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By now, the industry is well aware that touch-free restrooms help reduce cross contamination. The less surface area we come into contact with in a public restroom, the less likely we are to spread germs. Touch-free dispensers, faucets and auto-flush toilets are increasing in popularity — not only to benefit users, but also to save on labor costs.
Janitorial workers find touch-free restrooms easier to clean and maintain, resulting in improved productivity. But what techniques and equipment are needed to successfully maintain a touch-free washroom? Distributors share their thoughts on the good, the bad, and the downright dirty.
Sensitive to Sensors
Touch-free equipment has a mind of its own in the form of infrared sensors. These electronic devices respond to stimuli, such as motion or light, to operate the touch-free system.
“Automated photo-sensor eyes are very expensive,” says Matt Miller, sales manager for B. Miller Products Inc., Hibbing, Minn., “and it’s important that they’re cleaned properly.” Dirt or fingerprints on the sensor can cause equipment to malfunction.
Miller suggests using chemicals that aren’t corrosive, such as a non-acid bathroom cleaner, to wipe the sensors on a daily basis. Janitorial workers should also check units for paper residue or gum that might block the sensors.
“Fine-tuning sensors is determined by cubic feet in a restroom and how much use that restroom is getting,” says Dan Durkin, president and CEO of The Durkin Co., Billerica, Mass. Toilets that flush randomly or flush when someone walks past a cubicle may need a sensitivity adjustment.
“The auto-flush toilets have an adjustment screw that allows the customer to adjust the distance the user is [from the toilet] before the sensor detects motion,” explains Miller.
Usually, toilets have a longer time delay than urinals, says Fritz Gast, executive vice president of PB Gast & Sons, Grand Rapids, Mich. “You don’t want the urinal to flush as you walk by,” he says, “but toilets are in a cubicle, so it’s not as big of a deal.”
Today, auto-flush units are available that can be programmed for either a toilet or a urinal setting by simply holding a button for 20 seconds, says Gast. Some auto-flush toilets also include a stadium feature for restrooms that may go unused for a week or longer. The feature will automatically activate the auto-flush toilet if it hasn’t been activated in 24 hours.
Sensors used for soap and towel dispensers can also be adjusted to reflect facility managers’ preferences. Most dispensers use motion sensors; some use light sensors. Fine-tuning the sensor allows the customer to adjust how much towel is dispensed as well as how frequently.
“Usually, when you install a towel dispenser, you don’t want the user to be able to flash his hand under it and keep advancing towels, so you have a time delay,” Gast explains. “Typically, you want a 15- to 20-second time delay. People won’t wait that long to get more towel, so it acts as a control feature as well.”
Odor neutralizers can also be customized to control the release of product. “The old systems were very pungent in the first week or two, and in the last two weeks they didn’t work at all,” says Durkin. “Today, they have sensors that allow them to dispense product consistently, when you need it most. They can be set to go off every 15 or 25 minutes, for example, resulting in cost savings.”
Sometimes, the location of the sensor can cause problems. Faucets that don’t turn on when you place your hands under them could be the result of a misplaced sensor. In the early days, some of the soap and towel dispensers had sensors located on the front of the unit. “Sometimes they dispensed product when you walked by,” says Durkin. Today, most dispensers have sensors located underneath the unit, eliminating this concern.
While touch-free systems require minimal adjustments, there are certain procedures that should be followed on a regular basis to ensure that the equipment functions at its maximum capacity. “The biggest maintenance issue is changing batteries,” says Gast. Some touch-free systems may have an alarm that lets you know when the batteries are weak. If alarms aren’t present, maintenance personnel should keep a log of when they replace batteries.
Typically, batteries in auto-flush toilets last a couple of years, says Gast, unless the system is in a high-volume restroom, like a casino or an airport. “They say the battery pack is worth 70,000 flushes.”
