Planning Post-Pandemic Restroom Upgrades

June 21, 2022
New hygienic materials, fixtures and layouts cultivate restroom infection control, cleanliness and traffic flow.

The expectations for the design, cleanliness and functionality of all types of commercial facilities – including airport terminals — have undergone a transformative experience the past several years. Owners, travelers, occupants and staff are seeking — and demanding — a more hygienic experience while using facilities.

78% of Americans say they are more conscious about germs as a result of the coronavirus, according to the Healthy Handwashing Survey conducted by Bradley Corporation in January 2022. Therefore, travelers are paying closer attention to details in commercial restrooms, such as how clean they look and smell, how easy they are to navigate without touching surfaces and their overall functionality.

Restrooms contain multiple touchpoints necessary for activating restroom fixtures and doors and have come under the spotlight for indoor air quality issues thanks to the newly coined “toilet plume” containing airborne contaminants, such as COVID-19. Germ concerns may be amplified in airport restrooms because of the sheer number of travelers coming in from far and wide, proliferating cross-contamination.

End users are so sensitive to the cleanliness of restroom environments, they will even put their money behind it. 60% of Americans say they are more likely to spend more money at a business with clean, well-maintained restrooms, posing a potential revenue stream for airport vendors.

In addition to meeting end-user expectations for hygiene, operational efficiency is another key goal for restroom upgrades. Over-stretched maintenance staffs are on the lookout for restroom products, technologies and features that optimize maintenance, cut costs and make their jobs easier. Restroom products with maintenance indicators, IoT connectivity, A/C power (vs. batteries) and vandal resistance features greatly improve and simplify maintenance.

While expectations and performance specs for washrooms are elevated, the performance of today’s products, materials and layout strategies have followed suit. Here are trends in restroom design and construction that airport contractors, specifiers, and designers might consider:

Harness the Power of Touchless Restroom Fixtures

Touchless technology goes hand in hand with a hygienic user experience because it eliminates touchpoints and reduces germ accumulation on restroom surfaces. In just a few years, touchless technology has gone from “nice to have” to “must have.” Consumer demand is very high for touch-free restrooms. Bradley’s Healthy Handwashing Survey shows that 84% of Americans believe it’s important for public restrooms to be equipped with touchless fixtures.

In fact, Americans view touch-free technology as the number one feature that makes them feel safer from germs in restrooms. Touchless features are also Americans’ most requested improvement in restrooms. More cleaning/restocking takes second place.

The top touchless restroom features considered most important to users are faucets, soap dispensers and flushers.

Other research by Bradley Corp., conducted in 2020, shows that architects/designers expect to see high increase in specs/demands from clients for touchless fixtures in years to come.

The mechanicals used in sensored technology has been significantly improved. While some older touchless models include sensors that deliver spotty soap and water activations, today’s designs incorporate advanced sensing technology ensuring continuous and reliable washing, and less soap splotches leftover in and around the basin.

From an operational efficiency standpoint, touchless fixtures are easier to keep clean, maintain and service than manually activated fixtures. Fortunately, automated technologies can be easy to retrofit into a current restroom space.

All-in-one handwashing fixtures designed with integrated soap, faucet and hand dryer help water containment in the handwashing basin. Specifically, the hand dryer is engineered to work with the basin to keep water in the basin and prevent water from dripping from hands onto the user, walls and floors, which is maintenance intensive and can cause slips and falls.

Deter Microbial Growth with Surface Material Selection

For sinks, using smooth and nonporous materials with seamless construction like solid surface and natural quartz not only look beautiful, they help prevent bacteria and mold accumulation and growth. They can be easily cleaned, disinfected, repaired, reused and have a longer lifecycle. There are no seams so there are no unsightly gaps or grout lines to detract from the handwashing space or accumulate dirt. These sustainable materials are also cast-formed so they may be specified in many attractive shapes and forms. For multi-user restrooms, new washbasin designs made of solid surface material with increased space between the handwashing areas allow for social distancing while washing hands.

For soap and faucet fixtures, PVD coatings are not only a more sustainable way to finish metals than traditional electroplating, they are inherently antimicrobial. These popular and attractive finishes are produced with physical vapor deposition (PVD), an advanced process that creates a molecular bond to the fixture, creating a resilient coating that will not corrode or fade. Some manufacturers offer a variety of PVD finishes to complement any restroom design.

