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Survey shows that unclean restrooms carry consequences (with related video)


Government building owners and facility managers be on alert: your restrooms' appearances speak volumes to residents in your community. A new national survey shows that more than half (51 percent) of Americans say they’ve had an unpleasant experience in a public restroom due to the condition of the facilities. Bradley Corp., manufacturer of bathroom and locker room furnishings, including sinks, faucets, hand dryers, showers and lockers, conducted the survey.

Bradley’s fourth annual Healthy Hand Washing Survey found that gas stations outstripped other locations for the most awful restroom experiences and the majority of respondents (72 percent) cited a bad smell as the number one cause. Restrooms that looked old, dirty or unkempt, and toilets that were clogged or not flushed followed were named as the second and third most common problems. Water collecting on the floor, and jammed toilet paper and towel dispensers were also high on the restroom complaint list.

The survey had some data on government-operated facilities, including state-run roadside rest stops and public parks. In 2012 among survey respondents, the top three preferred restroom stops on car trips include: state-run rest areas/wayside (29 percent), fast food restaurants (22 percent) and gas station/convenience store (17 percent).

The proportion of Americans who report having had an unpleasant public restroom experience — in general — has decreased. Likewise, negative mentions of public parks in 2012 are down significantly compared to 2010. The 2012 survey results show continued improvements in public parks. Americans have continued to become less likely (over the past three years) to list public parks as an establishment in which they've had the most unpleasant restroom experience. In 2010, 20 percent listed public parks as the type of establishment where they had the most unpleasant experience; in 2011, only 12 percent listed public parks; and in 2012, only 11 percent listed public parks.

Other insights from the survey, conducted in August:

- 72 percent of respondents cite a “bad smell” as the number one offender in public restrooms.

- 62 percent think that businesses that have unclean restrooms suffer from poor management overall.

- 74 percent say they frequently or occasionally see people leave a public restroom without washing their hands, while 42 percent see co-workers skip this important step in work place restrooms.

- 75 percent don't increase their hand washing during any time of the year, despite flu season peaking in February.

Americans Lax in Hand Washing Habits

The survey also found that Americans are not washing their hands long enough — or often enough. Roughly 57 percent of respondents estimate they wash their hands for just 5 to 15 seconds. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing for at least 20 seconds and suggests singing “Happy Birthday” twice to allow enough time to remove and rinse off germs.

While it’s good news that 70 percent of Americans say they always wash their hands after using a public restroom, 29 percent sometimes skip that important action. And, although the flu season peaks in February, the survey found that most Americans don’t adjust their hand washing habits seasonally. About 75 percent said they don’t increase their hand washing during any specific time of the year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is unequivocal about the benefits of hand washing, calling it critical in preventing infection and illness: “Hand washing is a simple thing to do and it’s the best way to prevent infection and illness,” the agency says. And by “washing your hands,” the CDC notes that nothing beats good old soap and water.

View a video news report on the hand washing survey.

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