Sinks Beyond the Restroom

April 19, 2022
Post-COVID design brings handwashing into airport terminals for enhanced hygiene.

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted the attention that society places on hand hygiene.

But it isn’t just the increased importance of sanitation, especially in public places — the pandemic also has challenged architects and designers to rethink where handwashing occurs.

What was once an element solely of restroom design is now extending to other areas of commercial buildings — and airports are no exception.

Wouldn’t it be nice to wash up after your flight without dragging your suitcase into the restroom? It would certainly be more efficient if you could wash your hands on the go in between connector flights as well.

Thanks to new innovations and partnerships between commercial restroom manufacturers and architectural firms, this concept is becoming a reality. Today, there is an opportunity to rethink hand sanitation by encouraging hand washing and bringing the process out into the open and integrating it within the airport terminals that thousands of people travel through every day.

The Shift Back to Soap and Water

As the pandemic progressed in 2020, hand sanitizing stations became commonplace at every turn.

But filled with an alcohol-chemical mix that all too often leaves hands sticky and cloaked in an unwanted scent, these sanitizing solutions, while convenient, rarely leave hands feeling clean.

This has prompted the opportunity to return to the basics of soap and water — an elementary, yet effective, means of hand hygiene.

When you factor in the consideration that public awareness of proper hand hygiene is at an all-time high in a post-COVID environment, the benefits of soap and water over hand sanitizer are clear.

Handwashing: On Schedule

With soap and water as a superior option to hand sanitizer, the question then becomes, how can we integrate handwashing stations into existing airport infrastructure? The answer is easier than one might think. Travelers are already accustomed to monitoring flight information and airport maps, and this new concept would integrate handwashing with this existing signage. Sink systems located at strategic locations within the terminal are paired with arrival and departure screens, digital airport maps, city highlights, and more to allow guests a chance to wash their hands while providing them with the flight information they need to efficiently continue on their way. Prior to this point, travelers would have to perform these tasks independently of one another, dragging luggage into the restroom before washing their hands. Presenting these new opportunities for handwashing in the midst of a bustling airport environment not only helps travelers feel safe and confident, but also reduces foot traffic to promote social distancing in existing restrooms.

Bringing hand hygiene beyond the restroom is quite easy to do in new construction, while also very attainable through renovations. 

With retrofits, airports can incorporate more sustainable technology by using solar or turbine powered faucets. Most airports already have drains integrated into areas prior to walking through security for people to dispose of liquids, making them an ideal location for hand washing stations. In areas with existing plumbing, placing handwashing stations near existing restrooms or restaurants makes installation even easier to accomplish.

However, installing handwashing stations against an outside wall or other areas could involve more extensive renovations. Integrating handwashing into the infrastructure of the concourse during new construction allows the architect/MEP to easily account for water lines, etc., making new installations ideal.

When it comes to new construction, architects can account for all water lines when designing floors to avoid slip and fall potential. In this instance, perforated non-slip flooring is an ideal specification to let water fall into a drain and then reclaim the water, while integrated hand dryers help to keep water off the floor. While local codes vary by state, the future of handwashing is changing and codes will certainly evolve with it.

This innovation is also conducive to environments like stadiums, hotels, and restaurants, but few places are as busy as an airport concourse. According to Federal Aviation Administration data, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport was the nation’s busiest hub with 707,611 flights in 2021, followed by Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with 684,201. With these numbers set to increase as travel resumes to pre-COVID levels, people will want to travel again — but they want to do so safely. Travelers at busy airports are carrying pathogens from all over the world, so it’s only natural to want to wash your hands on your way to and from a flight.

Touch-free Innovation

Proper handwashing is an important part of the “sinks beyond the restroom” concept, but it’s equally as important to specify touch-free sinks and faucets that are conducive to a hygienic experience. Touching manual faucet handles that could be laden with viruses and bacteria defeats the purpose of washing your hands in the first place. But with sensor-operated products, the entire handwashing experience is completely touch-free. A positive restroom experience — in this case, handwashing outside the restroom — can leave a lasting impression on guests. According to a survey by Zogby International, 55% of consumers are unlikely to return to a business after a bad restroom experience, while 93% of Americans employ evasive measures to avoid germs. Integrated sink systems are also helping to solve these problems and drive an enhanced guest experience in sinks beyond the restroom. A new specification trend — where sensor-activated faucets, soap dispensers, and hand dryers all work together in one highly efficient system — will help travelers complete the handwashing process quickly without having to leave the sink station to dry their hands. Not only does this eliminate the potential for water drips on airport terminal floors, it provides a consistent on-deck aesthetic to enhance modern airport interior design.

Making sinks a permanent part of infrastructure moving forward is just the next step in the ongoing movement to provide the public with handwashing solutions where they need it. But if an airport isn’t quite ready to make this shift, there are also temporary solutions as well.

Mobile handwashing stations can be wheeled into high-traffic areas to enhance hand hygiene as stand-alone options where needed. A simple solution and quick fix, these mobile handwashing stations present touch-free innovation with attractive design — and are essentially ready to operate upon being wheeled on site. Sloan and a leading architectural firm are teaming up to accomplish this handwashing-beyond-the-restroom renaissance. The two organizations began this journey by gathering dozens of market and industry experts across the country to form focus groups determining how to achieve this goal. Sloan’s touch-free technology, together with its architectural prowess, helps airport travelers feel safer while staying on schedule.

Kim Darke-Miller is Sloan’s senior manager for strategic accounts. Sloan has been providing innovations in water-saving fixtures for 116 years and debuted the first hands-free sensor faucet in 1974.

About the Author

Kim Darke-Miller

Kim Darke-Miller is Sloan’s Senior Manager for Strategic Accounts.