Why handwashing culture is going down the toilet


Although most of our public toilets are well-fitted, the culture of handwashing is poor ("The key to beat superbugs? Handwashing"; last Thursday).

There are several possible reasons for this:

First, in many public toilets, the soap dispensers are hidden from view behind the mirrors. Sometimes, the words "hand soap" are embossed on the mirrors, but these words cannot be seen in a dimly lit toilet.

Worse, I once tried to get hand soap from such a dispenser, only to discover, upon checking under the mirror, that the dispenser had been removed.

Second, the various kinds of dispensers confuse users. Some toilets are fitted with sensor-activated soap dispensers, while others have manual soap dispensers.

Unfortunately, some manual dispensers look like sensor-activated ones. So, when users try waving a hand at one to get soap and nothing happens, they may assume that the dispenser is empty or broken, and just walk off.

Third, many toilets have manual taps that are difficult to press, even when one is using two hands. This discourages handwashing, especially among weaker users.

Also, water from such taps flows only when the taps are pressed. This means users can wash only one hand at a time.

Lastly, in many instances, the liquid soap dispensed is so diluted that it cannot create any suds. Some taps also have such poor water flow that it takes too long for one to properly wash one's hands. Users in a rush would walk out without washing their hands.

It is also common to find taps or soap dispensers that are out of order. Perhaps the building's management is waiting for more units to break down before doing a bulk repair, as it will be cheaper.

This is understandable, but unacceptable.

All these physical problems in public toilets discourage the formation of a proper handwashing culture.

I suggest that the authorities revise the building code for toilet design and tighten rules for proper toilet maintenance and management.

Lee Wei Yin (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Why handwashing culture is going down the toilet'. Print Edition | Subscribe