The Wash Podcast: Handwashing Education  & Hand Hygiene in K-12 Schools

Welcome to The Wash, your trusted resource for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene, where we will tackle topics like hand hygiene, best practices in school health, developing an effective hygiene program, and more!

Today we're going to talk about hand hygiene in K-12 schools and how exactly educators can get back to in-person learning safely. We are joined by Patrick Burke, the sales manager for K-12 schools here at Meritech, and Robert Kania from Education Safety Solutions. You can listen to the podcast using the media player or read the podcast transcript below:


Podcast Transcript: Handwashing & Hand Hygiene Education in K-12 Schools

Joe: Hello, and thank you for joining us for another episode of The Wash, your trusted resource for the latest in public health and hygiene. This podcast is brought to you by Meritech, the leader in automated hygiene technology. I'm your host, Joe Johnson. Earlier this month, we discussed early childhood education. So now, today we're going to talk about hand hygiene in K-12 schools and how we can get back to in-person learning safely. I'm joined by Patrick Burke, the sales manager for k-12 education here at Meritech, and Robert Kenia from Education Safety Solutions.

Joe: All right. Thank you both so much for joining us today to get things started. I'd love to hear a little bit about yourself, Robert and education safety solutions.

Rob: Oh, thanks Joe. So, first of all, thanks for having me! Education safety solutions, we've been a part of over a hundred, education facilities, everywhere from operations consulting to technology consulting and fulfillment consulting, and most recently, helping schools operate, and reopen, during the pandemic.

Joe: Great. So I think the best way to start this conversation, would be to talk about how important is hand hygiene currently in K-12 and how much more important is it inside of a reopening plan?

Rob: So that's a great way to start this Joe. So kindergarten through high school, every grade as the kids get older, there is a little less supervision. Kids are more and more on their own. And while hand hygiene has always been important, it is something that, we hear, one of the top three preventative ways to protect yourself, through the pandemic.

So while it's always been important, without it being a focus we've seen things like the flu epidemic and other health threats, wreak havoc on our K-12 institutions every year. So with this increased focus right now , it's more important because we're going to see kids, obviously we're going back to school right now and we're going to have COVID cases in school and we're going to be dealing with this. The kids need to be increasing their hand hygiene. They need to be increasing their handwashing to mitigate the spread. Because just like with the flu we're going to have cases in every single school. The key is going to be, can we mitigate the spread and not have outbreaks in schools so that the school year can continue.

Joe: So what are the most common ways that students are currently washing their hands?

Rob: Well, unfortunately in the K-12 world, I, you know, they're only washing their hands. When they go to the bathroom, and hopefully before that, he gets to the cafeteria. Maybe coming in and out of locker rooms after gym or, their athletics.

We're seeing a lot of, schools put hand sanitizer stations all over the place. So we have plenty of that, but, there's some problems that come along with, with hand sanitizer. We don't like to see it, especially in the kindergarten and younger grades. We want to see them washing their hands. And there are some problems that come with it and Patrick will speak better to that than I can. But we're not, you see enough of the handwashing. So while, the kids are definitely going to the bathroom and eating lunch every day , there's too much left to the kids as far as when and how they should be washing their hands. So it's, it's an area that needs significant group of the K-12 world.

Joe: So Patrick, what are the pitfalls and the issues that students are running into with, either manual washing and use of hand sanitizers?

Pat: Yeah. So in the K-12 situation, you know, the handwashing process. Manual handwashing it's time consuming, and that's probably the biggest thing. You know, everybody's always in a, in a rush and the, the manual hand wash is 20 to 30 seconds, you know, singing the happy birthday song or ABCs. So that's probably the biggest thing is just the time involved with it.

And then, also is the variability of what somebody thinks is a, an effective hand wash. So from person to person, and, yeah, so there's a lot of steps in the manual hand wash. So you mentioned that the hand sanitizer as being kind of a default mode, which is a pretty big issue for sure, in childcare, but even K-12, you know, you still have young kids and actually sanitizer is going to be, drying out the hands, creating cracks in your skin, getting rid of the natural oils on your skin.

So it's actually used too much. It can be pretty harmful and, allow more pathogens to stay on the hands.

Joe: Before we go any further into the conversation, I think it would be great, patrick, if you could give all the listeners a little bit of background on Meritech and CleanTech® specifically.

Pat: Meritech is the maker of CleanTech®, which is the world's only fully automated handwashing system. So we have a touchless, handwashing system that, as soon as you stick your hands into a cylinder, a photo eye is going to sense the movement, begin spraying a mixture of our, hygiene solution and water onto the hands.

It does a 99.9% removal of pathogens. That's been clinically backed numerous times. So there's zero contact points, zero cross contamination. Less water is used and less waste is used than a traditional, or manual hand-wash. All the water in our systems, which is just over a half a gallon on each hand wash is, used directly on the hands versus a manual hand wash.

So it's a very effective hand wash. We call it the perfect hand wash. So essentially that's what CleanTech® is, is the perfect hand wash.

Joe: Right, so it just totally removes that variability of human behavior by standardizing the process, correct?

Pat: Yep, exactly.

