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Tiffany Ridge Elementary Kansas City Mo
<p>Many schools, such as Tiffany Ridge Elementary, Kansas City, Mo., are designed with sinks and towels installed in the corridor outside the washroom. (Architect: Hollis + Miller Architects) Photo by Jennifer Ray</p>

Keeping Washrooms Clean and Safe

When a school washroom is kept clean and well-maintained, students are more likely to make an effort to keep it that way.

On Facebook, someone has created a page with the unambiguous title, “I hate using school bathrooms.” More than 3,500 people have “liked” the page, but there are no doubt many others among the millions of students using school restrooms every day who have reason to share that sentiment.

Maybe they have had to make an urgent dash to a school washroom, only to find the door locked, or equipment malfunctioning because of vandals, or critical supplies like toilet paper lacking. Maybe conditions in a school restroom have been neglected, and it has become an unsightly and smelly breeding ground for germs and disease to be avoided if at all possible. Maybe students feel unsafe in a school bathroom because, away from the supervision of teachers and other staff members, those who are inclined to bully weaker students prey on victims there.

So far, no one has started an “I love school bathrooms” Facebook page; a properly working school washroom doesn’t rouse the passions that a dysfunctional restroom does. But schools and universities can take steps to make sure the bathrooms in their facilities are places that students won’t feel fearful about entering or using.

Cleaning chores

The dictionary defines “chore” two ways—a routine task, or a difficult, disagreeable task. The chore of cleaning restrooms is more likely to fall into the second category, especially in an educational facility, where hundreds of users can strain the resources of even the most diligent custodial crews. But restroom cleaning needs to be a routine task in schools; conditions can get out of hand quickly, and students and staff will be exposed to germs. Conversely, when a school washroom is kept clean and well-maintained, students are more likely to make an effort to keep it that way.

Daily cleaning of school restrooms should include emptying the trash, restocking toilet paper, paper towels and soap, disinfecting siks, wash basins and other surfaces and fixtures; clean and disinfect toilets and urinals, and mop the floor.

The equipment selected for restrooms can help eliminate the transfer of germs from one user to another. Doors, faucet handles, soap and towel dispensers, flush valves and toilet stall partitions all can be places where germs can be left by one person and picked up by another.

Touchless equipment reduces the number of times a user has to come into contact with areas that might be breeding grounds for germs. Sensors on toilets or urinals can trigger the equipment to flush after a user moves on. Water flow from a faucet can be controlled by sensors that detect when hands are placed below the spigot. A sensor-controlled dispenser can be set to squirt out a dollop of soap when hands are placed under the dispenser. A similar sensor can determine when to deliver product for users to dry their hands, whether it’s paper towels or a blast of air.

Automatic controls on a door can let users in and out of the restroom so they don’t have to touch the door and possibly leave or pick up germs. In some cases, doors between a bathroom and a school corridor are removed altogether—in addition to reducing the spread of germs, getting rid of doors makes it easier for teachers or other staff members to monitor activity in the washroom without violating student privacy.


Students can reduce the chances that they will come into contact with germs in a bathroom by developing good hand-washing habits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Cleaning Institute started the Healthy Schools, Healthy People, It’s a SNAP! (School Network for Absenteeism Prevention) program.

The program states the correct way to wash one’s hands: Wet hands with clean, running water and apply soap; rub hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails; continue rubbing hands for at least 20 seconds. Rinse hands well under running water, and air dry them or dry them with a clean towel.


Students, once they enter a school bathroom and are separated from the supervision of teachers or other adults, may become tempted to a unleash their aggression or excess adolescent energy and vandalize the equipment installed there.

One way schools can combat the inclinations of this rowdy student sector is to install equipment that’s not so easy to damage. Having trash bins and soap and towel dispensers, and other fixtures recessed into the wall make them more resistant to tampering. Enclosed toilet paper dispensers that don’t allow access to an entire roll make it more difficult for a student who was intent on using a roll to clog a toilet and flood the washroom.

The sensors that help reduce spread of germs also mean many of the fixtures have fewer exposed parts that can be damaged. Schools also can install graffiti-resistant toilet partitions so that the markings left behind by students needing to express themselves can be easily wiped away.

Many schools have been designed with sinks and towels or dryers installed in the corridor outside the washroom. This means students have fewer potential targets for vandalism and will reduce the time they are out of the sight of adult supervision. 

Sidebar: Turn off the Spigot

Schools may be able to keep their restrooms clean and create a climate that discourages vandalism, but they still could be losing resources if the restrooms are using too much water. Conservation strategies, which many schools have adopted as part of a movement toward sustainable building management practices, may help facility manager significantly lower their water bills.

Some steps schools can take to save water:

•Promptly repair leaks, which can waste many gallons of water a day.

•Low-flow faucets, toilets and showerheads will reduce the amount of water a student uses per visit.

•Where feasible, schools and universities may want to consider installing no-water urinals, each of which reduces water use by 20,000 to 45,000 gallons a year.

For schools that aren’t a right fit for no-water urinals, low-flow models are available. The current federal gallons-per-flush standard for a commercial urinal is 1.0 gallon; low-flow urinals are available that only one-eighth of a gallon per flush.

Kennedy is staff writer for AS&U. Follow him on Twitter.

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