When patrons enter a public restroom they expect to be greeted by a clean, fragrance-filled room. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Building occupants and visitors are often times met by the pungent and unpleasant odors of urine, feces, vomit and even sewer gas.

If there is no noticeable fragrance looming in a restroom, most patrons think that it hasn’t been cleaned. As a result facilities are forced to implement odor control fragrance systems into their restrooms to make a patron’s visit more reassuring.

Deodorizers can be used in a number of different ways — by mopping them onto the floor, or through blocks placed in toilets and urinals that apply enzymes and deodorizers with each flush. But the most popular deodorizing method continues to be spraying fragrance into the air through wall-mounted dispensers.


With a plethora of fragrances to choose from, facility restrooms now have the option of smelling like ocean mist, fresh linen, butter cream, baby powder or even cookies — a huge leap from the traditional pine, fruit or floral aromas.

Although fragrances may make a visit to the restroom more comfortable for patrons, when introducing a new fragrance system into a restroom, consideration for others is important.

“You must remember what smells great to me or you can be completely offensive to someone else,” says Todd Stefano, general manager of Henderson Chemical Co., Macon, Ga.

Facilities must also compensate for people who are asthmatic or allergic to airborne products. End users should use a product with a low perfume level that acts more like a counteractant than a cover-up., says Gary L. Nothnagel Sr., regional sales manager with Chemcraft Industries, Chicago. That’s because perfume fragrances are as much of an asthma trigger as bleach or ammonia.

So, distributors advise against trying to sell a specific fragrance to customers.

“My sales force never recommends a fragrance,” says Stefano. “We let the customer choose what they want.”


Although fragrances are used to freshen up a restroom, patrons are sometimes only met with unpleasant odors. That’s because scents from certain wall-mount dispensers gradually fade over time. Plus, aerosol cartridges only spray fragrance at timed intervals.

New, innovative dispensers, however, feature fluid fragrance cartridges or wicks that emit scent at a constant level rather than emitting spray into the environment like metered aerosol products.

A plus to using fluid-filled or wick dispensers is that they don’t require batteries. Thus, the dispensers continue to release fragrance until the liquid runs out. So, without batteries, end users no longer have to worry about the dispenser running out of power in addition to scent.

Another advantage is that the liquid lasts two to three times as long as conventional systems — 60 to 90 days compared to the typical 30 days, says Stefano. With traditional systems, end users had to change the battery on the system when they changed the fragrance cartridge.

When installing fragrance dispensers in a restroom, distributors say it is vital that the scents aren’t too powerful or battle other odors.

Fragrance Overkill

Like a perfume counter in a department store, too many scents in one place can overwhelm a person’s sense of smell. Thus, distributors warn end users that using too strong a fragrance or differing fragrances in a restroom may result in fragrance overkill.

“How many times have you walked in somewhere and they have an enzyme deodorant in the mop water, a different fragrance on the wall and a third fragrance in the urinal or toilet? That is overkill,” says Stefano.

In these cases, the combination of odors actually become worse than the odor that a facility is trying to eliminate, says Linda Silverman, vice president of sales and marketing, Maintex Inc., City of Industry, Calif.

When choosing fragrances, it is important that air dispensers, urinal cakes and cleaning products all emit the same scents to present uniformity in the restroom. For example, differing fragrance scents like pine and cherry can compete against each other in close quarters and the resulting smell can be offensive to restroom patrons.

“Competing products can create a ‘fruit cocktail’ of fragrances that becomes overwhelming,” says Silverman. “If possible, the fragrances of urinal screens and blocks and metered aerosols that linger after cleaning should be similar.”

Thus, distributors say placement and installation of dispensers is critical. Facility managers should pay particular attention to air flow throughout their facility in order to maximize a product’s effectiveness.

Although fragrances may be part of a restroom package, distributors say if restrooms are cleaned properly and daily, no odor control should be needed.

Eliminating, Not Masking

According to distributors, many end users and patrons are under the impression that “clean” has a smell.

“Some people think clean is the odor of pine or bleach,” says Silverman. “It is just fresh air. A clean restroom does not necessarily have to do with smell, but rather the elimination of bacteria.”

In fact, masking odors with fragrances will not fix a smelly restroom, says Vince Sortino, vice president of sales, Philip Rosenau Co., Inc., Warminster, Pa.

“Fragrances can be a nice add-on to the restroom bundle, but remember, you can put perfume on a pig, but after a while, it will still smell like a pig,” he explains.

So, when it comes to nipping odor-causing bacteria in the bud, distributors say restroom surfaces should be disinfected on a daily basis.

It’s also important that cleaning personnel understand how to properly use disinfectant cleaners. Janitors must make sure that disinfectants are applied to contact points and are allowed the adequate dwell time according to the product’s label. Simply spraying and wiping a disinfectant solution off will not effectively kill odor-causing bacteria. Counter tops, toilets, light switches, door handles and soap and towel dispensers should be given the most attention.

Urine odors, some of the toughest odors to rid in a restroom can be combated by cleaning and keeping the insides of toilets and urinals free of scale and hard water stains, which can harbor bacteria, says Sortino. He recommends end users use mild acid cleaners or non-acid cleaners in conjunction with a pumice stick to remove any odor causing build-ups.

Floor grout, however, may be the biggest harbinger of odors in a restroom. Since floor grout is the lowest point of the floor, it tends to hold dirt and bacteria, creating odors. Also, puddles of urine are commonly found under urinals, which may sit on the floor for up to 24 hours before it is cleaned. This allows the urine to soak into the grout and to have bacteria set up shop and begin causing odors. To combat this, Sortino recommends wet mopping the floor with a disinfectant cleaner.

In severe cases, such as a boy’s restroom in an elementary school, Sortino recommends end users use an enzyme product.

“Apply the product liberally under urinals and around toilets,” he says. “This allows the ‘friendly’ bacteria in the product to eat the food sources that the odor causing bacteria are living on. Once the food source is gone, all the bacteria die off and the odor is eliminated.”

However, mopping a grouted floor can leave dirt and bacteria in the grout, helping bacteria to grow. Thus, distributors recommend no-touch cleaning systems as they effectively clean grout and leave no residue on the floor unlike mopping. If mopping, however, end users must ensure that the mop and mop water is clean because the pair can actually help produce odors instead of cleaning the floor.

“The use of self contained restroom cleaning systems allow you to clean areas of a restroom that can’t be cleaned by hand,” says Sortino. “They also remove soil and bacteria from the grout through the use of vacuuming cleaning solutions from the floor.”

Another source of odor that often gets overlooked in the restroom is the floor drain. If the trap in a floor drain dries out, it will emit sewer gas. To prevent this, Nothnagel recommends pouring several quarts of disinfectant cleaner down the drain to keep the trap full and prevent the gas from forming and escaping.

In general, daily restroom cleaning with disinfectants and the application of an odor counteractant will quash many odor problems. But for those restrooms that continue to have odor troubles, heavy-duty cleaning of grout, walls and ceilings using a

neutralizer, applying disinfectants and enzymes, as well as using a combination of odor control devices might be required to get to the root of the problem.

After all, a restroom should enhance a facility, not detract from it.