The Benefits of Hands-Free Products

You can’t stop coughing. Your body aches. You have no energy. With wintry weather upon us, it’s that time of year again – but with a hellish update. Is this a cold or flu? Or is it Covid? You start scrolling through your favorite online health sources for the answer.

You don’t want to spread your germs around the house either way; being sick is a serious bummer, but as any single parent can tell you, having to be a caregiver when you’re miserably sick is a bigger bummer, and being sick during long-anticipated time off from work might be the biggest bummer of all.

Powerful, ozone-free air purifiers can help with improving your home’s indoor air quality and not infecting other household members. So can reducing the number of shared surfaces in your home – and there are so many of them – since cold and flu viruses can live on plastic, metal and other common household materials for hours and days between wipe downs.

Hands-free faucets can reduce germ spread in shared bathrooms. \\\ Brizo; Photographer: Gary Sparks Photography, Inc. \\\ Wellness by Design (Tiller Press), © J. Gold

Easy Hands-Free Replacements

There are many home products you can replace with hands-free models. Some are simple, do-it-yourself projects for someone with handy person skills. Others are more involved and would better fit into a wellness design remodel. Since you’re probably not motivated to have a slew of tradespeople in your home right now, here are a few DIY-friendly, hands-free projects you can tackle (or ask your partner to tackle if he or she lives in your household or pod).

  • Light switches can be replaced with hands-free models fairly easily and quickly. They operate with a wave of your hands and can eliminate one of the most frequently touched surfaces in a high traffic part of your home.
  • Faucets can also be replaced with hands-free models. There are versions made for kitchens and others designed for bathrooms. If you have two or more kids sharing a bathroom, this can be an ideal swap. Don’t worry about your bathroom looking like a public restroom either; styles have come a long way in the past few years.

Sensor vent fans reduce mold, mildew and germ spread by operating without touch. \\\ Broan-NuTone, LLC \\\ New Bathroom Idea Book (Taunton Press), J. Gold

  • Changing out a standard vent fan for a sensor model is another project you may be able to achieve on your own with some skill. It will cycle on and off based on the moisture in your bathroom, rather than having to be switched on and off. This offers the added benefit of avoiding mold and mildew problems.
  • Here’s a replacement with no installation required at all: Switch out your soap dispenser for a hands-free model. Add one to all shared sink areas, from kitchen to powder room to your primary bathroom if you share it with a partner.

Smart technology switches the vent hood on at the right time and level to defeat cooking odors and smoke. \\\ Photo: Signature Kitchen Suite

Appliances and Fixtures

While many appliances are replaced only during remodels, dishwashers and freestanding appliances are often done on their own.

  • Dishwashers are pretty much all 24-inches wide, making them a fairly simple appliance to replace. At least one manufacturer has created a hands-free opening model. Others may follow, as there are several built-in refrigerators that have this feature already.
  • Some of the free-standing refrigerators on the market are now offering hands-free through-the-door water dispensers. That’s more of a convenience than a germ reducer if everyone in the household is using the handles to get other items out, but it does help a bit.
  • There are some newer kitchen vent fans that operate in conjunction with the range or cooktop below. When there’s a pot or pan on the burner generating smoke, steam or odors, the hood will get an electronic signal that it needs to turn on and adjust itself to the right level. This is a benefit not just for reducing a shared touchpoint, but for improving your kitchen’s indoor air quality overall.

Smart shower systems add convenience and hands-free operation to your daily routine. \\\ Photo: Moen Incorporated

Smart Home Technology

Voice control has become a strong trend in the smart home technology sphere, and it can be extremely helpful in several ways. Reducing infection through eliminating surface contacts is definitely one of them. Creating security, convenience and accessibility are additional benefits, particularly for those with physical challenges.

  • Some shower systems can be controlled by smart phone apps and/or voice control. This can be a time saver if you share a bathroom with someone; you program your preferred settings for spray mode and temperature and don’t have to fiddle with the handle until you get it right.
  • Window coverings can be controlled by voice or app, which can make reaching that shade above your soaking tub easier to close before you undress, and automate them for your plants and home security while you’re away.

Circadian lighting systems take hands-free technology to the next level by supporting healthy sleep cycles. \\\ Service Tech, Inc./CEDIA member company \\\ Wellness by Design (Tiller Press), © J. Gold

  • Lighting can be automated not just for reducing touchpoints, but for improving your sleep with circadian cycling.

Final Thoughts

There are many other design elements that can be replaced with hands-free versions, like cabinetry that opens with touch latches or electronic mechanisms instead of knobs, grooves or pulls. There are also entry door systems being developed for residential use that will operate without keys or germy touchpads. These all have the potential to enhance wellness, though you should always research their pros and cons before being swayed by the sexiness of any smart home systems.

Author: Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach, wellness design consultant and the author of three books on design and remodeling. The latest, Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness, (Tiller Press) published September 1.