Acceptance from building occupants and custodial workers that exhibit pride in their work is something every manager strives for. Believe it or not, that is exactly what Mitch Birchfield, director of Environmental Services at Seattle Children's Hospital, has achieved.

Birchfield understands that urinals can get pretty dirty from what's left behind after young boys' "target practice." He has also embraced a cleaning method that attacks those problem areas in this major health care facility, which has been met with much approval: steam.

Birchfield has implemented an interval cleaning program at the hospital, which works well and has a number of benefits. First, it instills confidence in the visitors to the hospital that someone is cleaning the restrooms regularly and second, it makes the custodial staff accountable and gives a sense of pride in their work.

"If you don't have a strategy, everything quickly can spin out of control and all of a sudden you're dealing with more complaints than you're able to handle," he explains.

The steam treatments serve as a weekly remedy for target areas of 10 to 12 high-traffic restrooms. Birchfield and his staff target specific areas in the restroom, including behind urinals, commodes and in corners. He raves about the difference in the cleanliness of those areas, as well as the ability to maintain the grout and other details.

"The look on the restroom is remarkable," says Birchfield. "It is just transformed."

When water is hotter than 225 degrees, it will kill any living organism, but leave nothing behind but pure water. This is the key to steam vapor technology. Not only is it effective, but it is also a greener option to cleaning these trouble areas. The fact that these steam machines don't require any chemical cleaning solution helps with the strong odors associated with disinfectants, as well as provides a safer environment for staff and visitors alike, which both parties appreciate.

A self-contained device, the steam vapor cart can be wheeled directly into the restroom and left there during the entire cleaning process. A large benefit, Birchfield explains, is that the machine doesn't have to be shut down once it reaches a certain temperature, as has been the case with past models.

"One of the most frustrating things in the predecessors was the fact that it was difficult in an operational environment like a hospital to be cooling off the vapor machine for 15 minutes before being able to add more water," he says. Users can add water at any time, and not have to stop the machine, interrupting the cleaning process.

As is the case with any piece of equipment, training is especially important when working with steam. Birchfield notes that "steam burn is something you don't want to have." All custodial staff at the children's hospital is taught how to properly use the machine and its accessories.

In a busy hospital environment, deep cleaning public restrooms is a must. With up to 500 people a day visiting any one restroom, or more during a high-census period, Birchfield believes the steam vapor technology is the right tool for the job and it is getting audience approval.

Implementing a steam machine for cleaning restrooms will save custodial staffs both time and money. Although not all facilities have incorporated equipment into restroom cleaning, many are finding that this technology improves cleanliness, sanitation, green cleaning and has won over building occupants.

Jennifer Bradley is a freelance writer based in East Troy, Wis.