Public toilets are places where one is obliged to ease oneself in unfamiliar surroundings among the strangers of the same sex. In recent years, thanks to various publicity programmes, the issue of public toilets has evolved from being an embarrassing subject to one that is gaining widespread awareness and discussion. When we ask “Why is the Toilet Dirty? we trace its origin to many diverse and interrelated toilet issues including design, public health, social graciousness, cleaning skills and methods, building maintenance, accessibility, setting norms and standards, legislation, research and development, technologies, public education and environmental issues such as water. These issues are also different in each kind of building for example a factory’s toilet serves different visitors than that of a shopping centre, or a school, a hospital, an office, a coffee shop and so on.
The toilet needs of a man are also different from a woman, a child, an elderly person, an infant and different kinds of handicapped people like the visually handicapped, blind, wheel-chair bound and so on. Furthermore, ethnic and cultural needs also have to be addressed. Anyone, who has ever been in an overcrowded or uncomfortable public toilet, will value a good toilet design. The usual demands placed on a high-profile, high traffic and heavily used facility requires extra thoughts for each process.
A well-designed public toilet has to be clean and dry, well ventilated, easy to maintain, carefully planned layout and handicap friendly. Placing the appliances in order of use simplifies the circulation and reduces the distance travelled by the user. Using sensor-operated appliances should encourage hygiene. Directional signs leading to the toilets should meet the needs of the Handicap Welfare Association (HWA). Location of toilets should not be too remote from main traffic area to avoid long distance walking for the aged with weak knees.
It has to be easily accessible for those with urgency and for better personal safety for the user. Further to this, signages used should be sufficient and prominently displayed in all main traffic passageways, so that the user does not need to ask for directions. Signages used should show contrast of dark solid figure against a white background and significant to be seen by the visually handicapped and the aged. Fancy signage using “Queen” and “King” or “Hat”, “High-heel shoes” are confusing and should not be encouraged. It is not easily distinguished by the visually handicapped and the aged.
All public toilets should be mechanically ventilated. Small public toilets should be fitted with an exhaust fan as minimum. A well-designed lighting system will save electrical energy and improve the appearance of the toilet. Poorly designed fixtures with discoloured diffusers go a long way to make a toilet dingy. Dark and shadowy, off-coloured lighting can create the impression that a toilet is not clean. Natural lighting can be used to help create a softer, friendlier environment. Harsh lighting can create a cold and unwelcoming air while being inappropriate for the tasks being performed.
It can also highlight hard-to-clean areas. Thoughtful selection of fixtures and lamps coupled with careful placement is essential. All public toilets should be provided with warm-colour lighting for general lighting as well as down lights above the wash basin or mirror. The minimum general lighting level is 300 lux. Warm-colour lighting aids in creating a better ambience in the toilets, which in turn encourages more care and responsibility from the users. Materials used for the toilets should be durable and resistant to vandalism and neglect. Applied finishes such as paint should be avoided.
Examples of good materials are non-slip ceramic tiles for floor, natural stone or homogeneous tiles for walls and mineral fibre board or fibrous plaster board for ceiling. Carefully selected, durable materials minimise maintenance and prevent misuse. It is highly desirable that painted finishes are avoided, together with any materials, which are affected by moisture or corrosion for example, woodchip products and ferrous metals. All urinals should be fitted with a flush valve and an automatic flushing device. If two or more urinals are installed, one should be installed at child’s height.
As a further enhancement to keep the urinal areas dry, stainless steel grating could be installed over the drainage and below the urinal bowls. Fixture should be concealed for easy maintenance and to deter vandalism. As an effort to conserve water, electronically controlled taps can be considered. Sensor controlled taps with their precise flow settings and positive shutoff characteristics, offer effective means for providing adequate water flow when it is required. Further to this, it will minimize hand contact. The water pressure and tap or wash basin position should not cause water to splash onto user’s body during activation.
Where there are two or more basins, one should be installed at child’s height. In order to keep the floor dry, the vanity top-cum-wash basin should be installed outside the toilets for common use by all users. Liquid soap dispensers, paper towel dispenser or hand dryer and litter bins should be installed adjacent to the wash basins. Wash areas should also be provided outside public toilets serving wet markets and beaches. All public toilets should be fitted with a slop sink and it should preferably be housed in a separate compartment.
All public toilets should be fitted with waste bins inside each male and female toilet and outside toilets located directly below or in close proximity to the washbasin vanity, either paper towel dispenser or hand dryer, directly above or in close proximity to the washbasin vanity, sanitary disposal bins in female toilets, suitable air fresheners to promote a fragrant, pleasing environment. Any air fresheners spray should avoid spraying directly at user’s hair, face and body. It should spray away in non-traffic directions or upwards, sanitizers in each urinal fitting. The next thing is whether the bowl is squatting or sitting.
Squatting bowls tend to win more favour as compared to sittings one. Apart from unpleasant smells and dirt, and the absence of toilet paper and soap, the problem stems from the transition from the traditional Asian squat toilet to Western-style seats. Tourists sometimes complain of finding footprints on the seats, where previous users have stood. The same problem occurs in other parts of Asia. Until a few years ago, Western-style toilets in Japan bore diagrams illustrating their correct use. For security reasons, ensure that 24 hours securities will be available for toilets round the clock.
