The novel coronavirus has pushed greater paradigms in health and hygiene practices and products. The impact is particularly noticeable in the case of restrooms across all sectors, including public ones. Be it corporate offices, academic institutions, entertainment venues, malls or public places, all are evaluating and overhauling protocols and products within restroom precincts.
Although cleanliness has always been paramount in designing restrooms, COVID-19 has necessitated greater emphasis on safe, sterile and wholly-hygienic environments. As the virus spreads via airborne transmission and surface contamination, a healthy indoor ambience is crucial in stopping its spread.
Curbing indoor transmission
Proper ventilation is highly necessary. Consequently, better HVAC systems are gaining prominence as ventilating the restroom with outdoor air can help in diluting airborne contaminants. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, poor indoor circulation, and close personal contact in restrooms facilitate the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, proper ventilation and filtration via HVAC systems can minimise airborne concentration and reduce transmission risks.
Considering the dual modes of virus transmission, restroom fittings and fixtures are being replaced with sensor-based, touchless technologies. Some upcoming contactless technologies include voice command and IoT-based products. Automatic doors are also being favoured to support entry and exit of users without any surface contact of hands.
Another important yet lesser-acknowledged issue due to the pandemic is the excess use of water from repeated handwashing. In this context, sensor-based faucets can help limit water wastage by stopping the flow the moment no movement is detected. As users don’t touch the taps, infections from contaminated surfaces can be avoided.
Furthermore, all-in-one washbasins are an excellent innovation in maintaining extremely-hygienic conditions in public restrooms. Here, the faucet, soap dispenser, hand dryer and the sink basin are all designed to work within one touch-free operating unit. Since these four elements work in unison at arms-length, the personal safety and hygiene of all users are ensured.
Moreover, frequently-touched restroom surfaces can be protected through antimicrobial coatings. Besides antimicrobial finishes and materials, restroom managers can consider using products such as copper, which are inherently antimicrobial.
In the pre-pandemic period, most sectors perceived restrooms as an area where cost-cutting could minimise overall expenses. But COVID-19 has highlighted the danger of such a ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ approach because unhygienic restrooms can increase virus transmission. Any modest savings through such designs can end up in manifold healthcare expenses for exposed employees and other restroom users.
As a result, restrooms designed before the outbreak are being upgraded with contactless, sensor-based, hygienic systems. On the other hand, restrooms built after the outbreak are adhering to the new norms that ascertain adequate indoor social distancing and hygiene practices.
Also, having adequate restroom attendants is now mandatory. Apart from overseeing the proper use of facilities, including hand sanitisation, attendants can make sure that soaps, sanitisers, toilet rolls and other consumables are replaced before stocks run out. Such measures are especially important for restrooms in malls, multiplexes and other public places since they reassure customers that the area is safe and well sanitised.
Some of the hands-free hardware also includes wave-to-open switches and sanitisers with foot pedals. Such solutions provide easy opportunities for retrofitting conventional restrooms. Similarly, standard entry doors in loos are being replaced with turnaround corner entryways. Contaminants spreading during automated toilet flushing can be contained by having floor-to-ceiling partitions/doors in the stall even as exhaust fans expel indoor air.
Likewise, full-height partitions can be used in urinals too. To further curb contamination, individual sinks can be made in each toilet stall, eliminating the risks from a common sink. Traditional restroom doors can also be replaced with sensor-based ones that open automatically during entry and exit.
Finally, smart restroom solutions have an unusual advantage. Since the coronavirus outbreak, cleaning and maintenance crews of restrooms are kept on their toes round-the-clock in cleaning and sanitising the area repeatedly. Given the allied pressures of the pandemic, this is driving many crew members to physical and mental exhaustion.
Smart restrooms backed by automated, cleaning solutions are now saving some of their time, effort and energy. Ultimately, this will help in preventing faster burnout of cleaning crews – while safeguarding the well-being of restroom visitors.