Unpleasant restroom experiences create damaging and lasting impressions that make it hard for a business to recover in the minds of consumers, according to a national survey about Americans’ public restroom preferences.

The survey, conducted by restroom fixture manufacturer Bradley Corporation, shows that the majority of consumers believe an unclean restroom indicates poor management (69 percent), lowers their opinion of the company (67 percent) and signifies that the business doesn’t care about customers (63 percent).

Unfortunately, two-thirds of Americans say they’ve had a particularly unpleasant experience in a public restroom due to the condition of the facilities. The most frequently mentioned complaints are a really bad smell, toilets that are clogged or not flushed, and an overall appearance that’s dirty, unkempt or old.

“This is the sixth time that Bradley Corporation has conducted the Healthy Hand Washing Survey, and each year Americans tell us loud and clear that clean, stocked and well-equipped public restrooms are duly noted and appreciated,” states Jon Dommisse, director of global marketing and strategic development at Bradley Corporation. “The condition of restrooms is a powerful determinant of how a business is perceived by its target audiences — customers, employees and visitors.

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“When we asked about the single most important improvement they would like to see in restrooms, ‘cleanliness’ topped the list,” Dommisse says. “Restroom hygiene is a real hot button with consumers — 85 percent say they hurry to exit a restroom when the conditions are unpleasant.”

In addition to cleaner washrooms, Americans’ other top requests for a better restroom experience include more frequent stocking of supplies, greater access to touchless fixtures, and positioning paper towels and trash cans near restroom doors (for using paper towels to avoid touching the exit door).

On a positive note, one-fourth of Americans believe the conditions of public restrooms, in general, have improved over the past two to three years. The most improved restrooms were observed in airports, medical buildings, full-service restaurants and higher education facilities.

Germ-avoidance strategies

Bradley’s Healthy Hand Washing Survey also found that when using public restrooms, Americans feel the need to employ a variety of germ avoidance strategies. “Almost 60 percent operate the toilet flusher with their foot,” Dommisse notes. “Another half use a paper towel to avoid touching the door handle, and 45 percent use their hip to open and close doors.”

Specifically, the restroom surfaces that Americans most dislike touching include stall door handles, restroom entrance door handles, faucet handles and countertops.

Coming into contact with germs in certain types of facilities also weigh on the minds of Americans. Restaurants, health care facilities and grocery stores are the places they are most concerned about somebody not washing their hands. 

Hand-washing beliefs vs. habits

With regard to hand washing habits in public restrooms, 92 percent of Americans believe it’s important to wash their hands after using a public restroom yet 66 percent admit they’ve skipped soap and simply rinsed with water. Women, in general, are less likely to skip hand washing after using a public restroom.

Dommisse said the survey illustrates a correlation between the condition of restrooms and thoroughness of hand washing, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the number one defense against illness. “The better the condition of the restroom, the more likely someone is to take the time to stay and wash their hands thoroughly. In fact, nearly 60 percent of respondents say that if a restroom is pleasant, they tend to stay in it longer,” Dommisse explains. “Clean restrooms help promote healthy hand washing while casting a positive light on businesses.” 

The Healthy Hand Washing Survey queried 1,030 American adults online Jan. 5-16, 2015, about their hand washing habits in public restrooms and concerns about germs, colds and the flu. Participants were from around the country, ranged in age from 18 to 65 and older, and were fairly evenly split between men and women (47 and 53 percent). 

 

Jon Dommisse is director of global marketing and strategic development at Bradley Corporation, and spokesperson for the survey. For more than 90 years, Bradley Corporation has designed and manufactured commercial washfountains, and is a source for plumbing fixtures, washroom accessories, restroom partitions, emergency fixtures and solid plastic lockers. Headquartered in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Bradley serves the commercial, industrial, health care, recreation, education and corrections markets worldwide.