Many people are members of health clubs, gyms or community centers. These are the types of facilities where patrons must travel through the restroom or locker room area each time they visit the building. Yet, these facilities also seem to have the toughest time keeping up with the cleaning necessary to give the right impression in this critical area. If not for the lengthy contracts and hefty early termination fees these clubs impose on their members, patrons might decide to exercise elsewhere on the basis of restroom condition alone.

Restrooms are the building service contract industry’s main complaint center, and foul-smelling restrooms can easily cost BSCs an account.

But, a little understanding of how odors develop and ways to remove them is all that is necessary to keep clients happy and probably save an account or two. Without proper removal, mold, mildew, fungus and bacterial growth will continue to bring back foul odors.

Inadequate ventilation is one of the major causes of restroom odors. Excessive moisture in the air promotes micro-organism growth. Poor ventilation then can turn these culprits into an odor problem.

Correct this by opening restroom windows whenever possible. If there is a ventilation fan, use it.

Many times, poor ventilation is the result of dirty vents that block air-flow. Clean them on a regular basis to avoid this problem.

If BSCs have tried to remove restroom odor but find it still is a problem, they simply need to look up. Going hand-in-hand with poor ventilation is the ceiling where there is an odor center many people are unaware of. Bacteria, mixed with humidity and exacerbated by poor ventilation, can coat restroom ceilings. Cleaning the ceiling with a disinfectant once or twice a year could take care of the problem.

And, few people realize that every time someone flushes a toilet or a urinal, an odor problem is born. That’s right — studies at the University of Arizona show that when a toilet or urinal is flushed, a mist emanates from the fixture coating surrounding partitions, walls, and floor. This mist contains bacteria-laden water droplets. As they collect on surfaces, they create an odor. To prevent this, regularly spray and wipe all areas surrounding toilets and urinals with a disinfectant cleaner.

Do not use an all-purpose cleaner in restrooms. Since contractors use these chemicals for other cleaning duties, it is easy just to carry them into the restroom and use them there as well. However, most all-purpose cleaners are not disinfectants, and a disinfectant (often called a germicidal cleaner) is what is required to kill the bacteria and other micro-organisms that cause restroom odors.

Properly cleaning walls, floors, partitions and areas surrounding toilets is important to prevent unpleasant aromas, but don’t overlook an equally important odor breeding ground that is often missed — the base of the toilet, where it is affixed to the floor. At installation, building contractors caulk around the toilet to further secure it to the floor. With time, this caulking becomes dirty and even starts to disintegrate. It then becomes a happy home for dirt, bacteria, mold, mildew and dirty mop water — all odor causers. Regularly spray this area with a disinfectant cleaner to keep it clean and smelling pleasant.

Sometimes a cleaning tool other than a disinfectant cleaner is necessary to combat restroom odors. Chlorine bleach works especially well to kill mildew and odor-causing bacteria. Bleach works best on ceramic tiles and bathroom fixtures such as sinks, toilets, and counters. Do not use it on bare walls and always follow the precautions on the label.

Never mix bleach with ammonia, or, for that matter, most any other cleaning chemical. Always dilute it with water and use it only in well-ventilated areas. Some bleach manufacturers now include a disinfectant in the formula as well, giving you even more odor-killing power in one bottle.

Mix it with water — about 1 cup to a gallon of water — and apply to problem areas with a sprayer. Allow the bleach to “dwell” on the surface for a few minutes to give it time to kill odor-causing germs and mildew. Rinse with clean water and wipe dry.

Allowing a cleaner, bleach or disinfectant, to “dwell” on a surface is very important. It usually takes a couple of minutes for the cleaning and sanitizing agents in disinfectants or bleach to do their deed. As part of a restroom cleaning routine, it is a good idea to mist all fixtures and areas to be cleaned first, just enough so that they do not drip and damage floor areas, and then go back and wipe in an assembly line fashion.

If you’ve looked up to pinpoint the odor-causing offender but are still unable to eliminate a foul aroma, look down. An unexpected place for odors to hide is in floor drains. Many commercial restrooms have a floor drain to catch toilet overflows. In time, these drains can be odor breeding grounds. Here, bleach comes to the rescue once again. Mix a half-cup of bleach with a half-cup of water and pour it down the drain each month or more frequently as needed. Many suppliers offer a variety of enzyme-based drain cleaners and other products that also can be effective.

A final odor culprit may be your cleaning tools and the way they are stored. Because a well-equipped cleaning supply closet needs a sink and waterspouts, architects often place them in restrooms. Unkempt supply closets become a major source of odors. Keep any such closets clean, neat and sanitized. Air-dry mops and rinse out mop buckets. Mix cleaning chemicals in the sink and not over the closet’s floor where they can drip, dry, and foul the air.

Another very important reason for keeping a janitor’s closet tidy is how it reflects on us. Our customers judge us by how we maintain these storage areas. Often, when touring a facility with a prospect looking for a new janitorial contractor, the final leg of the tour is showing the unkempt, foul-air closet of the current service provider. For some customers, this sight supercedes the restroom problems as their main reason for hiring a new contractor.

Robert Kravitz, a 30-year veteran of the janitorial industry, works now as Web content manager of the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA). He has authored four books on the industry, written for several magazines, lectures frequently on Web content and technology as well as janitorial issues.