Traditionally, if cleaning managers are going to be judged on the cleanliness of their facility, initial opinions will usually be based on the restroom. And, the first thing restroom patrons notice is the smell, or lack there of. In a snap — or sniff, in this case — people make judgments about cleanliness and professionalism, even about the company, based on the impression they get when they walk in the lavatory.

There are two types of odor problems that plague restrooms: ongoing and temporary. Cleaning managers need to address reasons contributing to each. Consider implementing cleaning programs, systems and tools that successfully combat restroom odors, as well as frequency and type of cleaning.

Culprits And Causes
The top complaint for ongoing restroom odor issues is urine. Julie Kanthak, manager of environmental services at St. Anne Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, says that urine saturation in the tile grout, especially in the men’s restroom, causes the most problems.

To address this issue, she has successfully implemented some solutions. Her cleaning department has benefited from the use of a no-touch restroom cleaning machine and odor-eliminating products.

“We do cyclical cleaning about once a quarter with the equipment,” Kanthak says. “We also use urinal pads in front of urinals, as well as a deodorizer that works with air flow from the door.”

Dave Sepich, owner of Springtime Janitorial Supply, in Carlsbad, N.M., has an alternative solution.

“To solve a long-term existing urine odor problem, especially around urinals, you need to use an enzyme product that contains ‘urease’ enzyme bacteria,” he says. “This product eats the urine and odor-causing bacteria while leaving water as the by-product.”

In severe applications, he recommends applying it very wet to the area, then cover it with old rags to keep the solutions from evaporating. Leave the saturated rags there over night to allow the enzyme to work. Then remove them the next morning and damp mop the area.

Another cause of ongoing odor problems are floor drains. When the drains dry out, sewer gases escape into the restroom causing unpleasant lingering odors. Luckily, there is a simple and easy way to prevent this.

“When mopping the restroom floor, use a disinfectant cleaner,” says Sepich. “When you are near a floor drain, just take the mop out of the bucket without ringing it out, place it over the drain and step on it a couple of times to flush liquid into the drain. If you do this daily, the drain will not dry out and the disinfectant will kill the bacteria that can grow in the drain.”

In addition to drains, mops themselves can be the cause of lingering odors if not properly treated.

“After one bathroom, the mop head goes in the dirty rag bin, and we take them away once a shift for laundering,” says Linda Lindberg, executive housekeeper at Summit Hotel in Big Sky, Mont. If not maintained properly with disinfectant and washing, mop heads stored in restroom closets can be a source of sour smells.

Experts comment that most temporary odor problems are caused by people and waste receptacles. Time released air sprays and deodorizers work well for both, but Sepich adds, “It helps to spray some disinfectant in the waste basket while you are changing the liners.”

Staff should also make a habit of always checking the bottom of waste receptacles for leaks or trash that might have missed the bag. Excess trash and liquids can leave lingering smells in restrooms. This is one small step that might be ignored or glossed over if not emphasized in training.

Sniffing Out Solutions
Once identified, the key to managing and eliminating restroom odors starts with appropriate product selection. Managers must then complement those products with an effective training regimen covering restroom cleaning procedures.

At St. Anne Mercy Hospital, Kanthak implements several steps in training her staff. She has them watch videos and take a written test. Then they get on the job training in the restrooms. Before they are released to work on their own, they must also be observed by management. Through this observation, any improper cleaning procedures are remedied before they become habit.

When training staff, it’s important to emphasize proper cleaning procedure. Many workers are guilty of “the spray and wipe” where the product is sprayed on restroom surfaces and immediately wiped off. But, in order for these products to be 100 percent effective at eliminating odors, they must remain on the surface for a preset amount of time.

“Many cleaners do not allow disinfectants and cleaning products to dwell on restroom surfaces long enough to effectively kill odor-causing bacteria and be able to break down the soil that needs to be removed,” says Sepich. “We teach custodians to apply cleaners and disinfectants at the very beginning of the restroom cleaning process, allowing the product to sit on surfaces while they perform other tasks, such as emptying trash and filling dispensers. Then, after the chemicals have had time to work, wipe the surfaces down and flush the commodes.”

Kanthak also emphasizes dwell time when using disinfectants at the hospital. “I really stress to my group the need to disinfect more often,” she says. More frequent cleaning and proper dwell time will help reduce bacteria, which then reduces odors in the restroom.

The fact is that proper procedure won’t help much if the incorrect product is being used. Experts comment that when fighting odors, the reason most cleaners use the wrong product is that they don’t properly identify the cause of the smell. According to Sepich, the worst enemy is television advertising, which leads us to believe that one product can do it all. “Chemically, that’s impossible,” he says.

It’s important to understand that there are both acid- and alkaline-based soils which cause smells. Understanding the cause of the odor is key to choosing the right cleaning product and eliminating the smell. For example, acid-based cleaners are necessary to break down mineral deposits, and alkaline cleaners to break down grease and fats like body oils. Many distributors offer training to their in-house customers and educate the staff on the appropriate cleaning method.

Sweet Smell Of Success
When it comes to restroom odors, the sweet smell of success equates to no smell at all. With restroom odors, the causes may vary, but the one commonality is that, as Lindberg says, they’re “ongoing and constant.”

Using proper procedure and tools helps attack odors at the source and eliminates them, rather than masks them. This equates to time and money savings.

Cleaning machines such as those used at St. Anne Mercy Hospital can also reduce cleaning times, and according to Sepich, “these machines also apply the proper amounts of product and allow the solutions to be picked up properly.” The use of less product means money saved and less stress on surfaces.

In restroom odor control, prevention is the best medicine. Odors can be masked with sprays, but using the proper cleaning procedures and products can eliminate the problem at its source.

Sandra Gahlinger is a freelance writer based in Newport, R.I.

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