My trip to the House of Lords

Helping Autistic children and their families with toilet hand dryers.

I was invited down to the official launch of the Caudwell International Children’s Centre (CICC) which was at the House of Lords.

The centre is being funded by Caudwell Children,  a charity set up by mobile phone entrepreneur John Caudwell. The building, which is now watertight and due to be completed in August, will be the UK’s first purpose-built centre for multi-disciplinary therapy programmes for childhood disability and research of neurodevelopmental conditions including autism. The total cost will be in the region of £18million pounds and is being constructed on the Keele University Campus.

It is estimated that 170,000 children in the UK have autism and that there are as many as 279million children worldwide with the condition. Yet only £4m a year is spent on autism research compared to £590m spent on cancer research and £169m spent on heart disease research even though autism costs the UK taxpayer £32billion per year (cancer costs the UK taxpayer £15b per annum).

So there is a real need to complete this research.  One of the areas that the new centre has struggled with is hand dryers. They have had a major dilemma: firstly whether to install hand dryers and secondly to find a dryer that would be beneficial in helping autistic children cope when taking part in family activities away from home.

As part of the development team for Puff the Magic Dryer, I have been involved in the needs of the centre and how we can support the children and staff in the key area of toilets and washrooms.

It is early days yet but let’s hope that centre can make a huge difference to not only children suffering with autism but also the families of those children.

I will keep you updated as the centre nears completion.

5 Reasons why Unisex doesn’t Work

Willow Tree Primary School were featured heavily in the National press recently after a school refurbishment redesigned  all the toilets into unisex.  Just to clarify this means all toilets are available to use for both boys and girls.

It is understood that in small offices and some uber trendy locations that the unisex concept works really well and this may seem like a great idea to architects or designers. However, in my experience, many such toilets, after a period of time, get reallocated to either male of female use.

Here are the top 5 reasons why unisex toilets fail -please feel free to comment.

  1. Males.  Whether this be at a school or office, the male population tend to stand up when urinating.  Most males can’t hit a urinal from 30cm so hitting a toilet bowl from 60cm is almost impossible.  This is exacerbated if the toilet seat has not been put up.  Needless to say men do not clean up after themselves: this will be tolerated for a short period before there is a revolution and signs go on the doors.
  2. Embarrassment. Female staff or pupils will avoid using toilets where there is even a miniscule risk of creating an opportunity to be the butt (apologies for the pun) of someone else’s cruel joke or sarcastic comment – phew ‘did you light a match?’
  3. Cleaning. The people tasked with cleaning the toilets will soon complain that they have much more cleaning to do – twice as many toilet bowls requiring special attention as before.   There is a very strong environmental argument that says that keeping toilets separate sex reduces the amount of chemicals needed to maintain standards.
  4. Costs.  Not only increased cleaning products but increased labour to keep the toilets clean.  But another cost means that every toilet requires a sanitary disposal bin.  By making all the toilets unisex you double your sanitary waste disposal costs.
  5. Community.  Toilets are not all bad places.  There can be opportunities to chat or say hello whilst washing hands.  In these modern times men spend almost as much time in front of the mirror grooming themselves as women do.  These communal activities can be positive and should be encouraged.

So there are my top 5 reasons.  With regard to schools which is where we started, call me a cynic but these newer schools being built, especially those through PPI or with 20 year management contracts, it may well be in the management company’s interests to have unisex toilets with twice the cleaning and twice the costs?

Hand Dryers for Children

Very few companies differentiate between children and adults when it comes to washroom products. One area that does need this in my opinion is Hand Dryers and the Children’s hand dryer market is now starting to blossom in the UK. I have to put my hands up here and explain that I have a vested interest. As I have helped develop Puff the Magic Dryer. Puff has taken 8 years to develop.  Being in the Hygiene business and having a daughter who hit the ceiling when a Dyson Airblade went off gave us some incentive to do so but since launching Puff we have had to sit and watch other companies try to rebrand adult hand dryers for the children’ market.

Let me start by saying this to all you hand dryer and paper towel manufacturers – Drying hands is part of the process!  It is the final stage of hand washing but equally as important as washing properly in the first place!

Noisy white boxes scare younger children, which surprise, surprise, puts them off washing their hands.

The other extreme is the slow ‘neverdry’ hand dryers which nearly every school in the UK has. Children also have a low boredom threshold so if a dryer is too slow, they either don’t bother or use the ‘uniform as a towel’ method.  Not ideal.  So Puff was developed to be quiet enough to encourage good hand hygiene, fun enough to keep them interested and quiet enough to make sure it does the job.

Common lies told by hand dryer manufacturers – noise

This may surprise you reader but with regard to hand dryers there are no guidelines on how you measure the noise levels. Some manufacturers measure noise levels 1 meter away, some further stil.  Have you ever had long enough arms to dry your hands a meter away?

Another trick is to measure the machine free standing, sound waves dissipate evenly away from the unit giving a lower reading.

No manufacturer quotes sound levels once you have your hands in. this can increase sound levels by as much a 9dB, which in real terms equates to 3 times increase of the impact on the ear.  This 3dB figure is key  a classroom of chatting children will generate noise levels of between 62 and 69dB. Th difference between say 70dB and 90dB is huge especially on younger children.  Any child with Hypercausis (sensitivity of noise) will barely accept any noise levels above 75dB. Children on the Autistic scale may be sensitive to noise levels even lower.

I have to say that Airblade type dryers are just unsuitable for nursery and primary school age children.  I have no issues in secondary schools where appropriate but these schools are dealing with Young adults and that is a blog for another day!

What are the options?

Here is an unbiased view of the hand dryers now available for the children’s market.

Puff The Magic Dryer

The original Children’s dryer.  Puff reinforces good hand hygiene (Hand Wash High Five) and rewards good practise by blow drying the children’s hands quickly and quietly.  Puff retails at about £400 but comes with striking visuals including a large backboard (great for covering up old drill holes) to reinforce the hand hygiene message.  Every dryer includes Hand wash high 5 stickers and Knights and Princesses toilet door stickers. 5 year parts and labour warranty as standard with average school use will last up to 10 years.


The Biobot is a converted Bio Dryer unit painted Blue with two googly eyes.  BioBot focusses on the environmental impact of hand dryers versus paper towels.  The back Splash is a vinyl graphic which looks great on wetwall or tile but is difficult to adhere to block or brick finishes (common in schools).  The Biobot blows cold air and this adds to the environment message but our experience is children don’t particularly like cold hair hand dryers (please let me know if you see any studies that show different?) The BioBot retails at about £300 per unit however its big failing is the noise levels.  It claims to be 76dB at 1m but we know that this level is between 85 and 89dB with hands in. This unit comes with 5 year parts warranty and does not have a reputation for reliability within the sector.

Home made

There are a few other dryers out there which are any standard white unit with a shrink wrap design.  This works of course but it makes it impossible to compare!

So there we go if you are looking for a children’s unit remember the installation height should be adjusted for the children.  Have a good look around and ask to see a unit so you can hear the noise levels for yourself!