What COVID-19 has Taught Us about Public Washrooms


High-touch surfaces in a public washroom covid-19

COVID-19 has taught us a lot and brought about many changes in the world. In 2019, few people had ever heard of social distancing or spike proteins, and now it’s part of everyday life. Back then we visited the shop, restaurant and public washrooms without ever thinking of the risk of being infected with a deadly coronavirus. Now the average individual and business in Australia knows the precautions they need to take to keep the community safe.

Why Washrooms are Potential Super-Spreader Sites

Research and overseas experience has shown some indoor locations are more high risk than others. There are a few reasons why a person is more likely to be infected with COVID-19 in a washroom than any other setting.

Small Size

Most washrooms aren’t spacious. In some washrooms social distancing is impossible once two or three people enter. If a person infected with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, it’s possible that much of the washroom is contaminated with aerosols that hang in the air waiting to be breathed in by someone else.

Frequently Touched Surfaces

A washroom has many frequently touched surfaces. The door handle to go in, the lock on the stall, the button on the water closet, tap, dryer and the door handle to leave. Every one of those hard surfaces are prime locations for passing on the virus to multiple visitors after an infected person has been there. Even people with meticulous personal hygiene would struggle to escape without a trace of virus on their hands.   

Poor Air Flow 

In high-rise buildings and shopping centres, washrooms are usually positioned in the middle, well away from external windows and doors. Their internal position means they don’t have the benefit of fresh outdoor air replacing the indoor air. This means the air conditioning and extraction fans are responsible for potentially infected air being removed and fresh, clean air coming into the washroom.

Aerosols Produced by Toilet Flushing

There are concerns toilets could be spreading COVID-19 due to flushing, generating aerosols that linger in the air. A recent report by The Medical Journal of Australia highlighted examples of how coronavirus was spreading via airborne transmission

The Medical Journal report referenced an outbreak in South Korea, where only residents living in apartments connected by a common ventilation shaft were infected with the virus. All seven affected apartments (out of a total of 200) were located along the vertical line of the shaft. This suggests a ‘stack effect' carried virus-laden aerosols into residents' bathrooms. 

A similar outbreak occurred in an apartment building in China, where the virus appeared to spread from people on the 15th floor to people in vertically-aligned flats on the 25th and 27th floors, via dried-out floor or bath drains. Faecal aerosols produced by toilet flushing were thought to be responsible. 

What We Can Do to Make Washrooms Safe

It’s difficult to make indoor spaces completely safe against COVID-19 infections. But washrooms are some of the most challenging spaces. They are confined spaces often with a high number of visitors touching multiple surfaces while they’re there. But there are steps organisations can take to reduce the risk. 

Increase Cleaning Frequency

Because of the number of high touch points in a washroom, they need to be cleaned more frequently during a pandemic. Wiping over handles, taps and buttons multiple times per day with a disinfectant will reduce the risk of it becoming a super spreader site if a COVID-19 infected person visits.  

Improve Air Extraction

Commercial washrooms have exhaust systems, but not all of them work efficiently. A poorly maintained exhaust can’t achieve the minimum number of air changes per hour. By servicing or repairing a unit, it’s possible to increase the number of air changes and reduce the risk of infection.

Encourage Social Distancing

Busy public washrooms often have a queue of people waiting in line for the next available stall. The tight space means the queue rarely has 1.5 metres between each person. Queuing outside will make it easier to maintain a safe distance. 

Use High-Grade Cleaning Products

The basic cleaning product you’ve always used may not be sufficient during a pandemic. Cleaning products that have been tested and found to be effective against the COVID-19 virus are labelled. Our Chlor-Clean product was certified for use against COVID-19 early in the pandemic. Use the Chlor-Clean liquid with single-use or washable cloths. Remember to change cloths throughout the day and then wash in hot water with washing detergent.  

If you’re looking for a safe, efficient and effective disinfectant cleaner, try our Chlor-Clean products. Available in tablet form for dissolving in one litre of water and as disinfectant wipes, Chlor-Clean is a hospital-grade disinfectant that can keep any washroom sanitised. 

Using Floor Drain Technology to Stop Disease Spreading Pathogens 

Pipes, along with open and exposed drains are potential sources for contamination that provide a habitat for pathogens, especially in the biofilm. Installing products like a floor drain trap seal can help stop infection transmission. The Green Drain has a flexible silicone membrane that lets water run through and instantly closes and seals as soon as the water stops flowing. 

Hospitals are especially prone to pathogens potentially transmitted through pipes and exposed drains. Reducing the spread of infections is essential in a facility caring for vulnerable people. The installation of Green Drain in healthcare settings can therefore help to prevent airborne contaminants spreading between rooms and wards. 

If your organisation would like more information about cleaning products that are effective against COVID-19, call Helix Solutions on 1300 29 32 32 or contact us online.