When asked to identify the number one high traffic area within the facility that poses the most cleaning challenges, nine out of ten facility managers named the restroom. Whether it is a matter of perception, cross-contamination, odor or the actual act of cleaning, maintaining the restroom can be a daunting and time consuming task for cleaning workers and a managerial headache for cleaning executives.

Other than the facility entryway, restrooms receive more traffic than most other areas within the building. And with continuous use comes the need for ongoing cleaning. This is challenge number one for many cleaning managers.

Continuous Upkeep

In a restroom that receives heavy traffic, the perception of clean is important. To maintain a positive impression means tending to restrooms regularly, paying special attention to stocking toilet tissue, soap and paper towels. This makes sense seeing as the most common perception complaint from building occupants is empty or broken dispensers, out-of-place trash and wet or soapy surfaces — all of which can be controlled with continuous and diligent cleaning.

Mark Herz, custodial services coordinator at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., instructs his staff to tend to high-traffic restrooms at least four times a day. This constant attention goes a long way with building occupants, but sometimes staff is resistant to the additional work.

“Obviously workers stock supplies and tend to counters during their regular cleaning, but we also ask that they keep on top of this when they visit the restroom themselves,” he says. “Our workers were hesitant at first, but happy to accommodate a more frequent clean when they realized we didn’t expect them to go out of their way.”

To assist the custodial department and maintain a high perception of clean, some managers will even solicit help from building occupants.

“We encourage all employees within our facility to take the time to clean up the counters before they leave the bathrooms,” says Thomas Koons, director of housekeeping at York Hospital, York, Pa. “Although we have had limited success with this, we continue to consider a move positive approach, such as giving an employee or customer a free coffee coupon if they are noticed doing a random act of cleaning within the facility.”

Other managers have found success improving perceptions by introducing high-capacity dispensers, which reduce stocking frequency, or foam soaps, which are said to be less prone to leaks. Posting signs that specify who to contact for cleaning or to report problems has also been successful for many cleaning departments.

Eliminating unsightly trash is another way to improve the perception of clean in the restroom. Patrons are commonly using paper towels as a barrier between hands to open doors. Once the door is open, they dispose of the towel on the floor. A solution to this problem can be simple: move the waste receptacle closer to the door.

It is important for cleaning managers to remember that perception of clean isn’t always what can be seen, but extends to what can be smelled. Regardless of how clean a restroom is, building occupants associate odors with waste, bacteria and grime.

Although personal odors can not be controlled by cleaners — only masked by air fresheners — properly tending to floor drains, grout lines and flooring around toilets and urinals can help fight odors in the restroom. This is challenge number two for facility managers.

From The Ground Up

When tackling cleaning and odors in the restroom, facility managers should start from the ground up. Restroom floors can be breeding grounds for mold, bacteria and ultimately odors if not properly cleaned.

In restrooms where the floor drain is the main culprit, many facility managers recommend flushing drains regularly. Kevin Folsom, director of facilities and plan operations at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, and Phil Lewis, facilities manager at Furman University, Greenville, S.C., have both found success by regularly flushing drains with enzyme products. But floor drains are not the only area that carry the potential for odors.

Dee Littlejohn, director of custodial services at Dallas Theological Seminary, comments that the flooring around urinals and toilets pose problems within the facility, but regular cleaning can help.

If left unattended, build-up can collect in grout lines. This not only makes future cleaning and odor control more challenging, but can permanently discolor the grout and create a poor perception of clean.

“Grout cleaning is certainly a challenge,” says Koons. “If you have the luxury of installing new floors, opt for a dark grout. Black works for me.”

Traditionally, the lighter the grout, the more challenging it is to keep clean. But properly sealing the floor can help.

“Make sure the floor is sealed from the first day,” says George Thomlison, manager of human resources and procurement for buildings and grounds services and facilities management at University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “In older facilities, or areas where the seal has worn out, clean and reseal floors. If that is not possible, conduct regular deep cleaning in the restroom.”

Sealing the floor is not always the have-all-end-all. Some facilities have found success with regular grout cleaning or pressure washing, along with daily floor cleaning.

“We periodically machine wash the grout with our slow-speed and apply a grout block,” says Herz. “We make this part of our routine, in addition to washing the floors every time we clean.”