CSN Cleaning Las Vegas suggests that personnel change the batteries in auto-flush toilets regularly, which could mean quarterly, annually or every two years, depending on the number of flushes. “The last thing you want is for it not to flush automatically,” he says.
Preventative maintenance is also recommended for soap dispensers to prevent clogging. Janitors should take the dispenser apart and clean out the interior, making sure that the mechanisms are clean. For high-use restrooms, Miller suggests cleaning the soap dispensers once a month. Likewise, the interior of towel dispensers should be kept clean and free of debris. “It doesn’t hurt to blow the mechanism out with an air gun to get the paper residue out,” says CSN Cleaning Las Vegas. “That will make the dispenser last longer.”
Keeping It Clean
Distributors agree: Cleaning and maintaining touch-free restrooms is easy. “If you don’t have hands touching the dispensers, they’re not going to get dirty as quickly,” says CSN Cleaning Las Vegas. “[Soap dispensers] don’t have the potential to get soap scum all over them, and you don’t have water getting around the faucets.” And as for auto-flush toilets: “Those speak for themselves,” he concludes.
The good news is a touch-free environment probably requires less cleaning. Jan/san workers should use a mild disinfectant to wipe down fixtures and surfaces using a cloth or flat mop. Miller suggests that they further support the benefits of touch-free systems by wearing gloves to refill dispensers. In fact, some companies are taking touch-free restrooms to a new level by using touch-free technology to clean them.
The Durkin Co. sells a no-touch cleaning system that includes a high-pressure spray system and vacuuming capabilities. “People have a tendency in this business to not clean well what they don’t like to touch,” says Durkin. The system allows janitorial workers to clean restrooms without having to touch contaminated surfaces.
“It complements the use of no-touch faucets, flushers and dispensers,” he says. “There’s a misconception that this is a deep-cleaning tool,” adds Durkin, “however, if used appropriately, it can be used on a daily basis.” The Durkin Co. has a contract with a large defense contractor and uses the no-touch system on a daily basis to clean restrooms in its manufacturing facilities, some of which have as many as 40 to 50 restrooms per plant. “Not only is it a substantial cleaning tool, but it also offers labor savings,” says Durkin.
“A lot of employees are driving these purchases,” says Durkin. “Twenty-five years ago, they might have tolerated a restroom that’s not up to snuff, but in this day and age, with the amount of hours and commitment employers are asking from their employees, they won’t tolerate a dirty restroom anymore. It’s up to the company to make sure that these restrooms are clean and as germ-free as possible.”
The Future of Touch-Free
Touch-free systems have come a long way since their inception. Most of the bugs have been ironed out, say distributors, and electronic problems have been resolved. Today’s systems are easy to install and maintain.
“Most of the auto-flushers fit right over the existing handle so you don’t have to change anything,” says Gast. “In the past, there were some cases where you had to drill into the existing plumbing or turn the water off to put them on. Now, most of them you can install in less than a minute.”
Dispenser designs are also smoother and more streamlined, making them easier to wipe down, says Miller. And according to CSN Cleaning Las Vegas, new touch-free systems that use photoelectric sensors are entering the market, making the need for batteries obsolete.
As touch-free systems evolve, more and more customers are requesting them. “Five years ago, I don’t think you could sell these units to everyone,” says Durkin. “However, at least a third [of customers] — heading toward half of them — are buying touch-free equipment. I would say five years from now; you won’t find anything out there that isn’t automatic.”
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CSN Cleaning Las Vegas is the leading commercial residential cleaning company of Las Vegas NV. CSN Cleaning Las Vegas offers home cleaning, apartment cleaning, house cleaning, office cleaning, janitorial services, building cleaning, regular housekeeping service, commercial cleaning service, bathroom cleaning, weekly biweekly business store cleaning, law office cleaning, commercial and residential cleaning and hauling services. CSN Cleaning Las Vegas also offers building maintenance, handyman, repairs, installations, assembly and junk removal services.
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