CWS-boco study on hygienic behaviour in Europe
Disinfection instead of “nest building” for the ideal washroom

, 14/11/2017


The results of a recent study[1] on hygiene in Europe’s public washrooms have confirmed that, for the majority of public toilet users, current hygiene measures are not sufficient. For over half of those surveyed (57 per cent)[2], public washrooms are not a place where they feel at ease. The toilets in particular were regarded as a sore point. The results of this survey concern washroom operators in all sectors and clearly highlight the immense need for better cleanliness. Operators who don’t wish to dismiss the sense of unease experienced by their guests as “hygiene hysteria” can make a good impression both quickly and easily through the service they offer.

Amongst other things, the one thousand participants were asked which hygiene measures they would most like to see in public washrooms. They could choose from a means for disinfecting the toilet seat, a fragrance dispenser, spare toilet paper or a box for hygienic waste/rubbish bin.

Women want a germ-free toilet seat

The main source of unease in public washrooms is the toilet. An overwhelming 83 per cent of those asked said they either very frequently or frequently missed the option of disinfecting the toilet seat. This is a particular priority for Germans and Italians: In both these countries, special disinfecting cleaning was important or very important to virtually all the survey participants (91 per cent). Women especially feel far more comfortable if the toilet seat is disinfected (89 per cent), whilst only 80 per cent of the men asked said that disinfection was important or very important to them.

Washroom operators should take these findings seriously, as visitors rate the hygiene of all other areas, e.g., catering, based on the state of the washroom. Shopping centres, hotels and restaurants as well as airports, train stations and service stations can rest assured that their guests will feel at ease if they equip their washrooms properly.

A higher number of visitors demand more disinfection

The desire to disinfect the toilet seat is high in all facilities; in hospitals and care homes as well as train stations, airports and service stations (almost 90 per cent in each case). In shopping centres, too, disinfection of the toilet seat is either important or very important (79 per cent) for the majority of those surveyed. At 70 per cent, the demand for toilet seat disinfection in the workplace was comparatively low.

The desire for toilet seat disinfection in all the facilities mentioned increased relative to the age of the survey participants.

An expensive “nest” for the toilet seat

Only a quarter of all those surveyed stated that they had no problem with sitting on a public toilet seat, whereas 36 per cent said they never sit down. When one compares the genders, it is evident that, in contrast to men, women don’t tend to sit down.

To reduce the unease associated with sitting down, almost half of those asked (28 per cent) place toilet paper on seats which appear unhygienic as a matter of course. Another third make a paper nest on particularly dirty-looking seats. This increased use of paper is not only harmful to the environment, but also increases the workload for cleaning staff. The dispenser must be filled more frequently and any paper which has fallen on the floor must be cleared away. This translates to increased personnel and material costs for operators.

Reassuring words from the hygiene expert

Professor Klaus-Dieter Zastrow, Head of the Institute for Hygiene of the Regiomed clinics in Coburg, offered reassurance as regards the risk of infection and also warned against excessive use of disinfectants: “Toilet seats do not generally pose a risk, and if you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and then dry them properly, this ensures sufficient protection! Nevertheless, washroom operators need to take care of their facilities. After all, failure to offer a hygienic washroom shows a lack of respect for guests. The toilet is a haven and should make an appealing impression.”

Despite this information, the fear of germs prevails: Three quarters of Germans said they were afraid of germs on public toilets. A total of 68 per cent were concerned about the presence of potential germs. Women were generally more concerned about this than men (72 per cent compared to 63 per cent).


  • Regardless of whether young or old, male or female, toilet users would like to see improved hygiene in public sanitation facilities.
  • In particular, unhygienic toilet seats are a source of alarm for users. The majority of users place toilet paper on the seat to avoid coming into contact with it.
  • Operators would be well advised to invest in the maintenance and professional furnishing of their washrooms since users draw conclusions as to the state of the entire establishment based on these facilities.

Note for the editorial team

The 19th of November marks World Toilet Day. The aim of this annual event is to raise awareness of the importance of good toilet hygiene, not only in the poorest regions of the world, but also closer to home.

[1] On behalf of the CWS-boco Group,the market research institute net-request surveyed 1,000 people in five European countries (Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands) about their user behaviour and perception of hygiene in public washrooms in January 2017. The survey was conducted representatively based on age (16-65 years) and gender.



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