restroom stalls

Every building, and often specific spaces within every building, have a scent or a combination of scents. Retail stores, kitchens and cafeterias, gymnasiums, hotel lobbies and hotel rooms, hospitals, office suites, movie theaters, beauty salons, and of course, restrooms. Each space or facility just mentioned most likely brought a scent to mind; but why does this cacophony of scents matter to building service contractors (BSCs)? Because what a place smells like is an important aspect of reinforcing both the perception and the reality of cleanliness. Clean facilities are appealing to building occupants. 

“The way a place smells can hugely influence how clean we think it is,” agrees Alex Knyazev, general manager, Star Building Services LLC, Portland.Oregon. “When a room smells good, we tend to think it's cleaner. Especially in the retail sector, such as hotels, airports, casinos, that all use professional air freshener systems.” 

So, what smells good (and clean) these days, and what do building owners want their facilities to smell like?  

Much like clothing, hairstyles, and music, trends in scents come and go. For decades, fruity and floral scents were the expected scents for cleaning solutions and air fresheners. Cherry, lemon, and pine were standard choices. Then, about a decade ago, heavy musks and spices became popular, but those selections came and went quickly. 

And today? 

“Yes, these preferences have evolved over time.” Knyazev affirms. “Recently, there's been a big push for scents that just smell 'clean.' Citrus is also a favorite. I've also noticed a blend of scents is more popular than just one standout smell.” 

Although he agrees that there is a precedent for cleaning products and air fresheners to have distinctive scents to impart that sense of cleanliness, “from what I've seen over the last number of years, the trend is towards no fragrance,” reports Paul Goldin, senior vice president for customer experience and strategic integration, Bee-Clean Building Maintenance, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “Traditionally and historically in our business, there was always a perception that if you walked into, for example, a public restroom, and there was a lemon or a pine smell, you were comfortable that it was clean.” 

Goldin adds that when he worked previously on the manufacturing side of building maintenance, “the majority of our sales of cleaning chemicals were of scent-free products; for sustainability purposes, for indoor air quality purposes.” Adding with a laugh that this could be “a Canadian thing,” he explained, “In certain pockets of the country — here in Atlantic Canada anyway — for at least 15 years we have seen a push for scent-free products because of allergens and different things like that.” 

Cleaning Before Scents 

Knyazev and Goldin agree that before any scents are added to a space, it is important to ensure the space is clean and sources of unpleasant odors are eliminated. The goal is not to mask bad smells with fragrance, but instead to eradicate the odors themselves.  

“We use technologies that remove the odors,” says Goldin. “There are a lot of technologies, like microbial or biological type products, that attack what causes the odors and eat and digest them. We focus much more on eliminating the source of the odor or the odor itself than simply masking it.” 

There exists a wide range of commercial cleaning products formulated to break down and destroy odor-causing bacteria. Products are available for different areas and surfaces in a facility, including soft surfaces such as carpets and upholstered furniture, hard surfaces —specifically in food-preparation areas and restrooms — and places where moisture or organic matter may exist, such as locker/shower rooms and trash receptacles. Some cleaning products are developed to do double duty; they eliminate the sources of bad odors and also add a pleasant aroma to the area that has been cleaned.   

BSCs should talk with their clients to understand clients' preferences for scents left behind after cleaning is complete. Do they expect a basic disinfectant smell, a faint but pleasantly clean flowery or citrus scent, or perhaps something strong and sweet or woody that boldly announces that the area has been cleaned and refreshed? Or, as Goldin indicated, perhaps they prefer no scent at all to linger. Noting each customer's preferences will enable BSCs to select and explain to the customer what products they will be using and how those products will meet the customer's choices. 

When Scent is Requested 

Some customers will expect and request that scents be added after cleaning is complete. And although it's a popular and enduring choice, not all customers ask for a citrus fragrance when requesting air freshening scents.  

“Different places prefer different smells,” says Knyazev. “For example, retail spots might want something fresh, healthcare areas go for neutral smells, and spas would lean towards relaxing fragrances.” 

Knyazev adds that adding those scents is not happening solely in the restroom — a space notorious for requiring focused attention to removing bad odors and freshening the air. 

“Beyond restrooms, we also use scents in entrance areas, offices, meeting spaces, and retail areas. It's all about setting the right atmosphere. Even more important is that the scent is pleasant and subtle, not overpowering,” he says. 

Acknowledging that scents are a powerful driver of the perception not only of a facility's cleanliness, but  they also influence building occupants' comfort, mood, and energy levels, scent marketing strategies have emerged as another tool in a building owner's — and also a BSC's — toolbox.  

Scent marketing is about branding, image, and customer/building occupant experiences, using strategically chosen (and sometimes proprietary) fragrances diffused at customer touchpoints. The right fragrance and strategy can communicate a clear, likable brand identity and increase sales and brand loyalty by creating unique customer experiences. 

“A few clients have asked about using a unique scent for their brand,” confirms Knyazev . “It's an interesting idea, and we work with experts to make it happen when needed.” 

BSCs can assist customers who may be interested in exploring scent marketing, offering ways to add selected scents to spaces once cleaning is complete.  

Goldin sees a variety of different ways that BSCs can add fragrances. “A lot of it can be built into the cleaning product itself,” he says. “Lemon-scented floor cleaner, lavender-scented bathroom cleaner, whatever the case may be. Then there are automatic spraying devices that spray fragrance. Plug-in blocks that emit a fragrance. There are many different technologies that BSCs can offer that provide a fragrance.” 

To add scents to a space, Knyazev explains, “we mostly use automated dispensers because they're consistent. But we also have sprays for a quick fix and blocks for restrooms.” 

BSCs may also receive requests to change added scents according to the time of year. 

“Some places do like to change things up seasonally," adds Knyazev. “In summer, lighter smells like floral or citrus are a hit. Come winter, we get requests for warmer, woodsy types.” 

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Potential Benefits of Scent-Free Products