The use of high-tech devices, automated mechanisms and intelligent hygiene in the washroom space is making it a more appealing market. Shanti Petiwala speaks to industry leaders to know more.
Smart’ in today’s world is fast being looked upon as a definition for high-tech products, automation, and even intelligent solutions. The same holds true for the washroom. The past few years have seen the global washroom hygiene market grow multifold. And, with the rather alarming rate at which infectious diseases like Ebola, Bird Flu and – closer to home – MERS-CoV are cropping up, upping the ante of hygiene levels in public washrooms has become even more paramount.
Looks can be deceptive – they say. But, washrooms can’t look good without actually being clean. According to Seifeddine Beldi, Key Accounts Manager MEA, Newell Rubbermaid Middle East, the image a customer forms of a facility is most often defined by the appearance of the washroom. “To ensure this,” he says, “one must take into consideration two major factors – ensure that there are no micro-organisms or infection and keep the space clean.” In a region like the Middle East and more specifically the UAE, malls and hotels, being the key drivers of the economy, require good-looking washrooms.
Some steps to consider washroom hygiene as Beldi suggests, include, surface care, where disinfectants, chemical cleaners, auto-sanitisers, etc. come in; hand care, which includes soap dispensers, paper dispensers; and air care, air fresheners, fragrances, deodorisers, etc.
Beldi adds, “For us at Rubbermaid, smart means Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Right Timing.” In other words, he refers to applicability. To ensure that the best solution is offered, it is important to identify the specific area, how long the solution will last, and how applicable it is in that situation.
“For instance, take aerosols – which are known to dispense VOCs. VOCs or volatile organic compounds are known to be toxic – however, that is if one is exposed to them continuously and long-term. In a shopping mall or airport a customer would probably be exposed to VOCs for not more than a few minutes at a time. Obviously, one cannot use aerosols in healthcare settings, where patients are vulnerable.”
Hence, when it is a more reasonable option for an ideal application, it must be used to ensure that the space gets optimum performance, while meeting price demands. In fact, aerosol-based dispensers and refills represent 95 per cent or even more of the air-freshening industry across the world.
Awareness and the rise in projects has given the market an awakening when it comes to washroom hygiene. According to Hydros Jassem, CEO, Fragrance Delivery Technologies Ltd., “Businesses and facilities managers are waking up to the fact that visitors, tenants and employees want a better environment, while solving odour problems. Each facility is designed to create a confident, caring and lasting positive impression.”
Beldi agrees, “Dubai is the international hub of the Middle East. The market has reached the prevention stage where the right products and technologies are used to avoid repercussions of decreasing customers or dirty washrooms.” Moreover, he adds that the institutionalisation of the industry through shows such as Clean Middle East Pulire and conferences, etc., leads the business towards regulations and standardisations.
Speaking on the air-freshening systems market, Jassem says, “The market has been characterised by minor development and innovation. With the UAE government’s green mandate, people are becoming more and more aware about environmental safety and responsibility and the on-going effectiveness of products. At least 90 per cent of air fresheners used in commercial or institutional premises are aerosols, pump spray or fan-driven gel systems, which are not environment friendly.
“Organisations are now looking for cleaner and greener products that are effective and solve the underlying problem,” he says.
Rubbermaid, too, boasts of washroom hygiene products that are green and eco-friendly in that they do not use natural resources like gas or power to run. Moreover, Jassem informs that only around 10 per cent of the air-freshening systems market uses sustainable technology, with Fragrance Delivery Technologies providing the patented Oxy-Gen Powered system – a more energy efficient and eco-friendly option. This fuel-cell technology, based on a medical grade innovation used in the pharmaceutical industry has revolutionised the field of fragrancing with its emission free and precise fluid delivery.
Another extremely interesting product in washroom hygiene is the hand dryer – a gadget that was first introduced as a mere box with a lever that had to be pressed to produce hot air that would intern dry the hands. But over time, and more recently, research has shown that the traditional hand dryer does more harm than good. Studies have proved that hand dryers tend to disperse any remaining micro-organisms into the air allowing for the spread of infectious diseases.
Toby Saville, Senior Performance Engineer and Microbiologist, Dyson UK, says, “Damp hands can spread up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands – so, effective hand drying is important. Unlike paper towels the environmental impact of hand dryers occurs during use. But most hand dryers simply suck this air in, and blow it on to the customers’ hands.” This is probably why general hand dryers have been given a bad name for spreading infection.
