Smart Surfaces Promote Wellness in the Bath

With the sudden notoriety of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), sanitary standards have been placed under intense scrutiny. How could such an aggressive form of drug-resistant bacteria, formerly seen predominantly in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, become a widespread problem affecting even those with normal immune systems?

Outbreaks such as this highlight the need for sanitary measures at home, to halt the spread of cross-contamination. Nowhere is this more important than in the bath, a high-traffic, moisture-rich environment. For clients who worry about these topics, but also require their baths to meet the modern standards of style and luxury, designers must identify the needs of the client and select from a diverse array of sanitary, green and wellness-promoting strategies.

Sanitary Style

Fortunately, creating a germ-hostile environment for a client is easier than ever due to an ever-expanding range of products on the market.

Products with integrated antimicrobials actively fight bacteria on contact, reducing the risk of contracting dangerous bacteria from a contaminated surface. Such persistent agents, like Microban, have been added to a variety of household products, from high chairs to toilet seats to countertops.

Microban, an antimicrobial that works at the cellular level to disrupt key cell functions within bacterial microbes, is a key component of Cosentino’s Silestone natural quartz surfaces. Quartz has long been lauded for its sanitary properties and ease of maintenance since, unlike “natural” stones such as granite, quartz is non-porous and requires no chemical sealing to make it stain resistant. With Silestone, Cosentino sees the built-in antimicrobial protection as adding yet another layer of protection.

Microban has even been added to Laticrete’s SpectraLock grout, so an area once known for collecting mildew and other contanimants can now help to keep the bath cleaner. This grout is not only resistant to stain-causing mold and mildew, but it is Greenguard certified for low-VOC emissions and does not require any additional sealants.

Microban’s antimicrobial chemicals are also an integral part of the UltraSilent vent fan series from Broan-NuTone and CorStone lav sinks, among other products. DuraGuard, another antimicrobial, is integrated in a range of Bemis toilet seats.

Halting cross-contamination between surfaces is another top concern for households with infants, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system. Touchless products such as Moen’s Destiny Contemporary lavatory faucet provide a steady hands-free stream, with a water conserving benefit – the water shuts off immediately when it ceases to sense the user’s hands beneath it. Kohler, which offers a range of touchless faucets, offers matching touchless soap dispeners, as well.

Mechanisms that eliminate the need to touch the toilet, such as Foot Flush International’s foot-operated flushing mechanisms, offer a practical solution for eliminating cross-contamination.

Touching the body less during bathroom activities has a similar effect. Bidet seats with drying capabilities such as TOTO’s Washlet eliminate the need to use toilet paper.

The shower creates a new set of issues to address. While tile may offer limitless design possibilities, over time, grouts can become mildewed and unsanitary. Harsh chemical cleaners don’t always promote the kind of healthy environment a wellness-seeking client is hoping for, so during the design process, consider products that will cut down on the scrubbing your client will have to do later. A simple solution is to include a waterproofing acrylic finish in the tile application process: Such finishes are colorless and when applied after installation, reduce the risk of mold, mildew and other bacterial growth, which can activate allergies and asthma symptoms.

Earth-Friendly, People-Friendly

Nonporosity is key for sanitary surfaces, and some of the most sanitary are also the most green.

Glass is recyclable, attractive and is versatile in a variety of applications, from architectural panels to countertops. “Glass doesn’t require any long-term maintenance such as sealants, polishing, stain removal or burn repair,” says Doris Rocklin of Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada-based ThinkGlass. “Maintenance is as simple as wiping the surface with any common glass cleaning product,” she adds.

Lumicor, which makes a variety of resin panels for residential applications, has certified some of its products in what it calls the “R4” program, a sign of the company’s commitment to environmental protection. The Rs are “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Resins” and on its Web site ( Lumicor offers a list of environmental building guides, a list of resin recyclers and information on using Lumicor products in buildings eligible for LEED certification.

The company’s Lumiguard Botanicals collection reinforces the current trend of including organic and nature-inspired shapes to promote personal well being. With a percentage of recycled resin, the panels contain carefully selected reeds, grasses and other organic matter from around the globe. Its uses, as is the case when creating a healthy bath, are only limited by the designer’s imagination.