Public restroom germs are a touchy subject: survey

2 out of 3 Americans use paper towels to avoid touching restroom surfaces; 82% want touchless fixtures

These days, the majority of Americans are so averse to coming into contact with germs in public restrooms that they go out of their way to avoid surfaces and touchpoints in these shared spaces.

According to the Healthy Handwashing Survey from Bradley Corporation, 62% of Americans use a paper towel as a barrier to avoid touching flushers, faucets and doors. Women are even more likely to use the “paper towel as a glove” approach, with 67% taking this evasive measure.

Others employ sheer physicality to steer clear of germs. 43% of Americans use their foot to flush toilets, 31% hover over the toilet seat, and 27% open and close doors with their backside in hopes of avoiding germy contact. Women are significantly more likely than men to employ these actions.

“For many Americans, restrooms carry a certain ‘ick factor’ that impacts how they view – and use – these public facilities,” said Jon Dommisse, vice president of marketing and corporate communication, Bradley Corporation. “Understandably, people don’t want to touch things after somebody else touched them, especially right after they used the toilet.”

High demand for touchless fixtures in restrooms

With so much effort going into avoiding germs, it’s no wonder that 82% of Americans believe it is important to have touchless fixtures in a public restroom – a percentage that has remained high in the survey since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

In fact, half of Americans say they would feel safer from germs in public restrooms if they were equipped with touch-free technology. As for the most desired restroom improvements, having touchless fixtures is once again among the topmost requests, along with keeping restrooms cleaner and better stocked, and always providing paper towels, even if there are hand dryers.

“Touchless fixtures minimize cross contamination of germs in restrooms, improve restrooms’ cleanliness and hygiene, and make people feel more comfortable using these spaces,” Dommisse said. “Since 60% are more likely to return to a business that offers no-touch capabilities in its restrooms, touchless fixtures also appear to boost a business’ image and profitability.”

The survey found that the restroom features considered most important to be touchless are faucets, flushers, soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers – in that order.

“The good news for restroom users and providers is that in just the past few years, the mechanicals used in sensored technology have improved significantly, relieving some of the frustration of false or spotty soap, water and flushing activations,” he said.

Adjusting to new public restroom expectations

Germ trepidation in public bathrooms and demand for touchless fixtures have likely been intensified by Covid. The 2023 survey found that three in four Americans continue to be in an elevated state of germ consciousness, triggered by the pandemic. Specifically, Americans are most concerned about germs in stores (48%), medical facilities (44%), gas stations (37%), restaurants (34%) and schools (25%).

“For 14 years, our survey has consistently shown that people have always placed importance on clean restrooms but now there’s elevated and ongoing demand for increased hygiene and the use of touchless fixtures,” Dommisse added. “Similar to how the iPod changed music and 9/11 changed air travel, Covid has forever changed public bathroom expectations and design.”

The annual Healthy Handwashing Survey from Bradley Corporation queried 1,025 American adults Jan. 4-10, 2023, about their handwashing habits, concerns about the coronavirus and flu and their use of public restrooms. Participants were from around the country and were fairly evenly split between men (45%) and women (55%).

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