this vital sector and acknowledgement of the quality that can be achieved.

BTA has been instrumental in campaigning government to increase funding to enable local councils to ensure proper provision of public toilets and the “Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill” (which suggests the appointment of a Toilet Commissioner whose priority will be to assess the provision and need for public toilets throughout England and put in place a National Strategy for Local Authorities to follow), is now at report stage in the House of Lords. Let’s hope that these sensible suggestions are provided with the funding and support that would see issues raised by both the BTA and the RSPH addressed in full. 

More information on the BTA can be found at http://www.btaloos.co.uk including their latest campaign to raise the awareness and requirement to provide “Bins for Boys” as over 2 million men across the UK may have an urgent need to visit the toilet to remove or replace a stoma or incontinence product. Until now the soiled unit would have been disposed of in a litter bin (if provided) or they may be forced to carry the used item away from the toilet perhaps to home. In this day and age, this cannot be seen as an acceptable practice or expectation.

I think we all need to consider just how important good quality, hygienic and well-maintained washrooms are to our society. They add to the quality of life that people enjoy, extend the range of travel and the duration of trips out that individuals take and are vital to good public health. Now is the time to stand up and be counted to ensure that these facilities are appropriate for everyone and available to all.

Denise Hanson is commercial director at BICSc.

For more information visit www.bics.org.uk