However, at Dyson, engineers have come up with the Dyson Airblade technology that passes washroom air through a HEPA filter to remove 99.9 per cent bacteria. By investing in new technology and striving to do more with less, Dyson engineers have developed a machine, which not only works effectively and hygienically, but also
has a low impact on the environment. They produce up to 71 per cent less CO2 than paper towels and are able to dry 18 pairs of hands for the price of a single paper towel.
It is probably the only hand dryer worldwide that has been approved globally by NSF, and HACCP International has accredited it for use in food preparation environments. Hence, the Dyson Airblade hand dryer has been proven to be as hygienic as paper towels, through research commissioned by Dyson and conducted by the University of Bradford (published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology), Institut de Recherche Microbiologique, the College of Medicine (University of Florida), and Campden BRI.
Colley says, “Smart control and monitoring is the latest generation of electronically products for wash basins, WCs and urinals. Rather than merely receiving control instruction, the new products are also capable of providing data on frequency of use and times of use. This bi-directional flow of data simplifies the operation, service and maintenance of the washroom and reduces operation costs.”
Intercare is working with select accounts on high-traffic public areas for smart washrooms by using web connectivity and sensors in dispensers and bins, which give real-time information to a remote location with the number of users, checks for refill levels, move from static cleaning schedule to cleaning when needed.
The Dyson Airblade dryer also shows that ‘smart’ is also about technology. For instance, in this dryer, every second,the digital motor V4 draws in up to 35 litres of air through a HEPA filter, and forces it through apertures 0.8mm wide. The result is 430 mph sheets of filtered air that scrape water from hands, like a windscreen wiper – drying them quickly and hygienically in as little as ten seconds without the need for an energy intensive heating element. This makes it extremely quick to dry hands hygienically – 10 seconds, versus the 25 seconds other dryers take.
Similarly, Rubbermaid’s soap dispenser technology ensures that the amount of soap that comes out in the form of foam is limited yet effective in helping the customer wash his/her hands consistently and within a wash. Rubbermaid’s auto-sanitiser is also quite a revolutionary device in that its non-return valve prevents any back flow that can contaminate water with chemicals during the process of sanitisation. In fact, Rubbermaid’s auto-sanitisers have been used at the Dubai World Trade Centre since 2005 – which speaks volumes about its technological advancement and consistency in performance.
At Fragrance Delivery Technologies, their Oxy-Gen Powered system is based on a medical grade innovation, which uses pure oxygen. Combined with Neutra-lox - a proprietary odour-neutralising agent, this eliminates - not masks - any bad aromas, leaving only fresh scent in the air. The Oxy-Gen powered method ensures exposure of only precise doses of fragrance oil, while protecting the reservoir. This guarantees that the freshness of the first day is maintained throughout the 30 days of the refill cycle, providing round-the-clock freshness. The 2 AA Alkaline batteries last for over a year, which also reduces the hassle of frequently changing and disposing the batteries. All these features add up to the smart air freshening solution for facilities and service managers.
Not very surprisingly, hygiene is also related – rather obscurely – to design. As Colley from Intercare Ltd., mentions, concepts in the washroom involving minimal bodily contact are being preferred. Labyrinth entrances (door-less) are commonly seen and have the distinct advantage of no surface to contaminate as bodily contact is avoided during entry and exit.This aids in ease of cleaning, a pleasant overall appearance, and excellent hygiene as a result. Beldi informs, “We decided to introduce the clean look two years ago. Today, all our products – soap, skin care, surface care dispensers or air fresheners all have a standardized look. They come in chrome, black or white.
Fragrance Delivery Technologies offer the option of the colourful Viva!e air freshening system, or the practical Shield model, which is tamper-proof and perfect for facilities more susceptible to vandalism. The smooth, contoured design of the anti-vandal dispenser makes it difficult for anyone to grip and tamper with the dispenser, particularly when positioned at height, while adding to the overall décor.
As the market for washroom hygiene continues to mature, and institutionalisation simply supplements this growth – it is evident that what takes priority in the smart washroom hygiene space is Applicability, Technology, Eco-friendliness, and Design. It will be interesting to see what more the industry can offer to ensure this.