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Innovations in the washroom

23 August 2021

As the cleaning sector presses forward in the 'new normal' new technologies are having a big impact on the hand drying market. Cleaning Matters speaks to Matt Anderson to find out more.

LOOKING BACK on the hundred year production history of hand dryers, advances have been few and far between. You see minor innovations here and there, but – until very recently – there has been a plateau.

Things are now changing though, largely due to the evolving expectations of buyers and users. Looking at a common example: we now expect technology to be frictionless. That means that we want the tech that we use as part of our daily lives to be easy to operate, easy to maintain, and convenient to fix. 

When we use our smartphones, for example, we expect the screen to unlock instantly – perhaps through fingerprint or facial recognition – and we expect our activities on the phone to be snappy, whether that be to send a quick message or browse Twitter.

For hand dryers, there has historically been a clear need for similar kinds of frictionless operation, especially when it comes to installation. Business owners who have bought hand dryers will be aware that the process involves waiting around for costly skilled labour – not only upon the point of installation, but whenever units need to be repaired or upgraded. This process is full of friction at every stage.

Now, however, we’re starting to see changes. Our ‘Plug & Play’ units – as the name suggests – are an example of this and can be replaced, upgraded or serviced by anyone in moments, ensuring that the process of owning and maintaining a dryer is as frictionless as using them.

Increasing awareness of carbon emissions
Obviously, it’s sensible to factor energy consumption and carbon emissions into any business practice – especially when, as I mentioned, business owners want their machines to run as economically as possible. 

We’re also very conscious that, for the businesses we look after, there is a broader kind of customer goodwill at stake in ensuring that devices like hand dryers are environmentally sound.

Consumers are known to reward efforts towards corporate social responsibility along these lines. Organisations like The Carbon Disclosure Project have actually shown that businesses which factor climate change management into their planning actually see an 18 per cent higher return on equity compared to those that don’t.

And there are a number of quite high-profile schemes along these lines across the UK – just look at the London Mayoral office, for example, which has big plans to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2025. Facilities managers may find that investing in low emission dryers will help their buildings to comply with goals like this while generating consumer goodwill at the same time.

In fact, it’s now well known that electric dryers are much more cost effective than paper towels – according to one US study, the difference was as stark as paying the equivalent of an annual £20 in energy costs for a dryer versus £650 for paper towels.

This doesn’t mean that the hand dryer industry should rest on its laurels. We can do so much more to reduce our carbon footprint. Many buildings consume between two and five times more energy than necessary, so hand dryer makers should constantly be focussed on providing facilities managers with products that are as energy efficient as possible.

Corporate social responsibility

Given the current climate, it’s socially responsible for the industry to place health at a premium. This has always been the case, of course, but in the era of COVID, sanitation devices really need to go above and beyond – there’s no point in stressing the importance of hand washing if unsanitary dryers undermine the cleaning process.

Not only is it socially responsible to make serious advances on current sanitation levels – by employing HEPA filters that trap airborne particles, for example – but it’s also vital for employers to reassure concerned workers as they return to office spaces. 

By embracing the right kind of sanitation technology, the hand dryer industry can help to ensure that built environments have prioritised health and safety. 
There are new and impressive ways to do this: not only through filters, but through advances like ION PURE antimicrobial technology which, if incorporated into a machine during the manufacturing process, is capable of disrupting bacteria at a cellular level. We use this type of advance in our Pebble dryers, and this kind of multi-layered approach towards protection and hygiene clearly represent the next wave of dryers.

For the industry as a whole, hygiene-related advancements are a huge part of any move towards corporate social responsibility – not only for the practical benefits of consumer goodwill, but as the ethically appropriate course of action when serving a society which is still dealing with a pandemic.

Expectations for hand dryers as a result of COVID-19
The private sector accounts for the majority of hand dryer sales, with commercial premises such as restaurants, shopping centres, and nightclubs providing them to ensure an optimal customer experience. Dryers provide an important service, especially given that the number of public restrooms have fallen by more than a third over the past twenty years. That means they have to be robust, easy to use, and quick to fix.  

These requirements are more important than ever given the still-present threat of COVID-19. Hand drying has been confirmed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be an important means of stopping the spread of the virus. In fact, since the start of the pandemic, one of the most consistent and widely known public health campaign messages has been ‘Hands, Face, Space’. We will all be hearing this for some time to come, especially as Professor Chris Whitty has warned there will ‘almost certainly’ be a double winter surge of Covid and respiratory infections with significantly increased cases of long COVID in young people.

As a result, handwashing will be at the forefront of the public’s minds and businesses will need to make sure their dryers are up to the challenge, whether that be meeting hygiene standards or increased usage. 

What does future of hand dryers look like?
As I’ve mentioned, the history of the hand dryer has been a little bit static – but this will change.

There’s already been some movement on ‘smart’ hand dryers capable of collecting data about how many people use restrooms and how often. This will mean that facilities managers will be able to schedule cleaning at quiet points in the day while tracking and conserving energy usage at the same time.

On top of major innovations like that, I also expect to see improvements on the basic, existing qualities of hand dryers – noise reduction, for example, will eventually see dryers become as close to silent as possible, while the speed at which dryers are capable of completely drying users’ hands will similarly be reduced to new levels of rapidity and convenience.

Aside from these more speculative thoughts, it’s important to remember that the future of these devices is already here: we’re seeing inventive ways to achieve frictionless installation and minimal emissions, combined with substantial moves towards ultra-sanitary machines that feature ionic antimicrobial solutions and advanced filtration.

More importantly, though, the future of hand dryers will be characterised by the ethical considerations that underpin the examples I’ve described: exciting advances are often made during times of crisis, so I expect to see – and to be at the forefront of – further changes powered by a desire for net zero emissions and the need to slow the spread of dangerous viruses and other threats to public health.

In short, the next hundred years of hand dryers is shaping up to be much more dynamic and exciting than the previous century.

Matt Anderson is managing director and founder of Velair.

For more information visit https://www.velair.co.uk