Restroom cleaning — from wiping countertops to stocking paper products and soap to scrubbing toilets and floors — is labor-intensive. With the help of key cleaning tools, equipment and systems, managers are finding ways to make the restroom job increasingly easier.

After a several-yearlong discernment process, the University of Notre Dame building services department selected a no-touch restroom cleaning system that beat its traditional mop-and-bucket approach. The system combines power-spraying, rinsing, squeegeeing and blow-drying all in one machine.

“The beauty is that everything is self-contained,” says Alan Bigger, director of building services. The system consists of chemicals, scrubbing attachments, a wand with a nozzle to blast dirt out of hard-to-reach areas, water pick-up attachments, and a reverse-flow feature for blow-drying surfaces.

Bigger says he always looks for cleaning products, equipment and processes that save on labor. “Ninety percent of cost is tied up in labor,” he says. “Anything that saves labor decreases cost.”

Though beneficial in most restrooms, Bigger warns that the no-touch systems are not the best solution for every building. For instance, some of the historic buildings on the Notre Dame campus have central radiators installed, which never should come in contact with water. The same for goes for areas with exposed electrical outlets and circuitry.

“Read the manufacturer’s instructions,” Bigger says, adding that he schedules the units for regular maintenance. The cleaning staff is responsible for maintaining the systems after each use: rinsing nozzles to deter build-up, and replacing filters, when necessary.

Though he says it is not used too often, Bigger also has a high-pressure steam, a.k.a. vapor cleaning system, that has a tank that super-heats water. An applicator wand applies steam to surfaces and allows for the attachment of cleaning cloths. One of the system’s benefits is that it’s gentle on most surfaces and eliminates thick, greasy dirt.

Dispensers and fixtures
The Southeast Missouri State University facilities management department uses chemical dispensers loaded with pre-filled cartridges. Custodians just dial the product they wish to use, and with the push of a button a vacuum sucks the concentrate through flowing water while a dispensing tip provides portion control.

“It’s one of the best things we have ever done,” says Terry Major, manager of grounds, custodial, fleet and support services for the university. The proportioning system is safer for workers and reduces risk of chemical misuse, spills and waste.

Lever-less paper-towel dispensers provide touchless dispensing in restrooms all over campus (users touch and pull towels to dispense them). Major is considering revisiting sensor-operated dispensers. He says he thinks they’ve improved a lot since first hitting the market.

The operations department at the Oregon Convention Center outfitted a recent new addition with touchless fixtures, including faucets, soap dispensers, toilets and urinals.

“Of course, you want to justify the cost in any system,” says Dennis Miller, operations manager, setup and housekeeping for the convention center. He saw a reduction in labor cost immediately. Eliminating human touch can cut down on the frequency in which surfaces need to be wiped. The fixtures’ primary purpose is to prevent cross-contamination of infectious materials.

Touchless toilets, Miller says, could still use some refinement. “Touchless systems need to have an override for cleaning,” he says. “You put the chemical in and any movement — to pick up a brush, etc. — may flush it down the drain.” Miller is concerned about wasting labor, chemicals, electricity and water.

Convention center management is also considering touchless electric hand dryers — an economical choice, according to Miller.

“I spend $30,000 [annually] on towels in this facility,” he says. “Even if I converted all 33 restrooms, I wouldn’t spend that much in electricity.” He says the upfront cost of the hand dryers would be paid back in cost savings on paper products over time.

Hand tools
Microfiber cloths and mops are gaining popularity in restrooms. The washable microfiber cloths are durable and can (when combined with water) remove as much bacteria as a regular cloth combined with a disinfectant, according to manufacturers and industry experts. (See microfiber article.)

The Athens (Ga.) Regional Medical Center is testing microfiber mops in patient rooms, but hasn’t tried the mops in restrooms.

“What we like about the microfiber system is the one-mop-per-room aspect,” says Paul Maultsby, director of housekeeping and linen distribution. He says the “system is moving in the right direction from an infection-control issue” because changing mops between rooms prevents cross-contamination.

Miller also tried using ergonomic mop handles. Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to their billing.
“The handle rotates, the head rotates, and you have no control over your mop head,” he says. “They’re still around, but [cleaning workers] go back and get the older mop handles. Just because something’s labeled ‘ergonomic,’ doesn’t mean that it is.”

Lori Veit is a free-lance business writer based in Madison, Wis.