Urine stains, grout lines and toilet scum: these are all terms custodial workers dread hearing when it comes time to tackle restroom cleaning. After all, who wants to get down on their hands and knees to clean under and behind toilets or scrub floors? But, the work needs to get done. Departments that ignore these areas or restroom cleaning run the risk of receiving complaints from building occupant about cleanliness.

At North Carolina State University, restroom cleaning complaints are few and far between, thanks to the implementation of automated equipment that helps improve cleaning processes. Fortunately for cleaners, the use of this equipment also gets them off their hands and knees.

"We began using spray-and-vacuum, no-touch equipment in our restroom cleaning roughly five years ago," says Randy Reed, deputy assistant director for university housekeeping. "Now, we have about 230 systems on hand — one for every employee in the dorms, academic and athletic buildings, and seven to eight systems in our athletic department."

Breaking Down Equipment

When Reed says this restroom cleaning equipment is "no-touch," he means it. The equipment allows cleaners to tackle even the most difficult to reach areas of the restroom without ever having to get out mops, brushes or other hand tools.

Instead, workers simply spray down the restroom using an indoor pressure washer — one of the many features of this equipment. Using water pressure for restroom cleaning, along with automatic chemical metering and injection that guarantees properly diluted chemicals, workers are able reach into cracks and crevices with ease.  

"Combining either disinfectants or an all-purpose cleaner with the high-pressure nozzle, workers can easily clean toilets, urinals, grout, corners and crevices," says Reed. "Add to that the vacuum feature to remove the solution and you have a complete no-touch system. Staff no longer has to stick their hands into gross areas of the restroom."

The equipment does come with a squeegee attachment for use in restrooms that have a floor drain, but Reed prefers to use of the vacuum because of its quick dry times and easy access to tight spaces.

"The vacuum has an 8-inch head, which is angled," he says. "That allows cleaners access to reach into tight spaces, such as between the toilet and the wall. It is very flexible and features a dual squeegee on the vacuum head and roller wheels that make for easy maneuverability."

He comments that the vacuum feature is also a time saver when restroom cleaning on campus. With almost 37,500 students and staff occupying campus, cleaners must move in and out of the high-traffic restrooms quickly. This equipment allows for that.

"Using the vacuum will reduce your dry times significantly," says Reed, "and this is especially important when servicing 24-hour restrooms, such as those in the library or athletic facility."

He adds that this restroom cleaning equipment not only makes for quick work, but it has helped the department maintain desired cleanliness standards.

To test the effectiveness of the restroom cleaning equipment, Reed will randomly test bacteria levels in the restrooms using an ATP hygiene measurement system (See sidebar for more information). To obtain a proper comparison, these tests are performed on the same surface both before and after cleaning with the machine.

"Before cleaning with this restroom cleaning equipment, bacterial counts normally average around 1,000 parts per million," he says. "After cleaning with this machine, those counts drop to below 10 parts per million. That is a great result."

Tackling Training

Whenever departments introduce something new to the staff, there's bound to be some initial kick back. But, according to Reed, the staff actually favors this restroom cleaning equipment, thanks to its ease of use and an on-site training program.

Whenever a new employee starts on campus, Reed's jan/san distributor will come in to conduct on-site training. There is also regular follow-up or refresher training provided to any employee when necessary.

"We go through step-by-step instructions with each staff member," says Reed. "We cover everything from where to plug in restroom cleaning equipment and turning on the pump for the pressure hose and vacuum, to how to effectively pick up waste water and connect chemicals into the dilution system. We also cover how to check the hose for clogs, where to fill up and empty recovery tanks, and any general trouble-shooting."

This level of training is something Reed requires of his vendors so no employee is left guessing on how this restroom cleaning equipment works or which types of surfaces it should be used on.

For example, water pressure, if used incorrectly, can damage surfaces. But, if used appropriately, it can be very beneficial to custodial programs. Training at North Carolina State University addresses which areas in the restroom this equipment works best.

"Employees know not to use this equipment on sheet rock, so they stay below the tile line," Reed says. "It works great above your sink lines, on grime on shower floors and around drains, all without blowing out grout lines."

Once workers are properly trained on its use, this equipment can be implemented in cleaning tasks outside the restroom, too. On campus, the machine is used to clean windows, exterior concrete entrances, or in some cases, interior stairwells.

"Using this equipment, you don't leave too much water and you can vacuum it up right away. It's a great all-around system," says Reed. "With it, we work smarter, not harder."