Hands-free Taps and Bacteria

Yesterday, an article caught my attention in the Toronto Star; a study done at John Hopkins Hospital found more bacteria in hands-free faucet models than in manual ones. The electronic faucets have been replaced.

I find this study fascinating. According to the article:

“the bacteria is able to grow in this one style of faucet because it has many plastic components within the faucet. Most of the parts don’t exist in manual faucets.”

“The study was originally conducted to examine the faucets’ hygiene flush function. This feature allows the faucet to be flushed out and clean itself if it isn’t used over 12 or 24 hours. But the staff used the sinks so many times – 110 times a day – the flushing function never kicked in.”

This is a fantastic example of Evidence-Based Design (EBD) at work, especially in a hospital setting. They’ve tested the faucets, figured out what didn’t work, and abandoned plans to use them in the new wing. I hope it’s not too late (or too costly) to make the change for the new addition, but I also hope that they keep the electrical service running to the faucets in case they later find a better hands-free one that is more bacteria-resistant with less maintenance.

Interestingly enough, it brings up the question of life-cycle costing when selecting products to be used in construction. A hands-free sink model often uses less water because it doesn’t run when the sensor isn’t activated and this is preferred from a sustainability standpoint (even though I often wonder about the additional cost of electricity to save water). It is also easier to use by those with accessibility issues. But currently repairs and maintenance costs to eliminate the hands-free bacterial issue make it far more costly in the long run.

I’d be interested to know if it’s just the one make of the faucet, unnamed in the article, or if it’s a problem with multiple brands, but I suppose its unfair name the company publicly. I do hope the company sales rep pays attention, so he or she can take this opportunity to solve that problem for future uses. Perhaps the answer lies in asking the designers to look at the parts used in their product, perhaps its about programming the faucet to flush/clean itself more frequently, perhaps it’s including an antimicrobial product in the finish. Either way, this is a learning experience for many.

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