Know-How: Washrooms/Locker Rooms

Feb. 1, 2004
Steps schools can take to encourage students to wash hands regularly.

Regular hand washing is a vital weapon in the fight against bacteria and viruses, so it's important that schools provide the means for students to clean their hands regularly and properly.

In a 2002 study of hand washing in Georgia public schools, Emory University graduate student Melinda Scarborough found that many schools in Georgia lacked adequate supplies such as soap, towels or dryers in their washrooms. And, in many of the schools that do have adequate supplies, problems such as vandalism or unsanitary conditions make it more difficult for students to wash their hands consistently and effectively.

The study spelled out several recommendations that would help schools keep their washrooms clean, promote proper hand washing among students, and keep student mischief and vandalism at a minimum:

  • All student washrooms should have hand-washing supplies, including liquid soap, and paper towels or warm-air dryers.

  • All dispensers should be heavy-duty, commercial quality and capable of being locked.

  • Install self-flushing commodes and urinals.

  • Install metered faucets on hand sinks.

  • Every washroom should have mechanical ventilation, even if there are windows that can be opened. The ventilation should be separate from the ventilation system elsewhere in the school.

  • Try to eliminate doors on the entrances to washrooms. The “U” format of entering a washroom should be the standard design.

  • Consider installing all hand sinks in the halls outside washrooms so staff members can monitor student behavior more easily. Schools that do this should use paper towels because the noise of blow dryers in the hallway may be too disruptive.

  • Allow sufficient time for hand washing before lunch periods.

Schools also should educate students about the benefits of regular hand washing. Scarborough recommends that school nurses or science teachers should provide students with 30 to 45 minutes of training each year.



Percentage of parents whose children reported their school washrooms lacked basic supplies such as toilet paper, hand soap or hand towels.


Percentage of parents who say their children avoid using their schools' washrooms because of dirty or unsafe conditions.


Percentage of parents who believe that dirty, unstocked or unsafe school washrooms are likely to lead to vandalism and graffiti.


Percentage of parents who believe that dirty, unstocked or unsafe school washrooms cause health problems among students.

Source: 2002 survey of parents of middle- and high-school students conducted by Opinion Research Corporation on behalf of Kimberly-Clark Professional.

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