Joe: So, how could CleanTech® solve some of the main issues faced in K-12 schools, when it comes to hand hygiene?

Pat: The number one thing or number one pitfall of the manual hand wash is that time that is involved. And so a CleanTech® system is a 12-second hand wash, so it's a lot faster, less than half of, correctly done manual hand wash each and every hand wash. Every time you stick your hands into, the CleanTech® system, it's going to be the same exact hand wash 99.9% removal of pathogens.

It's taking away that, you know, variability that can happen from student to student. Like I said, the water savings, and it's safer on the skin then using sanitizer over and over.

Joe: So, what CleanTech® models would you recommend or K-12?

Pat: Yeah, we have, four commercial systems that we typically recommend in the schools.

We have our ELF systems, which are our most compact, that comes in a counter mount as well as a, a wall Mount that can be put nearly anywhere. And then we have, we have our 500 model, which is a little bit a larger model. It's still, smaller than our industrial models, but, I just built a little bit more durable.

So yeah, we have those and we can do custom cabinets and go into pretty much anywhere. All of our systems are gonna require the hot and cold, drain, and power. So kind of standard, plums was like a standard sink with Power.

Joe: So Robert, I was wondering if you could shed a little bit of light into when and where hand hygiene events are currently taking place throughout schools.

Rob: So in the K12 world, we want to see an improvement upon entry into school. As Pat was talking about removing 99.9 % of pathogens, let's leave them at the door. So we want to see it, you know, early on, right upon entry, build that barrier to protect the school.

And then as much as possible when there's movements. So a lot of the best practices we're seeing in K-12 is they're not going to be moving from room to room, at least at the beginning of the school year. So they're going to keep them together. If the first movement is to the cafeteria, they should be washing their hands before they eat anyway. Obviously anytime they go to the bathroom, and then another big area, I think we said before was athletics. So going to the gym, a great place for an ELF model would be the locker rooms. on your way to gym on your way to after school athletics, for the areas that are going to have fall sports, And then obviously coming back from, from your sports activities.

So those are the, the key places. Would love to have them everywhere. We talked about how, if I was building a high school, I'd have a bank of them, at the entrance. So getting off the bus, wash your hands, go to homeroom. Get dropped off, drive yourself to school, wash your hands, go to homeroom. and then every time you change rooms, or, or change locations, you know, ideally that's when it would be. But if we could focus on entrance, cafeteria, bathrooms, locker rooms, that would make a huge huge difference in not just your defense against COVID-19, but those defenses, we talk about what we've normalized every year, being this new epidemic and other pathogens in the cold and flu season.

Joe: And I remember from a previous conversation about early childhood, is there's a lot of regulation that determines the different times throughout the day when, both children and educators need to be washing their hands. But we don't have that, anything like that in K-12 is there?

Rob: No. So, you know, the great thing about early childhood is, the regulatory environment with hand hygiene supports what we need to be doing, especially, during this pandemic. In K-12 it's not as, as regulated. So while kindergarteners may have a bathroom in the, in the kindergarten classroom, or they go out in the hallway as a class where the teacher can be saying, wash your hands, wash your hands.

As the kids get older, that's, that's not the case. So. In high school, are the kids going to the bathroom, coming out without washing their hands? You know, it's not being supervised and it shouldn't be there, you know, they're teenagers, but on the flip side, what would make it easier? What would remove human error?

You know, the things that Patrick spoke about earlier, and something like, the CleanTech® system where it's 12 seconds and it's perfect. It takes all the human error and human element out. You know, it's something that just makes it easier. It's something that can be, can be monitored as well. Just like, with an automated dryer system in a, in a bathroom. If you don't hear the hand dryer going off after somebody right before somebody walks out the door, you're assuming they either have wet hands or they didn't wash their hands.

You know, the CleanTech® system, you're going to know if somebody's washing your hands. So even if. You know, with older children, older students, you're not monitoring and supervising, you will know if somebody walks out of the bathroom without washing their hands. .

Joe: So there was a study that Pat and I were looking at previously from the American Cleaning Institute that was performed in 2011, and it surveyed students between the ages of 8 and 18 on their handwashing habits. And found the most common reason students were not washing their hands when they should is because of lack of time. Some of the other reasons were lack of supplies, disliking visiting the bathroom, and even no reminders about hand hygiene. How can educators combat these issues?

Rob: Well, lack of time, I would, as a father of four children within the age groups you just mentioned, I would argue that it's what they want to spend time doing, not just lack of time. But, but yeah, let's make it accessible. Let's make it easier for them with a product like a CleanTech®, an ELF model or, or Patrick, I believe it's the 500 series that that would work for it. So it's more to me about making it accessible and easy than it is about finding the time. We don't have to find time in the day for 12 seconds. So, you know, as far as they're not being assigned to remind them again, the father of kids in that age range and feeling like I am constantly reminding them of everything. Yes. A sign would be great, but the CleanTech® systems do stand out. So that machine in there I think is in itself a great reminder. But again, it's just like everything else. You're making it accessible. You're making it easier to the point that there's no human error and there's just no excuse anymore.

