Cleaning Brush

The custodial services staff at Denver Public Schools have their hands full. The team oversees 186 buildings on 166 sites and over 200 school programs (29 of the campuses are shared with two or more schools having different programs at a single facility). This includes 3,622 lavatories totaling nearly 442,500 square feet and all the challenges that go along with these spaces.

At present, there are 735 custodians, says Rich Archuletta, director of facility operations. The issues they face are those one would expect to find when cleaning elementary, middle school and high school restrooms. Time constraints are one, especially given that there are currently over 120 vacancies in the multi-layered department. User habits and vandalism, especially graffiti, exacerbate the challenges. 

To gain the upper hand — or at least hold the line — Archuletta and his team have tried out a variety of lavatory cleaning machines, purchasing the first group in the early 2000s. The hope was that the equipment would help expedite restroom cleaning.  

“These early machines were a pilot program that quickly stalled; they required a lot of effort to prep and set up,” he recalls, mentioning cords and hoses that didn’t store easily and repeatedly tangled. “Overall, the user experience wasn’t good and the machine’s pressure was weak. Those original pilot machines had less than 30 hours of use and looked new, but were eventually junked.”

In 2010, Archuletta found and purchased around 40 units of a machine that the team liked better. They deployed those machines for roughly eight years. The user experience was good, Archuletta says, but pump replacements were needed more frequently and the pressure washers seemed to break more easily than was the case on other machines.

In 2018, Denver Public Schools again began working with a new restroom cleaning machine to improve productivity, adding 10 to their fleet. However, Archuletta says they again began encountering costly problems, leading them to their current choice — machines he describes as simple to use, with fairly durable wands, good pressure and easy repair. They’ve been running these successfully for the last three years.

“We generally prefer equipment that is uncomplicated with as few proprietary parts as possible,” Archuletta explains. “This machine is also compatible with a variety of chemicals, so we’re not locked into one machine with proprietary chemicals during the current supply chain issues.” 

The district now has an arsenal of 150 restroom cleaning machines to help improve cleaning productivity. The goal is to have 166, giving them at least one per site. 

To the Rescue 

Denver Public Schools eventually found equipment that meets their productivity needs. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other departments that are still testing the waters in terms of time-saving tools and equipment. Fortunately, there are options that won’t break the bank. 

Labor shortages combined with stricter COVID-19-inspired cleaning protocols are pressuring facility restroom operations, says Charles Moody, president of Solutex, Inc., a cleaning distributor based in Sterling, Virginia. He suggests cleaning managers consider the efficiencies that stem from implementing battery-powered mini autoscrubbers. This equipment can tackle restroom floors quickly and work efficiently in smaller spaces. He adds that this type of machine is experiencing good demand.

Mike Sawchuk, managing director of Sawchuk Consulting, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, agrees and adds that mini autoscrubbers can also easily get in under urinals, counters and around toilets, delivering a high level of cleanliness. Other tools he mentions include steaming equipment, effective for cleaning and detailing toilets and urinals; squeegees or flat mops for cleaning partitions/stall dividers and walls; squeegees and wet vacuums for floors, used after flood mopping; and no-touch spray/scrub/vac/squeegee/dry equipment. 

“The use of equipment like this helps frontline teams clean better, faster,” says Sawchuk. “However, not all equipment is suitable for all restrooms. For example, that last piece of equipment shouldn’t be used in restrooms with drywall walls. Equipment that isn’t used properly can cause damage.” 

Both Moody and Sawchuk also suggest that managers consider electrostatic sprayers as a tool to improve restroom cleaning. They stress that these sprayers can be an easier, faster and more effective way to clean restroom surfaces as long as they’re used properly. 

"It’s important to select a 'true’ electrostatic sprayer and the correct disinfectant,” says Sawchuk, who suggests the use of hypochlorous acid but staying away from quat-based chemicals.  

Electrostatic sprayers, steam equipment, pressure-washing wands and other such tools should ultimately eliminate the need for spray-and-wipe tasks. This was a goal for the Denver Public School custodians who don’t use spray bottles when cleaning restrooms, says Archuletta. 

“Spray bottles have never been allowed, except for cleaning mirrors,” he says. “It’s because, in schools, spray-and-wipe is not effective in student restrooms, especially since students have creative habits. Urine, for instance, can be found in large quantities under toilets and urinals and especially in the pores of backsplash grout or in places you wouldn’t think possible due to gravity. Using spray bottles will not properly chase urine out of these areas.”  

next page of this article:
Consulting Custodial Staff on Cleaning Equipment Purchases