Police must also help in ensuring safety, especially in areas that are prone to acts of vandalism. Special needs like diaper changing station and toilet for the handicapped should be provided. Where sanitary provisions are to be made for wheelchair users, such provisions shall be in accordance with the requirements stipulated under Building and Construction Authority’s “Code on Barrier-Free Accessibility in Buildings”. The wash basin in handicap toilets should be within reach from a seated position so that the handicapped can do his washing without shifting himself.
Directional signs leading to the toilets should meet the needs of the Handicap Welfare Association (HWA). Signages used should show contrast of dark solid figure against a white background and significant to be seen by the visually handicapped. Proper ventilation of a public toilet is one of the highest priorities. Ineffective ventilation can make a public toilet unbearable, even if it is well designed. Effective ventilation ensures that vitiated air is quickly extracted, and helps to avoid dampness and subsequent growth of mould on floors and walls.
Replacement air should be supplied to the toilet to make up for the exhaust air. The replacement air may be taken directly from the exterior, or from adjacent spaces that are permanently air-conditioned or naturally ventilated. The replacement air may be drawn through louvres in the doors, cuttings under the door, or other openings. If replacement air is taken from the exterior, the quantity shall be lower than that of the exhaust air so that a lower pressure is created in the toilet, which minimises the possibility of vitiated air entering the adjacent spaces.
Replacement air should preferably be discharged close to the floor level near the wash basins to help keep the floor dry. Air locks should be incorporated to separate the toilet areas from food consumption or preparation areas. General cleaning should be carried out daily. It should follow a systematic sequence to avoid areas, which were previously cleaned from becoming wet and soiled again before the cleaning process is completed. The general cleaning should be divided into spot and thorough cleaning. Spot cleaning refers to the process whereby only specific areas are cleaned ( for example those that are soiled).
Thorough cleaning refers to the cleaning of the entire restroom and is usually carried out once a day. The sequence of cleaning should follow this checklist : replace all expendable supplies, pick up litter and sweep floor, clean and sanitize commodes and urinals, clean and sanitize basins, clean mirrors and polish all bright work, spot-clean walls, ledges, vents and partitions, wet-mop floors and inspect work and correct any errors. An inspection card should be used in the supervising and monitoring of the daily maintenance of the toilet.
This card should be placed at the back of the entrance door to the toilet. Scheduled cleaning should be carried out periodically on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis (different surfaces, wares and fittings require different cleaning periods to maintain their cleanliness). Scheduled cleaning should be carried out during off-peak hours to avoid inconveniencing the user. The timing and frequency of cleaning should be determined by the crowd flow. Cleaning should be done more often during peak hours and less during off-peak hours.
Frequency of cleaning is usually determined by expectation and standard of maintenance required by the management of the property and also the budget available for the maintenance of toilets. The frequency of cleaning should vary for different building types. Shopping centres will require more frequent cleaning than condominiums. Mechanical ventilation systems should be properly maintained to ensure maximum efficiency and optimal operating conditions and checked and serviced on a monthly basis. Cleaning of the systems should also be done weekly via wiping or dusting.
Educating the users is very important especially to maintain cleanliness. Health and hygiene education posters and signage could help in effective communication of the same. Having public education messages in the toilets can help persuade users to do their part in keeping toilets clean. In order to be effective in persuading people to do their part, a message has to be attended to, assimilated and remembered (for future action). People readily attend to visuals. This makes the use of visuals an important part of the design of the message.
Generally, visuals should be simple and uncluttered, attractive and eye-catching. The language of public education has to be kept simple. This helps ensure that the message reaches all Malaysians regardless of their educational level. It also ensures that the message is attended to, understood and remembered for future action. The reading level (in any of the three official languages) should not be more advanced than that of a Primary Six reader. Jargon, big words and long sentences should be avoided. Slogans can be very effective because they are short, catchy and easy to remember.
Subtle humour can be used to deal with the personal and sensitive issues surrounding toilet use. Humour can be successfully tapped through cartoon characterizations of toilet fixtures such as wash basin, toilet bowl and litter bin. An additional benefit of cartoon characters is that they can be used with minimal text, reducing the need for translation to other languages. The usual means of message placement in public toilets are posters and stickers. To maximize the effectiveness of the message, the right medium and manner of displace should be selected.
Generally, stickers should be used if the main purpose of user education is to address specific behavioural concerns such as littering, careless aiming or the flinging of water everywhere, subtlety is preferred. For display, stickers should be made of vinyl material, rather than paper, made with adhesive than can be peeled off without leaving unsightly marks, placed strategically at the spot where the problem behaviour occurs. For example, on the wall above the urinal – to encourage better aiming; at the wash basin area – to discourage flinging of water everywhere.
Posters can be used to convey generic messages such as “Help Keep This Toilet Clean and Nice”. Posters should only be used when displayed in a way that makes them repellent to water for example laminated on both sides or protected by acrylic sheets or mounted with non-marking adhesives. Adhesives such as scotch tape and double-sided tape may damage certain types of wall surfaces and should therefore be avoided. Now the Government is to introduce college courses in lavatory management as part of a continuing “toilet revolution” intended to protect locals and tourists from smelly and unclean conveniences.
The country will also mount a toilet exhibition and institute a text message hotline on which sub-standard lavatories can be reported to the authorities. “Try to imagine dirty, disgusting toilets that make you nauseous — these will surely give us a negative image,” Najib Razak, the Deputy Prime Minister, said at a speech last year at the National Toilet Expo and Forum. Good, clean toilets are associated with good health, good manners, good upbringing, good housekeeping and civilisation. That is why the Government feels this must be a national effort. ( 2276 words )