More and more restrooms in public and commercial buildings feature hands-free fixtures. This allows us to use the facilities without touching anything that others might have touched. It allows us peace of mind that, if we must use the facilities, we won’t be in danger of picking up nasty stuff. But the toilets typically installed in non-home facilities tend to ensure the germs we hope have been flushed away have instead been dispersed around — liberally.
Automatic faucets are meant to do away with common washroom germ-transfer points. However, the complicated inner mechanisms of electronic taps make room for undesirable inner-tap lives. A study at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland uncovered persistent communities of Legionella thriving in the center’s automatic faucets. Half of the water samples from Johns Hopkins’ hands-free faucets contained Legionella, compared to only 15 per cent of manual-tap samples. Even after the faucets had been thoroughly flushed, almost one-third of the automatic faucets remained contaminated, compared to seven per cent of the manual taps.
All air dryers blast bacteria and viruses all over the place — as far as three meters away for jet dryers. While regular warm-air dryers disperse up to 50 times more microbes from hands to the surrounding environment than paper towels do.
What to do? Being aware of the hands-free-hygiene paradox is the first step. Options are increasingly limited, but when traditional fixtures are present, we can use them to our advantage. We can drop the lid before flushing, scrub our hands for 20 seconds or longer with regular soap and water and dry them thoroughly with paper towel.
Then use the towel to turn off any manual faucets and open the door.