Soap Up!

Soap Up!

March 17, 2020 | Insights

Soap Up!

In our work serving campus communities, educational environments, libraries, and other public facilities as we navigate the COVID-19 landscape, we ask ourselves as planners and designers how we can best help in keeping these communities healthy and safe?

As with many of life’s pressing questions, we find that our mothers have often delivered sage advice.

Looking to limit the spread of the Coronavirus?


Or as the Canadian health officer Bonnie Henry said recently, “Wash your hands like you’ve been chopping jalapeños and you need to change your contacts.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies handwashing as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. The following five steps should be practiced every time you wash your hands:

1. Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap
2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Lather the back or your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. (Need a timer? Hum the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice).
4. Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them

If your public restroom is not equipped with a motion sensor faucet activation control, use a clean disposable paper hand towel to turn off the faucet, and to open the door when leaving the restroom. Avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces. To read more on handwashing from the CDC:

Why is handwashing with soap effective in limiting the spread of the Coronavirus? Using soap will not kill germs on our hands, but it will act to remove them. The germs embed and adhere to the oils found on our hands, simply washing with water alone will not effectively remove many of them. This is because wash water and oils on your skin do not mix well, leaving many of the germs hanging on. But soap, at a molecular level is a surfactant, meaning it is attracted to both water and oil. One end of the soap molecule is attracted to oils, while the other end is attracted to water.

This hydrophobic and hydrophilic characteristic of soap means that when you wash your hands with soap, the molecules act as a vehicle capable of binding both the oils (hydrophobic) and the water (hydrophilic), allowing you to effectively wash away the germs in running water. To read more about what soap is, and how it works, go to:

20 common hand-washing mistakes that help Coronavirus spread was reported in Eat This, Not That! Health’s February 2020 article by Kelly Hernandez. Below are a selected top-5 of the twenty reported:

1. You’re Reaching for the Soap First
When it comes to handwashing, you’re on one team or the other, you either wet your hands first, or you pump the soap first. While you think it may not matter, the CDC recommends that you wet your hands first. Your wet skin can more easily absorb soap, leading to better lather and more effective removal of bacteria.
2. You’re Not Scrubbing Long Enough
After wetting your hands, you should spend 20 seconds lathering them. The Happy Birthday song (x2) comes in handy as noted earlier.
3. You’re Not Using Enough Soap
According to Dr. Aileen Marty, MD from Florida International University, “since the surfaces of the bacteria and viruses are made partly of fatty materials, ingredients in soap create a chemical reaction that grabs onto the germs so they rinse off with the lather.” If you don’t use enough soap, you’re not giving it the chance to work its magic.
4. You’re Not Drying
Even the best handwashing routines are useless if you don’t dry your hands. According to the CDC, “Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands.”
5. You’re Touching the Faucet Immediately After Washing
Touching faucets after washing can expose you to germs that may reside there. If possible, use a clean paper towel to turn off the faucet after washing.

To see the full listing of “20 Hand-Washing Mistakes That Help Coronavirus Spread” go to:

Effective washing with soap and water is a readily available method for keeping the occupants and users of our campuses, our schools, our libraries, and other civic facilities healthy and safe. The CDC reports that handwashing with soap could prevent sickness in about 33% of young children who become ill with diarrhea, and almost 20% of young children afflicted with respiratory infections like pneumonia. The CDC also identifies that hand hygiene for infection protection is an important part of the U.S. response to the emergence of COVID-19.

Our planning and layout of public restrooms within the facilities we design keeps these principals top of mind as we consider design elements such as the number and placement of sinks, motion-activated faucets, door placement (or elimination of doors through airport style entry vestibules to limit sightlines), readily available paper towel products and/or air-drying equipment, and placement of refuse containers.

Our nation’s response to the spread of COVID-19 will need to be multi-layered and multi-faceted, however, effective handwashing with simple soap and water places a significant element of this response in our own hands.

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