Proper Disinfection in the Restroom
By Kassandra Kania
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Public restrooms are breeding grounds for bacteria and sources for cross-contamination. As such, disinfecting these spaces should be a priority for building service contractors (BSCs) and housekeeping departments. But when it comes to using the correct disinfecting procedures, janitors often miss the mark. Some blame time constraints while others cite misconceptions about disinfection methods.
Regardless of the cause, distributors can play an important role in educating and training customers to ensure that restrooms are properly disinfected.
Todd Stefano, general manager of Henderson Chemical Co., in Macon, Ga., emphasizes that customers need to understand the importance of disinfecting restrooms on a regular basis to prevent the spread of illness.
“We seem to be more susceptible [to germs] today,” he says. “There are so many people in confined areas with colds and flu. When people are sick you’ve got lost productivity, and when sick kids are absent from school the school systems are not being reimbursed by the state. The list goes on.”
Distributors find that customers are often confused about what to disinfect in restrooms and how to go about it. Following are four of the most common restroom disinfection errors janitors make and how best to correct them.
According to Mike Glass, president of M.D. Stetson Co. in Randolph, Mass., many custodians tend to mistakenly think that more is better.
“At the end of the day, if you truly want to disinfect there’s no reason to disinfect surfaces that people don’t touch,” he says.
Areas that fall into this category include toilet bowls and restroom floors.
“One of the biggest over-disinfected areas is the floors,” says Glass. “All it does is create problems because quaternary disinfectants have a residual that makes floors sticky and darkens them.”
Instead, distributors advise customers to focus on high-touch surfaces, such as flush levers, faucets, and partition and entrance door handles. These items have the greatest potential for cross-contamination and spreading disease.
“Door handles, whether inside or outside the restroom, should be disinfected every chance you get,” says Denise Neff, director of facility supply sales and marketing for Pennsylvania Paper and Supply Co. in Scranton, Pa. “And something very simple that people often forget to disinfect is the push lever on the soap and paper towel dispensers.”
2. INSUFFICIENT DWELL TIME.
Most disinfectants require a 10-minute dwell time. But too often custodians are in a hurry to get the job done and don’t follow manufacturers’ directions.
“More often than not we see the spray-and-wipe method being used,” says Stefano. “If that’s the case you might as well use glass cleaner. I would highly recommend that no matter what product or procedure you use, put enough product on the surface and follow the directions for dwell time. If you do these two things, you’ll solve most of your problems.”
Cleaning departments and BSCs often aren’t workloading their facilities properly. Not enough time or staff is allocated for the necessary procedures.
“In this world of speed cleaning and everybody trying to cut time down and increase productivity, if you want to properly disinfect a restroom you’ve got to slow down,” says Stefano. “You can’t disinfect a bathroom in 15 seconds. Take your time and do it right.”
When customers are pressed for time, Neff trains them to multi-task in order to ensure that surfaces stay wet for the required dwell time.
“We tell them to spray all their surfaces and let them sit while they’re doing other tasks like sweeping the floors and cleaning inside the commode,” she explains. “Then they can go back and wipe everything.”
3. WRONG PRODUCT, WRONG APPLICATION.
Regardless of new technologies and products, distributors still encounter customers who are stuck in the past.
“We’re trying to change a mindset,” says Stefano. “We’re trying to change people from using (pine oil-based disinfectants) and straight bleach that have been around forever to new disinfectants with enzymes, restroom cleaning machines and microfiber.”
In addition, many custodians still apply disinfectant by spraying and wiping the surface — an ineffective technique that can also have a negative impact on people’s health and the environment.
Stefano suggests that customers use dispensing systems, such as foam guns and pump-up sprayers, to take the guesswork out of mixing and applying disinfectant.
“More times than not your restroom issues are procedural issues,” he says. “A lot of people are still spraying and wiping, and the trigger sprayer method just doesn’t cut it anymore. Anytime we’ve walked in and addressed problems it’s been a result of using a quart bottle of something that’s not even mixed properly, or a mop bucket and ringer using some concoction of cleaner.”
If using a spray bottle, Glass recommends spraying disinfectant on a cloth rather than directly onto the surface.
“There have been a lot of issues with people respirating quaternary disinfectants, and a lot of studies link them to asthma and
other autoimmune deficiency problems,” he says. “So the proper way to do it is to use a cloth or paper towel, and then apply that to the surface as opposed to misting it into the air.”
Some custodians also make the mistake of using the same tool to clean different surfaces, thereby increasing the chances of cross-contamination.
“Janitors shouldn’t take a cleaning tool from one area to another, whether it’s a cloth, a towel or a mop,” says Glass.
4. NOT DISINFECTING OFTEN ENOUGH.
The type of facility and amount of traffic in the restroom usually dictates how often that restroom is cleaned. Restrooms should be disinfected throughout the day, but distributors admit that, in general, restrooms are not being disinfected on a regular basis.
“How often you disinfect is based on the time allotted and the amount of traffic?” Neff asks. “Nine times out of 10 people are disinfecting with perfect dwell time about once a day.”
However, even frequent disinfection is no guarantee of a germ-free restroom.
“There are studies showing that as soon as you disinfect the surface and it dries, it’s full of bacteria again,” says Glass. “The reality is if you’re not disinfecting constantly, there’s always going to be germs there. For instance, if you disinfect a doorknob, and someone with a cold who is coughing into their hand comes by and touches it, it’s immediately infected.”
But, the more janitors can disinfect — and do it properly — the less chance of cross-contamination for the public.
5. POOR HAND HYGIENE.
Even when restrooms are properly disinfected, janitors’ efforts are wasted if people don’t wash their hands. Good hand-washing protocols are a must if restroom disinfection programs are to be successful.
“Most people don’t wash their hands when they leave the bathroom,” says Denise Neff, director of facility supply sales and marketing for Pennsylvania Paper and Supply Co. in Scranton, Pa. “So after they’ve done their business, what are they touching as they leave? They’re touching the door to open it. And then the next person who does wash their hands is grabbing the germs and residue left behind from the person who did not wash their hands. So all your hand washing was for naught. If you want the disinfectant to work, you have to wash your hands.”
To encourage hand washing, janitors should ensure towel and soap dispensers are stocked. Signage can also help encourage users to wash their hands before leaving — and wash them for the recommended 15 seconds. Placing hand sanitizer dispensers near the exit can also be a final reminder for restroom visitors to clean their hands.
Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.