Woman holding nose

Today, experts agree that no one fragrance proves cleanliness. In fact, if cleanliness were to have a smell, many argue it would be no smell at all.

In the experience of Mike Sawchuk, president of Sawchuk Consulting, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, the general public perceives a place that smells clean to be clean, and they also put more value on the fragrance of clean than the look of clean. Sawchuk, who opened his consulting firm in 2018 following years of work in the cleaning industry, proves his point when he references a time where he visited a school that would trigger spray with bleach after cleaning — just to make the place smell like it was clean.

“We should not be cleaning for smell or appearance, we should be cleaning for health,” he says.

Yes, the focus of cleaning should be on health, but that doesn’t mean a good scent can’t be treated as an asset. When a malodor exists, the most important thing is to identify and remove the sources. However, steps taken after the removal are important, too. A good fragrance can eliminate the odor remaining in the air after the problem is removed from the surface or, as is often the case in restrooms, flushed away.

While fragrances can help retain customers by destroying nasty odors, they can also entice visitors by creating an atmosphere that is more inviting. Think about it: the smell of a room is as good of a first impression as any. If visitors can be greeted with a scent that they favor — lemon, clean linen or lilac, for example — then they’re more likely to come away impressed by the facility they’re visiting.

“It’s a driver in stores and restaurants, specifically,” says Ailene Grego, president and CEO of SouthEast LINK, Atlanta. “You have to have it smell pristine.”

Certain businesses, like department stores and supermarkets, will even consider implementing a signature scent, which is a nice, custom smell that customers will associate with that business. Facility managers might not want to go that route, and they don’t have to. As long as the smell is pleasant, most people will find it agreeable — provided they don’t have a sensitivity to fragrances. In the event facility managers are concerned with sensitivity, they could opt for air fresheners that a person can’t smell, but still counteract an odor.

In the end, a nice smell could help visitors to come to the conclusion, either consciously or subconsciously, that a space is safer. A slight, positive scent will enhance the end user or visitor’s belief that someone took the initiative to clean an area, says Ray Ranger, director of healthcare at Triple S of Billerica, Massachusetts. He says it’s not a bad idea to do what hotels sometimes do and leave little cards that explain to the visitor why they smell what they smell. In a commercial facility or business, he recommends the cards be placed on the receptionist’s desk or near the staff’s entrance.

“That’s a big tool to help people understand that these are the actions the facility has taken,” says Ranger.

When exploring what fragrances to use or not use, it’s important to note which forms should absolutely be avoided. Facilities should shy away from older technology, specifically air fresheners made out of carcinogens that are placed into a deodorant block, says Grego. Sawchuk highlights petroleum-based fragrances as the ones to be passed up.

When asked what to use, both Grego and Sawchuk favor essential oils — a trendy pick for both commercial and residential properties. A con of essential oils is that they’re a more expensive option than petroleum-based fragrances. However, non-toxic forms of essential oils are known to give off an almost therapeutic feel that could put customers at ease.

“Cancer therapy facilities do this — use non-toxic essential oils — and they can actually help people,” says Grego.

Grego also cites passive air dispensers that only dispense fragrance using air movement in the room, ones that spray out a mist of some sort, and others that have built in fans that move the fragrance around the room at intervals to keep the fragrance dispensing as viable options.

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Treating Restroom Smells