Over the years, I have asked many customers: “What is the hardest area to clean in your building?” Notably, more than 95 percent of the people point to the restroom.

Most nursing homes, schools, hospitals and other institutional and commercial buildings have scores of people using their restrooms each day. Heavy traffic naturally creates dirty restrooms due to the sheer amount of soil.

I recently quizzed attendees at a cleaning seminar to determine how many people used their facility each day. One group cleaned for more than 1,000 students and teachers; amazingly, the school employed only four custodians. Each was responsible for cleaning for 250 people daily!
Professional cleaning people consistently name persistent odor as the toughest restroom challenge.

Why is odor such a problem in restrooms? What can be done to permanently remove restroom odors? If you can answer these questions for current or potential customers, you will win their favor and their patronage.

There are two situations that generate the majority of chronic odors. One is the fact that custodial staffs often ignore hidden surfaces or ones that don’t look dirty. In other words, if soil is not visible, it is ignored.

The other cause of chronic restroom odor is grouted floors. The grout is porous and absorbent and acts like a sponge to soak up urine. The urine accumulates deep in the grout and grows bacteria that produce odor.

When considering the first problem, one must remember a little basic biology: odor-causing organisms are microscopic and cannot be seen. Nevertheless, these invisible organisms are present and often give rise to disease as well as odor. Our mantra should be, “Just because something looks clean and germ-free does not mean that it is.”

A black light can say it all. When a black light is illuminated in a darkened restroom, urine splash can be seen on surfaces that otherwise look clean.

Every restroom surface must be cleaned and disinfected as if it were saturated with deadly organisms. Special attention ought to be paid to the sides and bottoms of stall partitions, walls, and fixture exteriors.

It is important to clean the restroom daily with a high-quality, EPA-registered hospital grade, quaternary-based germicidal cleaner. Choose a product that is a good cleaner as well as a powerful disinfectant. A product that contains a high PPM of active quat is recommended in these tough odor environments. You may need to check with your chemical supplier to determine the best product.

The second problem is grouting. As mentioned, grouting soaks up and holds urine. Mopping daily with a good disinfectant is important but not sufficient to destroy organisms that live in the grout. The disinfectant is not able to consistently reach deep enough into the grout to be effective and loses its germ-killing properties after it dries. The solution? A bacterial enzyme product.

A bacterial enzyme product contains non-pathogenic bacteria (bacteria that does not cause disease), which produces enzymes that digest certain organic materials such as starches, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, greases, and urea— the main component in urine. Specifically, the urine becomes a source of food for the “good” bacteria. As urine is introduced into the grouting, the bacterial colony grows and effectively depletes the odor-causing organisms.

Advise customers to spray the solution on the floor and walls in the immediate vicinity of urinals and commodes daily. Once a week, have them fill a mop bucket with four gallons of warm water and add one quart of bacterial enzyme. Flood the problematic restroom floor with the solution in much the same way that you would flood a floor with wax stripper. The first time, the flooded floor should be covered with plastic sheeting or trash bags and left overnight, or better yet, over the weekend. The plastic keeps the floor wet and provides time for the solution to penetrate deeply into the grout. Subsequent weekly applications shouldn’t require the plastic covering.

Before leaving a restroom, pour any solution that remains in the mop bucket down the floor drain. This will keep the drain odor-free and flowing smoothly. If all the solution is spent on the floor, just pour from the original container according to use directions.

By educating customers on good cleaning practices and the use of the bacterial enzymes, you will solve your customers’ No. 1 restroom problem.

Louie Davis Jr. is a 22-year veteran of the jan/san business, having worked on the manufacturing and distribution sides. He is currently director of sales for Central Paper Co., in Birmingham, Ala.