Many of us fear and avoid public bathrooms due to the germ factor.

From the bacteria lurking on door handles to dirty basins to the toilet seat itself, a public bathroom visit can be quite the hygienic challenge.

We’re entitled to hygienic doubt with a few recent reports revealing some alarming stats.

Initial Washroom Hygiene recently reported that only 60 per cent of women and 38 per cent of men wash their hands after going to the toilet.

The findings were derived from 100,000 people surveyed across Europe on their hand-washing habits.

Now many public bathrooms are working to combat bacteria by designing open plan washrooms where the only door that requires touching is the toilet stall door itself. Jet air hand dryers and automated soap dispensers have promised fewer germs and flushable antibacterial toilet wipes generally work, but they’re not a crowd favourite due to the touch factor.

Going touch-free is a good idea since 80 per cent of infections are spread through hand contact.

Another survey by the Bradley Corporation, a US manufacturer of commercial plumbing fixtures and washroom accessories, found then when it came to public restrooms, many go hands-free when they can’t go touch-free:

  • 57 per cent operate the flusher with their foot
  • 55 per cent use a paper towel with the door handle
  • 45 per cent open and close door with their behind
  • 69 per cent use their elbow where possible

Then there is the actual “sick factor.” Initial Hygiene’s Australian website states that in 2013, the Australian economy lost $11.4 billion in GDP due to poor office hygiene.

The Great Australian Washroom Survey also found that 50 per cent of office workers say concerns with hygiene in their washroom affects their productivity.

The effects of potential infection were also seen recently on the Crown Princess cruise ship in November that had to dock due to a Norovirus (associated with acute gastroenteritis) outbreak that saw 158 passengers and 14 crew affected. They had the same issue in May last year.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the cruise liner is now working to increase cleaning and disinfectant procedures.

Here are four ways design and technology could be implemented in public bathrooms to help combat germs:


Copper is the go-to surface for many healthcare spaces and could hold great potential for public bathroom fixtures, including doorknobs.

Copper has antimicrobial properties but can be costly. It is worth noting, however, that copper can take some time to be effective. It can take hours to kill a patch of MRSA on a doorknob.

This points to the fact that no surface is exempt to bacteria without cleaning, but a 10-week UK Hospital Study studied both copper (Cu) and control surfaces in the same ward and found the metal does offer some benefits.

“Bacterial contamination of a copper-coated (70% Cu) composite toilet seat, brass tap handles (60% Cu), and a brass door push plate (70% Cu) was compared against that of equivalent items with plastic, chrome-plated, or aluminium surfaces,” the report read.

“Median numbers of bacteria recovered from surfaces of copper-containing items were between 90% and 100% lower than those from control surfaces. While MRSA and C. difficile were not isolated in this study, methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), and E. coli were found only on control surfaces but not on copper surfaces.”

Copper could help alleviate germs in public bathrooms

Copper could help alleviate germs in public bathrooms

This demonstrates copper’s anti-bacterial potential on bathroom basins and fixtures as well.

Should patrons still prefer not to touch a doorknob, there is a gadget entitled Loodini which is the size of a credit card and is used instead of a patron’s elbow/behind/foot to open doors, handles and turn on washroom taps.

It is also recyclable and contains a silver-based antibacterial agent (MAXITHEN® HP7M0060 AM) mixed into the matrix of the plastic, killing bacteria which might adhere to the surface. However, it must be washed between uses to remain effective.

Hand Washing

Most people aren’t washing their hands correctly, if at all after a bathroom visit, which can be a real concern in general and in the food industry in particular.

One company has devised a smart tracking system to monitor whether employees are really washing their hands.

Georgia-Pacific and CloudClean LLC were prompted by some alarming hand washing stats that indicate that only one in four food workers practice proper hand washing when they should, and that infected food workers cause about 70 per cent of reported Norovirus outbreaks.

According to an official statement, the technology monitors hand-hygiene compliance in any zone or workflow where hand wash protocols are required, including restrooms, break rooms, exits, and raw food or ready-to-eat (RTE) prep areas.

Smart technology hopes to help encourage hand washing (click to enlarge)

Smart technology hopes to help encourage hand washing
(click to enlarge)

“This powerful technology is a supportive tool for both employees and managers,” said Ginger Lange, innovation director at Georgia-Pacific Professional. “It raises awareness about the importance of hand hygiene and provides more certainty that hand washing occurs. That’s good for employees, good for the public and good for business.”

Toilet Seats

Toilet seats are a breeding ground for microbes like bacterial, e-coli, listeria and mould.

UK Initial Hygiene revealed that after a toilet has been flushed, over one million bacteria stay alive until the next flush and gastric illnesses can result.

Antibacterial technology compant Microban states that there are usually 50 fecal bacteria per square inch on the toilet seat, and it can remain in the air after flushing for up to two hours.

Beyond regular cleaning and disinfecting, there are polypropylene toilet seats that help reduce the accumulation of germs and bacteria on the seat.

Polypropylene is antibacterial by nature but many manufacturers add silver ions to the material to make them active against microbes.

Self-Cleaning Bathrooms

Finally, a solution where a bathroom self-cleans itself could also be an option.

Public Facilities & Services have created an automated public toilet and installed them at a series of subway stations in the US.

The toilet is completely hands free, from obtaining toilet paper to automated hand washing dispensers.

According to an article in Co.Exist, “it also cleans itself, automatically misting the room with antibacterial spray and then using high-pressure jets to wash away grime from the graffiti-resistant walls.”

“A giant blow dryer and heated floor quickly dry the room, and then it’s ready to use again.”

Could self-clean public bathrooms be the future?

Could self-clean public bathrooms be the future?