Public door handles and knobs are some of the most touched surfaces imaginable. The constant entry and egress at stores, restrooms, gas stations, and offices mean people are touching grease, grime, and germs.

Perhaps central to conversations around hygiene are bathrooms. Many practices and procedures emphasize hand washing. But automatic soap dispensers and requiring employees to wash their hands, only to have them grab a door handle to exit a bathroom undermines the erstwhile sanitation.

Some bathrooms have replaced hand crank paper towel racks with sensors, and still others skip the paper product altogether blowing high velocity hot air at wet hands. Besides the prospect of these circulating unsanitary particulate matter, they also preclude the germaphobe’s comfort of using extra paper towels to effectuate their exit. This is where hands free doors are essential – but not only for bathrooms.

Innovators the world ’round have come up with different concepts to get around the knob prob. While high-tech solutions involve automatic doors with motion and pressure sensors, the low-tech, low-cost, high-efficacy option is simply a foot pedal.

Using foot knobs is far more sanitary, because it eliminates the potential for face touching and the trafficking of germs between highly dextrous urbanites.

Some designs features simple ledges to step and pull, others offer a lip for a toe-pointed pull. Some use levers or wires. Some utilize 3D printing. In each case, a hands-free alternative is available. This is so simple it almost cannot be called innovation, but the ubiquity of knobs and handles across the nation highlight the out of box thinking.

Not only are hands-free doors a good idea, they are a bona fide best practice for public health and safety. They decrease the spread of germs and bacteria and offer patrons multiple options. Installing these simple options does not supplant handles, it merely offers more alternatives.

Every gas station, restaurant, retailer, and business in America should take this best practice to heart. It is an incredibly low-cost, simple, and effective solution, with do-it-yourself potential, even from surplus materials!

Choosing to install this type of hands-free feature will decrease the wear and deteriorating appearance of handles and knobs. It will limit the spread of illness and health hazards. And it gives customers more options and control over their experience.

Public health officials, regulators, and government entities should also consider how to encourage, or require, this option at critical locations.


Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy


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The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.