According to William Suter, LEED-AP, director of facilities management at American University, Washington, no matter what cleaning method is used on floors, stringent cleaning schedules must be maintained to reduce the potential for future problems.

Beyond floors, Suter’s advice is also true for the entire restroom. Perception of clean is very important, but it is more significant to actually be clean and eliminate the potential spread of bacteria from these high traffic restrooms into other areas of the facility.

Focusing on cross-contamination is restroom challenge number three for facility managers.

Did You Touch That?

Cross-contamination is a hot topic in many facilities and controlling it in high traffic restrooms can pose a challenge for cleaning departments. First and foremost, cleaners should focus on regularly cleaning common touch points. This includes, fixture handles, stall walls and doors, faucets, soap and towel dispensers, as well as door handles.

In accordance with most cleaning schedules, stalls — including walls, door locks and handles — and light switches should be cleaned daily. In restrooms that don’t receive as much traffic, it might be suitable to reduce this task to once a week. Proceed with caution, though, these touch points can harbor bacteria that is then transferred throughout the facility.

Other touch points within the restroom can be reduced through the implementation of touch-free products. Toilets, urinals, faucets, soap and paper dispensers are all available in a touchless capacity. Implementing these appliances reduces touch points and in turn cross-contamination.

Often, facility managers are implementing these touch-free products as restrooms are upgraded. But, upgrades are not always an option for facility managers facing tight budgets. In those situations, retrofitting existing fixtures can be considered.

Hardware aside, eliminating cross-contamination can also be accomplished through proper disinfection.

“Being a hospital, we use hospital grade disinfectants to clean all surfaces within the restroom,” says Koons. “We constantly reinforce the need to pay special attention to high touch points in an effort to reduce the spread of bacteria.”

In addition to proper disinfection, both Thomlison and Littlejohn have found success reducing cross-contamination through the implementation of microfiber products and color coding. For example, identifying that only red cloths are used in toilets and green are used on sinks eliminates the risk of transferring bacteria from one area to the other.

Implementing these practices has both simplified training for cleaners and helped reduce the spread of bacteria within these facilities.

Commonly overlooked, the final touch point of the restroom is the door handle. To reduce cross-contamination issues with handles, many facilities are looking at alternate exit options.

Thomlison says that new restrooms at the University of Alberta will incorporate open doorway designs, eliminating touch points all together. At Dallas Theological Seminary, Folsom has done the same with the implementation of doors that swing out so patrons never touch doors after washing their hands.

Although these options are ideal for reducing cross-contamination, they can pose challenges for cleaning crews. Without a door to close, it might be difficult to communicate to building occupants that cleaning is in progress. This actual act of cleaning is the final challenge cleaners face when tending to high traffic restrooms.

A Timely Clean

At Furman University, Lewis finds it difficult to maintain cleaning schedules when the restrooms are in use from 6:00 in the morning until midnight. And he is not alone.

“Determining an appropriate schedule for routine cleaning of busy restrooms during the day can be difficult,” says Suter of American University. “Add to that the challenge of scheduling project cleaning in those busy restrooms.”

Cleaning frequencies in these busy areas can vary, depending on the facility and traffic associated with its use. Restrooms in an office, for instance, might only need cleaning once a day. Where as clinical areas, school labs or high profile restrooms might need attention two or three times a day.

“In our busiest restrooms, we do routine cleaning two or three times a day,” says Suter, “and project cleaning monthly.”

Herz, on the other hand, cleans once a day, but finds that busy weekend activities might call for more frequent attention.

“In some areas we are going in twice a day, depending on where the bathroom is and the traffic in that area,” he says. “We don’t ‘one and done’ it. We consider it a health hazard if you aren’t in there staying on top of things.”

During these hectic times, cleaners are forced to work around restroom patrons in order to maintain desired levels of clean, which can be challenging in its own right. Some cleaners have found success in posting “Cleaning in Progress” signs and positioning cleaning carts in doorways, kindly encouraging building occupants to use alternative restrooms. Unfortunately, even with these visual barriers, building occupants won’t always respect the fact that cleaning is in progress.

The best way to avoid this, clean consistently throughout the day, completely close the restroom during project cleaning and conduct heavy cleaning during times of minimal use.

“This is one kind of ‘room’ that can never be cleaned enough,” says Koons. Restrooms require “good cleaning and enough of it.”