Public Restrooms: Top 5 Ways COVID-19 Changed Americans’ Standards

Survey identifies key COVID impacts on how Americans view public restrooms, and the establishments that provide them.

As they enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are not only more sensitive to germs in public restrooms, they now hold higher standards for the cleanliness, condition, and technology used in these shared spaces, according to the annual Healthy Handwashing Survey™ from Bradley Corporation conducted in January.

Despite ongoing COVID outbreaks, most Americans have not been deterred from using public bathrooms. In fact, 41% of Americans report using public restrooms as often as they did before the pandemic. In fact, 27% of survey respondents said they use them more now than previously.

Public Restrooms COVID

“Thanks to the pandemic, more people are paying closer attention to various elements in public restrooms – how clean they are, how easy they are to navigate without touching surfaces and how they can be improved,” said Jon Dommisse, vice president of marketing and corporate communication for Bradley Corp.

The survey, which has examined the state of U.S. public restrooms and handwashing habits for 13 years, identified five key COVID impacts on how Americans view public restrooms – as well as the businesses and establishments that provide them.

1. Restroom Maintenance Gets Higher Marks

A positive side effect of the virus is that half of the population believes public restrooms are now cleaner and in better condition than before COVID. More men (55%) give a thumbs up to the cleanliness of restrooms compared with women (47%).

“Prior to COVID, upwards of 70% of Americans reported having an unpleasant restroom experience,” Dommisse explained. “Evidently, increased cleaning protocols and stocking of supplies is being observed and appreciated by restroom users.”

Further, 79% think a posted and updated cleaning schedule in a restroom is important. “Signage goes a long way in helping to reassure visitors the facility is taking steps to ensure a clean environment and cares about keeping them safe,” he said.

2. Unclean Restrooms Tarnish The Overall Business

Americans increasingly think poorly of a business when they encounter a messy restroom. In 2022, 51% of Americans said an unpleasant public restroom at a business shows poor management, up from 39% in 2021. Respondents also report that encountering neglected restrooms lowers their opinion of the establishment (43%) and shows the business doesn’t care about its customers (38%).

3. Americans Place High Value On Touchless Restrooms

84% of Americans believe it’s important for public restrooms to be equipped with touchless fixtures and 63% say they are more likely to return to a business that offers no-touch capabilities in its restrooms.

“In fact, Americans view touch-free technology as the number one feature that makes them feel safer from germs in restrooms,” Dommisse said. “Touchless features are also Americans’ most requested improvement in restrooms. More cleaning/restocking takes second place.”

Which touchless restroom features are considered most important? Respondents cite faucets, soap dispensers, flushers, and restroom entrance doors as their top four.

4. Consumers Spend More Money At A Business With Pleasant Restrooms

Americans are willing to put their money behind restroom cleanliness. Almost 60% say they are likely to spend more cash at a business with clean, well-maintained restrooms. Another 58% say when out running errands they’ll take restroom breaks at a business they know has “good” restrooms.

5. Coronavirus Concerns Persist, In General

The majority of Americans continue to be in an elevated state of germ consciousness, triggered by the coronavirus. While 89% of the general population felt more aware of germs in April 2020, that number has fallen to 78%. Northeasterners currently have the highest level of germ concerns (86%) while Midwesterners have the lowest level (72%).

“Certain types of facilities cause more trepidation about coming into contact with germs,” Dommisse added. “Specifically, Americans are most concerned about germs in stores (50%), medical facilities (39%), restaurants (34%), and gas stations (28%).”

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