No one wants to spend more time in the washroom than they need to. Stuart Hands from Tork manufacturer Essity looks at ways of speeding up the washroom experience for users and cleaners alike
The average person spends around 92 days in the washroom during the course of their lifetime (1). To make matters worse, another 37 days is spent queuing up to use the facilities (2). This seems a tremendous waste: no one ever looks back on their life and wishes they had spent more time in the toilet. And some people need to linger even longer in the washroom – for example, the cleaners and facilities managers whose job it is to maintain them.
As far as the user is concerned, much of the time wasted is a direct result of queuing. A visit to the washroom should be a quick and functional experience, but if people find themselves in a crowded venue and are forced to wait they will quickly become frustrated and irritable.
Meanwhile, the venue’s profits will suffer because every minute spent in the washroom could have been better occupied in the shops, bar or food outlet. And if cleaning and servicing the washroom takes longer than necessary, the facilities manager faces higher labour costs.
A few minutes saved on every washroom visit will add up to many hours in the long run. So, how can we claw back some of this lost time? The answer is simple: by making washroom facilities easier to use, clean and maintain.
The design of the washroom often causes problems for the user: bottlenecks are much more likely to occur when visitors are forced to open an outer door and squeeze past others to get in. Dogleg partitions at the entrance will avoid this issue and speed up the visitor’s entry and exit. When installing sinks, mirrors and dispensers, the designer needs to consider: which way will the queue naturally form? And will the queue for the toilets impede others from using the hand hygiene facilities?
All washroom visitors, however busy the washroom, should be given the opportunity to wash and dry their hands thoroughly. This is to everyone’s advantage: unwashed hands could contaminate surfaces outside the washroom and may also have a detrimental effect on profits. Our own research reveals that one in three stadium visitors will avoid purchasing handheld foods such as hot dogs or burgers if they have been unable to wash their hands first.
Hand-drying is often a tipping point for queues. No one likes to leave a washroom with wet hands, but drying them with a jet air dryer takes at least 10 seconds – during which time the user is rooted to the spot while a queue forms behind them. Roller towels shave seconds off the task, but again the dispenser only accommodates one user at a time and it might take several seconds to access a clean length of towel, particularly if the unit jams.
Paper hand towel dispensers save time because they allow the user to take a towel and move aside, freeing up space and reducing the risk of logjams. Dispensers should ideally be high capacity to prevent run-outs and be self-presenting so that a new towel automatically appears ready for use. Precious seconds will be wasted if the towel can only be accessed via a push button or lever.
The mirrors, often positioned above the hand basins, create another washroom bottleneck because they encourage people to linger for longer and may result in queues for the sink. In a high-traffic washroom where queuing is a major problem – in stadiums, for example – it may be a good solution to remove the mirrors altogether. Besides improving washroom flow for the user, this will also ease the cleaner’s burden since polishing mirrors is a time-consuming task. And if visitors have used them for applying make-up, there will potentially be more mess in the sinks and on the units as a result.
It’s often the case that washroom systems that save time for the user also provide efficiency benefits for the cleaner. For example, dogleg partitions at the entrance of a washroom will remove the task of cleaning door handles and push panels from the cleaner’s agenda. Similarly, high-capacity dispensers that may be topped up at any time will cut the number of maintenance checks required while allowing the cleaner to refill the unit at their own convenience.
Many modern dispensers feature refill indicators that allow the cleaner to see via a window how much product remains inside. While these are designed to speed up washroom maintenance, many cleaners open the dispenser anyway to double-check the level and perhaps to cram in more paper to postpone the next maintenance check.
All dispensers should therefore be quick and easy to open, either with a universal key or via a push button if pilferage and vandalism are not an issue. An even better solution is a system that remotely monitors refill levels, since this will remove the need for time-consuming ad hoc manual checks.
Soap should be supplied in cartridges since these are quicker and easier to replenish than bulk-fill options. And automatic taps will require less cleaning than manual versions, while self-presenting hand towel dispensers – besides speeding up hand towel delivery for users – will attract fewer fingermarks and further lighten the cleaner’s load.
Another positive effect of hand towel dispensers is that they reduce the floor-cleaning burden. As air dryers blow water away from the hands this inevitably leads to puddles on the floor. And if visitors tramp this water around with muddy feet, the floor will need to be cleaned more frequently. The floor and wall coverings should also be considered carefully during the design stage of any washroom. Large tiles, or better still a continuous surface, will reduce the number of grout lines and crevices where dirt will collect, and this will speed up cleaning.
A combination of intelligent design together with the right products and systems will help to minimise the time visitor and cleaner alike spend in the smallest room – freeing up many hours for more rewarding pastimes.