Joe: Pat, do you have any thoughts?

Pat: Yeah. I mean, I think, so many different ways that you can, you know, bolster, improve handwashing. You know, I mean, not having a lack of time I just immediately think of having a system that cuts the hand washtime down to half. And you know   our handwashing stations they're fun, fun to use. I'm so often getting feedback from teachers and daycares about how they don't have to push kids to wash their hands because the kids will go ahead and do it themselves. So, you know, making it fun, if, if, you know, putting up signs, and stuff like that. Having supplies like in that study, that stuck out to me is obviously have the supplies and have everything available for handwashing.

But, and then a big thing that sticks out is set an example. So obviously not the regulation in K-12. but you know, if you want it to happen, you know, for teachers and staff, you know, just being there and setting the example, and everybody else will follow, you know.

Rob: It's a great time for this. I mean, where we're changing our culture, we're requiring hand we're requiring masks and social distancing. So, you know, people are open to doing what's what's necessary now. And where last school year, this may have been something that we missed a lot, skipped a lot. It's something that's going to be focused on. You know, adding a tool like this, will exemplify that.

Joe: Pat you bring up an interesting point. We've talked a lot about students needing to wash their hands. But they're not the only ones needing to focus more on hand hygiene are they?

Pat: No, you know, like I was saying, you know, teachers and staff and guests and, and everybody that's going to be coming into the school, you know, that they are going to model the behavior that the children follow. And so, you know, if the school was taking a look at handwashing systems and handwashing as a whole, you know, they really need to be thinking about everybody involved all the stakeholders and, it needs to be a full 360, you know how are we going to improve it? Because you know, in the food industry and stuff, we always talk about these hygiene zones and allowing pathogens to come in, you know, and it's the same thing in a school, you know? I mean, Robert, you mentioned, if you had all the money in the world, you would have your firewall on the outside and stuff, you know, so it really applies to everybody.

Handwashing applies to everybody in there because pathogens are gonna spread from surface to surface person to person. So. Everybody involved, everybody that's in the school really needs to, be washing their hands.

Joe: So let's talk about the long term benefits of CleanTech®®. I'm in the middle of this pandemic the value is really obvious. but can you talk a little bit about, why this is viable for the long run?

Rob: Sure. So, it's obvious now with the pandemic, like you said, but it's something that. Has been missed. It's been substandard up until a pandemic. It's a shame that this is what's waking us up to something that is such a simple and obvious way to stay healthy.

So, like we spoke about before, you know, those annual epidemics, the things that we'd normalize, flu every year. There are so many flu deaths and flu wreaks havoc, students, miss school time, they miss tests. Staff missed time because they're getting it from, from the school as well. So, you know, this is something that's going to improve the health and safety of every school for years to come.

So hopefully we're beyond COVID, at some point, but there'll be, there'll be something else. And we're always going to have our cold and flu season. So it's something that'll just have a long term, return on that investment because every year it's going to improve the health and safety in your facility.

Joe: In previous discussions, Robert, you've mentioned that, you've been a part of conversations surrounding special funding for K-12 schools to support improved hygiene because of COVID. Could you speak a little bit more about your involvement there?

Rob: Sure. So, you know, federal and state agencies are looking for advice on, additional distributions. We saw billions of dollars in the first Cares Act go to, education and we're going to see more, in the next round of funding. And you know, that focus is going to be on operating, and being able to reopen your school and safely operate, for the next school year and for school years to come. You know, so, schools are going to spend that money wisely, on health and safety upgrades in the building.

And, you know, there are, there are two or three really, really important things you can do to protect your school. Hand hygiene is, is in the top three of every single conversation, hand hygiene, hand hygiene, hand hygiene.

So, it, it's funny in our group, where you can't beat that drum enough. Well, in other organizations, you're talking about it and how to solve this problem and how to get people to wash their hands. It's great to have that, that tool at your disposal. You know, in, in my conversations, it's been wonderful to be able to say, Oh, and it's a US manufacturer. So this is not going to be a problem you know, with China with trade or with anything like that. It's a, it's a company in our own backyard.

Joe: Great. Well, thank you both so much for providing your expertise on this subject today.

Rob: Thanks for having us, Joe.

Pat: Thank you.

Joe: If you would like more information about CleanTech®, automated handwashing stations, please visit our website: There we have tons of information surrounding hand hygiene and ways to improve the health and safety of your school. We'll link to all these different resources that we've mentioned throughout the podcast, and you'll find it all on Thank you again for joining us for another episode of The Wash, your source for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene.


This podcast is brought to you by Meritech, the leader in automated employee hygiene. Meritech offers a complete line of fully-automated hygiene equipment that provides the only clinically-validated, technology-based approach to human hygiene in the world. Meritech’s line of CleanTech®® Automated Handwashing Stations perform a fully-automated 12-second hand wash, sanitize and rinse cycle, removing over 99.9% of dangerous pathogens while wasting zero water or solution. Meritech delivers employee hygiene, contamination control, and infection prevention programs within a wide variety of markets, including food production, food service, cleanroom, healthcare, medical, theme parks, and cruise lines. For more information call 303-790-4670.

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