Foul-smelling restrooms are a frequent source of complaints from building occupants — and a challenge for custodians charged with controlling odors and keeping restrooms clean and fragrant. Continual use makes controlling odors difficult, and masking malodors often intensifies the problem. To rid restrooms of offensive smells, custodial departments need to eliminate the cause of the odor — namely uric acid — and this is where traditional cleaners often fall short, say distributors, who instead stress the use of enzyme cleaners when controlling odors.

“Typically, in restrooms, the biggest issue is the smell of urine,” says Jim Flieler, vice president of sales at Swish Maintenance Ltd. in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. “Often, urine splashes to floors and gets into the grout, causing a uric acid odor that’s offensive. Once it embeds itself in grout, traditional cleaners cannot get rid of that smell, and it doesn’t help that most restrooms have poor air filtration.”

While the majority of custodial departments still favor all-purpose cleaners for restrooms, some are beginning to introduce enzyme-based cleaners into their cleaning regimens to remove or control odor causing bacteria, particularly in hard-to-reach porous surfaces.

Anthony Crisafulli, owner of Atra Janitorial Supply in Pompton Plains, N.J., has had tremendous success selling enzyme cleaners, specifically in K-12 school districts.

“In any facility, not just schools, the chief complaint is the odor coming out of the bathrooms,” he says. “If you can control odors, people aren’t going to complain as much if the bathroom’s a bit dirty. It’s the odors that kick up those complaints so quickly.”

An Introduction to Enzyme Cleaners

To understand how enzyme cleaners — also known as bio-enzymatic cleaners — can be advantageous in restroom cleaning, custodial managers need to first understand what they are and how they work.

In essence, enzymes are chemicals made by bacteria to digest waste. Enzyme-based cleaners contain enzyme systems that break up waste molecules, which are then digested by the bacteria and converted into carbon dioxide and water. The waste that generates foul odors in the restroom serves as food for the microorganisms.

According to Eric Cadell, vice president of operations for Dutch Hollow Supplies, Belleville, Ill., there are two types of enzymatic cleaners: those that contain surfactants and those that don’t.

“In both cases, the enzymes are kept dormant until they come into contact with the food source,” Cadell explains. “That food source is going to be body fats, oils and uric acids. Typically the enzymes are mixed with water, which awakens them, and they immediately start looking for that food source. If they can’t find that food source, the enzymes will die.”

Because the enzymes remain active as long as the food source is present, they are most often used on restroom floors, around and below toilets and urinals, in drains and in grout lines.

“Most floors in restrooms are grouted ceramic tile,” says Crisafulli. “Many custodians are trained to mop and clean their floors with general purpose cleaner, but that doesn’t get into the grout lines and clean the subsurface. We know that urine penetrates into those grout lines, and general surface type cleaners just don’t clean that deeply.”

When choosing an enzyme-based cleaner, custodial managers should keep in mind that not all enzymes are created equal. Manufacturers have developed different strains to target specific types of organic waste.

“There are so many different kinds of enzymes, so managers want to make sure that the one they purchase is designed for what the staff is trying to clean,” cautions Cadell. “Enzymes designed for a drain line in a kitchen, for example, go after oils and fat, so that same product won’t work in a restroom because it doesn’t eat uric salt.”

Although enzymatic cleaners designed for restrooms are most commonly used on floors, they can also serve as general-purpose cleaners for high touch points, such as mirrors, faucets and door handles.

“Part of our goal is to help departments reduce the amount of different chemicals used when cleaning restrooms,” says Crisafulli. “By using microfiber technology and enzymatic cleaning products, the custodial staff can clean an entire restroom with just one product — although we still recommend disinfecting touch points.”

KASSANDRA KANIA is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.

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Performance, Green Benefits Of Enzymatic Cleaners