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January 2021

3 Hygiene trends you need to know about in 2021

Written by Nathalie Leblond
COVID-19, Technology and Trends

Coronavirus dominated the hygiene industry in 2020, and it is likely to be an ongoing topic in 2021, but what other hygiene topics can we expect to hear about over the next 12 months?

Each new year - over the lifespan of our Initial Insights page - we’ve tried to determine the hygiene trends of the year to come. Last year, we predicted the fairly obvious increase in attention on basic hand hygiene in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and whilst we were not wrong, we had no idea just HOW much hand hygiene, masks, and social distancing would come to dominate all of our news feeds.

Prior to that, in 2017 we looked at some of the coolest hygiene apps, in 2018 we discussed technological hygiene trends that might be coming our way in the not so distant future, and in 2019 we investigated bio-enzymes and the very real shift away from harsh chemicals and towards biological products. 

Given how 2020 threw us all such a curve-ball, I’m hesitant to predict anything for 2021, but despite that, I think there are some definite hygiene trends to which we should all be paying attention. So here are our top 3 trends to watch out for over the next 12 months.

3 Hygiene trends to watch for in 2021

The hygiene trends you need to know about in 2021 - predictions from the leading hygiene experts at Rentokil-Initial South Africa

1. Hands-free technology 

Hands-free hygiene has been around for a while (think sensor operated soap dispensers and hand dryers) but 2020 catapulted hands-free to a whole new level, as people devised clever and innovative ways to avoid touching commonly used surfaces and thus limit cross-contamination. We saw foot-pedal operated hand sanitisers stands everywhere, nifty contraptions (such as the StepnPull) for opening doors with your feet, and even virtual restaurant menus (think Dineplan’s QR coded menus). 

The airline industry - particularly hard hit by the Coronavirus pandemic - have been quick to come to the hands-free party. Health experts have previously flagged plane toilets as an infection risk, given the large number of people in contact with surfaces such as door handles and toilet flushes. In mid-June,  All Nippon Airways became the first airline to trial the ‘elbow doorknobin their aeroplanes, which includes components that allow people to unlock and open the lavatory door using their elbows.  

Partnering with the JAMCO group, they are also developing a feature that allows passengers to raise and lower toilet seats and lids sat on by others without having to touch them directly. Tabs make it visually apparent where to touch, providing passengers with peace of mind. 

However, just because airlines are doing a great job of reassuring passengers that flying is safe (the filters used by airlines are medical grade with vertical extraction, which means the air circulates up and out) doesn’t mean that passengers who fly on essential business (remember - at our revised level 3 restrictions only essential inter-provincial travel is allowed) should be complacent about hygiene. 

Keeping your mask on throughout the entire flight is essential, sanitising your hands regularly, and maintaining your distance wherever possible in the airport, because, in the end, the responsibility lies with you. 

We will be seeing more touch-free technology developing in 2021 - Hygiene trends for 2021 from the hygiene experts at Initial South Africa

A recent survey carried out by Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP) found that -also unsurprisingly - the majority of people using bathrooms in public spaces now want to see touch-free dispensers for hand sanitiser. Conducted during 2020 as businesses began to reopen after lockdown, RCP's research discovered 93 percent of people prefer to use no-touch hand sanitiser dispensers.

Driven by this kind of customer expectation, I’m certain that 2021 is going to see far more hands-free innovation for both the bathroom space, but also other high traffic spaces where there is an increased risk of cross-contamination.   

2. Antimicrobial coatings:

In addition to hands-free technology, the Coronavirus pandemic has spurred an interest in antimicrobial coatings. At Initial, we’ve been using silver-ion technology in our Signature dispensers since 2015, but according to a new report from Lux Research “COVID-19 has driven substantial interest in antimicrobial coatings this year and is proving to be a catalyst for antimicrobial research and funding. We expect this interest to spike even further before the end of 2020 and be a trend of continued interest in the materials and coatings industry.”  

Major manufacturers like Ford Motor Company are talking about incorporating these types of coatings into their products, while start-ups like HeiQ bring out new antimicrobial coatings for applications like textiles. Singapore Airlines have applied self-disinfecting coatings in their plane toilets, as well as on overhead storage compartments, in an effort to encourage more passengers.

Airplane companies are applying self-disinfecting coatings to airplane cabins for hygiene and covid-19 protection. Find out more hygiene trends to watch for in 2021

Lux Research expects major growth of antimicrobial coatings within the transportation and medical industries, as well as deployment in public spaces. Over the next two years, more opportunities will emerge within the apparel, food, and packaging markets, while in the longer term, automotive and other consumer product companies will adopt them.

3. Air purification:

How COVID-19 actually spreads has been a hot topic of conversation for much of 2020, with the WHO originally ruling out airborne transmission. (Airborne transmission, in a public health setting, is used to describe infections capable of being transmitted through exposure to infectious, pathogen-containing, small droplets and particles suspended in the air over long distances and that persist in the air for long times.)

The importance of Air Purification to maintain good air quality during Covid-19 - is the indoor air quality safe? Find out about the Viruskiller Air Purification range from Rentokil Initial to protect your indoor air

However, the WHO has since changed their stance and in July published an update to their original brief entitled Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions. They state that “Aerosol transmission can occur in specific settings, particularly in indoor, crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces, where infected person(s) spend long periods of time with others”.

The Spanish news site, El Pais, published an excellent piece entitled “A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air” in which they use scientific modelling to show how the risk of contagion is highest in indoor spaces

We believe that in light of this, an emerging trend for 2021 has to be the increased use of air purification for enclosed spaces such as offices, in order to break the chain of transmission. And research conducted by Opinium LLP for Rentokil Initial in November 2020 sampling adults in the UK supports this, with 75% of people agreeing that they can easily wash or sanitise their hands to protect against contaminated surfaces, but they can’t protect themselves from breathing in contaminated air. Find out more about air hygiene in our downloadable whitepaper.

Download Air Hygiene Whitepaper

64% of people surveyed said that they are more concerned about air quality in the indoor environments that they were prior to the pandemic, and 59% believe air purification systems should be mandatory in public buildings and educational facilities.

Air purifiers have been around for a while and are available in various sizes and descriptions. They typically use a HEPA filter to filter out particles from the air, including microorganisms. However, they aren’t always completely efficient at filtering out small viruses and they don’t ‘kill’ or deactivate the virus outright.  

Viruskiller Air Purification range from Rentokil Initial

Rentokil Initial is currently working on a solution to this, by launching the Viruskiller Air purification range. Featuring cutting edge technology and medical-grade filtration systems, the Viruskiller range is a unique solution to clearing Coronavirus from the air.

Find out more about the Viruskiller Air Purifier here, on the Rentokil UK website

Be sure to subscribe to the blog for updates on when this technology will be available in South Africa. You may also be interested in reading: Improving indoor air quality in South Africa, or some of our other blogs on air quality.


Whatever 2021 holds, Initial is here for you and will take care of all your hygiene requirements. Our blog team is committed to keeping you up to date with all the latest hygiene trends, breaking news and the latest research. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that you don’t miss an update, or follow us on Facebook.  

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at www.initial.co.za. Life outside of Rentokil mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned eleven, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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