Clean Up the Air

While bad odor in restrooms is a big turnoff to end-users, the presence of odor also implies the air is not being ventilated properly and, therefore, may be contaminated with aerosolized contaminants. In other words, a bad smell can be viewed as a predictor of poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and the overall cleanliness of a restroom.

According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), coronavirus appears to spread indoors through close personal contact and via poor circulation of building ventilation systems. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) advises that ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through air.

Robust HVAC systems that exhaust the proper amount of air – flowing in the right direction and in the right quantities – is vital to diluting airborne contaminants in restrooms. Increasing the introduction of outdoor air can also improve ventilation. Opening outdoor air dampers beyond minimum settings can help reduce or eliminate HVAC air recirculation. Filters must be changed and duct systems cleaned regularly for optimal performance.

Create a Cleaner, Cohesive Aesthetic

Specifying basins, faucets, mirrors and décor with a sleek linear aesthetic naturally supports a cleaner uncluttered restroom space. Integrating clean lines – along with coordinated finishes, textures and colors – help unify and harmonize restrooms, creating a more refined, sophisticated look. Another bonus: due to their smooth and streamlined appearance, minimalistic designs with clean lines are easier to wipe down and clean, and tend to invite less tampering and vandalism.

Capture the Feeling of Warmth, Privacy and Comfort

Cold, institutional-looking commercial restrooms are a relic of the past. Today’s restrooms convey beauty, architectural style, ease-of-use and privacy. Handwashing stations that are designed with sleek no-touch fixtures; countertop materials that mirror our natural surroundings; warm ambient lighting that illuminates spaces and invites usage. There are unlimited strategies for accentuating airport restrooms with clean, fresh and modern design elements.

New restroom partitions are another way to add beautiful backdrops to restrooms. There are a variety of attractive and durable materials being offered for partitions today such as phenolic, enameled tempered glass, recycled plastic and stainless steel. Partition styles have also been modernized to feature more privacy, flush finishes, durable construction and advanced features to improve the restroom experience.

Moreover, Bradley’s research shows that almost half of Americans are uncomfortable or bothered by the small gap between doors and pilasters in restroom partitions. With privacy being a key user preference in restrooms, new partition models eliminate unpleasant gaps between doors and pilasters, providing a more private retreat.

To improve functionality and comfort in airport restrooms, partitions may also be specified with larger stall compartments to help accommodate luggage, strollers, children, etc., while traveling.

Space Planning for Better Traffic Flow

In the broader sense, airports are ahead of the game when it comes to facilitating traffic and minimizing cross-contamination. Entrances of most airport restrooms already feature open design elements like doorless, S-curved entryways, which help facilitate one-way traffic and minimize cross-traffic. Other types of facilities (offices, hospitality, retail, etc.) are now following suit with this floor plan due to the pandemic.

Another area of note for airport restroom design is placement of handwashing features. As mentioned earlier, all-in-one handwashing models with smart soap, faucet and dryer keeps handwashing elements in one space so there’s no need to walk across the restroom in search of soap or water, reducing cross-traffic and water dripping from hands onto floors and walls.

Another way to enhance traffic flow is to optimize restocking and refills. For example, soap refills for multi-user sinks can be messy and time intensive. A new soap dispenser design features a multi-feed system that is a maintenance game changer. The system is ergonomically easy to refill and supplies soap to up to six dispensers at once. It also features a smart sense system with LED light indicators to display low soap and battery, also making maintenance more efficient.

While the cleanliness and functionality of airport restrooms have a ripple effect on travelers, staff and business operations, there are a variety of effective design strategies fast-tracked by the pandemic. Whether or not the pandemic lingers, these advancements that enable a safe and healthy commercial bathroom experience are here for the long term.

Jon Dommisse is vice president of marketing and corporate communication at Bradley Corp., a global manufacturer of commercial restroom equipment.

About the Author

Jon Dommisse

Jon Dommisse is vice president of marketing and corporate communication of Bradley Corp., a global manufacturer of commercial restroom equipment.