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washroom smells

What do customers think of smelly public washrooms?


It is common knowledge that our experiences in public washrooms can stir up vivid conversations – both good and bad, depending on the experience.

Have you ever walked into a public toilet and thought: “Now, that’s a lovely loo!”? I know I have.

Clean, fresh and well-stocked – should be the norm right? But unfortunately, I have also had my fair share of bad washroom experiences.

From unflushed toilets and missing amenities such as soap to declarations of “Don’t go in that cubicle!” and “Can someone pass some toilet paper please?” there are a number of factors that can quickly turn a public washroom experience from good to bad.

Research from Initial discovered that 3 out of 4 people expect a public washroom to smell better than their bathroom at home. We’ve come to expect a certain standard when we are out shopping, eating and socialising, and the smell of the washroom is no exception.

I definitely count myself among the 92% of people [from the research done by Initial, The State of Air Care, 2017, more on this later] who say they have experienced unpleasant smells in public toilets. Washroom malodour can evoke a wide range of emotions and reactions from people and these can have a range of implications for businesses and on our hygiene behaviours.

washroom smells

Fighting and fleeing washroom smells

Smell – whether it‘s good or bad – is one of the first things that people notice when entering a public washroom, even when the washroom is clean.

Using a heavy scent in washrooms could put some customers off, even causing nauseous feelings.

Therefore, it is worth having the appropriate air care in place, such as scents that are specially designed to neutralise washroom odours as well as being environmentally friendly and economical to operate.

When we experience unpleasant smells, our brains trigger core emotional processes such as the “fight or flight” response. This determines our subsequent decisions, a survival response i.e.

  • Do we stay in the washroom – trying not to inhale the bad smells – and use it anyway?
  • Do we look for another – hopefully, cleaner – washroom in the building?
  • Do we flee from the washroom  – and the very building itself – due to disgust and revulsion?
  • Do we report this and/or publicise our experience of being in such a smelly washroom?

88% of people from the research admitted to trying to get out of a washroom as quickly as possible if it smells bad, showing that smell can directly impact behaviour.

If consumers are driven out of the washrooms because of malodour, so much so that they could not fathom staying there a moment longer to wash and dry their hands (28% from the research said that they would miss something out‘ to make their trip faster), then this situation needs to be remedied.

Such unhygienic behaviours can cause germs and bacteria to spread easily, compromising health and safety standards as well as affecting brand reputations due to customers publicising their negative washroom experiences online or verbally.

The State of Air Care

Given the strong feelings that are expressed and the unhygienic behaviours that are caused because of smelly washrooms, we at Initial Hygiene had conducted a study called “The State of Air Care” during 2017 across five countries – UK, France, Italy, Australia and Malaysia – looking at the preferences, behaviours and experiences of office workers when it comes to washroom odours and air quality.

Our main findings from this study include:

  • On encountering unpleasant smells in a public washroom, 88% of respondents tried to leave as soon as possible. 28% say they would ”˜miss something out‘ to make their washroom trip faster, such as not drying their hands, not washing their hands with soap, or not washing their hands at all.
  • 77% of the participants leave with a negative perception of a business that has unpleasant washroom smells.
  • 46% of the participants would never return to a place with a washroom that has unpleasant smells.
  • 67% of the participants have said that an unpleasant smell in an organisation‘s public washroom would make them less likely to shop there.
  • 1 in 4 of the participants have refused to use a public toilet in a shopping centre.

From concerns about cleanliness and hygiene to evoking fears of sickness, unpleasant smells in public washrooms can create discomfort or anxiety, causing people to actively avoid future visits to the business/organisation responsible.

washroom smells

The solution: professional, effective washroom air care

The use of air fresheners in your washroom reassures users that it is clean and cared for, thereby creating a positive impression of your business.

Good air care solutions can remove malodour, effectively ”˜cleaning‘ the air by neutralising the bacteria that causes bad smells and intelligently fragrancing the air.

Bad smells in washrooms can be dispelled forever by:

  • Ensuring sufficient ventilation is available
  • Installing a professional and durable air freshener that emits an odour- neutralising fragrance to continually dispel foul smells.
  • Regularly cleaning washroom facilities to prevent odours coming from the buildup of germs and bacteria that can be found in urinals/lavatories, washbasins, dispensers, etc.

Jack Lyons

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