Restroom Management Meets The Modern Age

Take note of several developments aimed at making commercial restroom cleaning more effective.

By Mark Warner
From the August 2017 Issue

With the imminent danger of infectious diseases and contagious illnesses, people are far more critical of the cleanliness of a building than in the past. The fact of the matter is that the cleanliness of a floor or carpet as well as the conditions of a commercial restroom are the primary influencers related to a building occupant’s or visitor’s perception of cleanliness. In fact, many people will develop their perception of a restaurant kitchen solely on the cleanliness of that restaurant’s restroom, but this concept isn’t limited to restaurants. There are many studies related to the impact cleanliness has on employee performance, student performance, and worker absenteeism, as well as the effect it has on visitor’s buying behaviors and their desire to return to a business or establishment.

restroom cleaning
(Photo: Thinkstock/Photodisc)

Restroom cleanliness and restroom management are areas that have seen some innovative products introduced in recent years. These have led to an elevated standard and higher expectations related to comfort and convenience.

Keep Supplies In Stock

Since the number one complaint related to restrooms is the lack of supplies, we’ll discuss that first. Obviously, a lack of hand towels creates an inconvenience. In addition, a lack of hand soap can be dangerous and lead to illnesses. However, it goes without saying that a lack of toilet paper is the worst. This is up there on the scale as almost life threatening!

There are now several companies that offer technologies that will notify facility managers of the need to refill restroom dispensers. This is based on sensor units in the dispensers, which will send a message to facility management using text messaging, e-mail notification, or a website-based monitoring program. Since out of stock supplies is one of the biggest sources of complaints, this new technology can eliminate this concern and offer an ideal solution to spec into a new building or a restroom remodeling initiative.

Combatting Restroom Odors

Odor control is another major cause of complaint in restrooms. There are several ways to approach this problem. There are three primary types of wall-mounted units that can address the odors: odor maskers, odor destroyers, and odor distorters.

Years ago, formaldehyde was used in many odor counteractants. These worked by desensitizing the olfactory nerves in the human nose, thus no existing odors were detected. There is a whole host of reasons that this ingredient was removed from modern odor counteractants, not the least of which would have to be the potential negative impact on the human body itself. Good riddance.

Odor maskers work by delivering a perfume fragrance into the area. This is an ancient approach, and not very effective, since the human nose has the ability to detect both the airborne fragrances and the odor itself as independent scents.

Odor destroyers are things like ozone and hypochlorous acid. These are made up of relatively unstable molecules that will seek out airborne organic odor molecules, attach themselves to them, and literally destroy them through a form of corrosion.

The way ozone works can be witnessed after a lightning storm. The lightning burns the air, which produces ozone. As a result, it eliminates airborne organic odor molecules outdoors, and the air smells fresh after the storm passes.

Ozone has a distinct odor. Copiers make ozone when the high intensity bulb flashes to capture the image on the paper being copied. Anyone standing close to a copying machine while it is working would recognize that distinct smell that an operating copier makes.

But, ozone has some limitations. In very high concentrations, it is considered an air pollutant, and some cities monitor it very closely, primarily because it has the ability to cause respiratory distress in some people. As a result, its use in a building must be carefully scrutinized and monitored.

Odor distorters are among the most modern approaches. These products have a distinct fragrance. They work by combining with airborne odor molecules to create a new molecule and a new fragrance, very different from the original fragrance in the product and very different from the original malodor. The new, combined fragrance is programmed to be pleasant, yet still somewhat unidentifiable.

The most critical location for odor counteractant wall cabinets is above or near the main door. This allows the odor counteractant to make an immediate impression on the person entering, rather than expose them to the malodors immediately upon entering.

The units create an invisible odor barrier, which will prevent the escape of the odors into the hallway, while creating an invisible “cloud” of pleasant, treated air for the person entering the restroom. As many of us have seen when walking through visible fog or smoke, our body’s movement will cause the air to be pulled along with us. The same is true for the invisible blanket of treated air that envelops the air space around the door.

In large restrooms, secondary and tertiary cabinets can be placed at the midpoint and at the end of the room, but the most critical unit is the unit above or near the main door. Since odor counteractant wall-mounted cabinets are quite ubiquitous, spec writers may want to consider incorporating the attractive style and appropriate location into construction specs when building or remodeling. That would allow for proper locations to be identified, as well as creating some consistency for the look of the restroom interior.

Surface Cleaning Impacts

Of course, the best way to treat malodors in bathrooms is by eliminating the source of the odors. Often, public bathrooms can develop a persistent smell of urine or fecal matter. Generally, this is caused by ineffective cleaning. Let me clarify that statement. If the restroom surfaces (floors and above the floor surfaces) are disinfected every day, there is still an opportunity for odor-causing bacteria to be present.

This is because urine and other body fluids can penetrate into the floor, either through the floor grout, or even through floor surfaces that are not adequately sealed. These odor-causing bacteria are now residing (and even colonizing) at a sub-surface level. Disinfectants, by their very nature, are a surface treatment. Therefore, disinfectant cleaners are about as useful in eliminating sub-surface bacteria as spraying an outside wall surface with a disinfectant, expecting it to kill mold that may exist inside the wall itself. It just doesn’t work that way, and most building operators certainly understand this.

The big question then becomes, “What do we use to combat this sub-surface odor-causing bacteria if disinfectants are ineffective?” The answer lies in new bacteriological and bio-enzymatic chemicals that contain specialized “friendly” bacteria and enzymes. By treating a floor with these pleasant smelling bacteriological or bio-enzymatic products, and allowing them to penetrate into the floor itself, the product treats the sub-surface odor-causing bacteria and eliminates the odor. It does this by feeding on the food sources and moisture that are allowing the odor-causing bacteria to thrive. Ultimately, the “good” bacteria will feed on the food source, and literally displace the “bad” odor-causing bacteria.

Think of it as eliminating the food and starving the odor-causing bacteria. Anyone that remembers enzymatic treatments for contact lenses knows how bacteria-based enzymes can actually be used to clean the surface of the lens. For floors, the technique requires heavily wetting the floor area, then allowing it to stay wet as long as possible. This allows the “good” bacteria to grab a foothold and thrive. If this procedure is done once a week, or even once a month, urine odors in restrooms can be completely eliminated.

Progressive and proactive facility managers may want to consider writing specs for restroom floors that do not include grouted floors. That would eliminate the persistent problems related to subsurface bacteria in floors. A consideration may be chemical resistant, seamless epoxy floors, or some other non-porous floor covering.

Restroom management has come a long way in recent years, now incorporating many different technologies, from sensors that communicate with mobile devices, to incorporation of aerodynamic and physiological sciences, to modern organic chemistry and the study of matter at the molecular level. This has taken facility management into an era where restroom cleanliness is paramount, yet achievable, and restrooms are more convenient and healthier than ever. Isn’t that a breath of fresh air? N

restroom cleaningWarner is the senior training specialist for ISSA’s Cleaning Management Institute. In the cleaning industry for over 30 years, he is a past member of the ISSA Board of Directors. Warner has been involved with consulting and training for numerous organizations, as well as in the development of cleaning standards.

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