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.