The cleanliness of a restroom says a lot about the quality of a facility. Anyone who has had to use a filthy washroom can attest to the fact that it ruins one’s impression of a building — no matter how clean the other rooms may be.

For that reason, when a distributor gives valuable instruction about which restroom cleaning products or methods are most effective, those customers are sure to keep coming back. And one of the biggest keys to cleaning restrooms thoroughly is for end users to understand how they can best use their disinfectant and cleaning chemical arsenal. Disinfectants are designed to kill bacteria that hides deep within the surface of a restroom — bacteria that will fester and grow if not removed properly.

“There is nothing worse than a restroom that begins to stink because bacteria hasn’t been completely removed,” says Scott Williams, sales manager for Elite Janitorial Products & Supplies, Colton, Calif. “It’s not enough for a restroom to just look clean; disinfectant cleaning really goes down to the molecular level.”

Manufacturers have developed a variety of methods for disinfectant cleaning, and each distributor probably promotes those methods in a slightly different fashion. By way of comparison, SM talked with several end users about their restroom cleaning challenges, then posed the question to distributors.

Is it better to use specialized cleaners on different restroom surfaces, or is it OK to use the same cleaner for all areas of the restroom?

Restaurant Chain Custodial Manager – Austin, Texas

Although one distributor made a case for the practice of using one disinfectant for an entire restroom, most distributors SM talked with felt that different restroom surfaces require different chemicals.

“We think it’s better to specialize,” says Robert McCann, vice president of American Chemical Co. of North Carolina, Charlotte. “There are obviously different chemical dilutions for different parts of the restroom.”

Many distributors say that certain areas of the restroom, like urinals and toilets, require more powerful cleaning chemicals than sinks or floors. Acidic or phosphoric cleaners can be very powerful, but if they have a high pH level they will damage parts of the restroom.

“End users can easily ruin metal fixtures by using the wrong cleaners,” says Jeff Lundeen, Valley Sanitary Supply, Clovis, Calif. “Acidic cleaners will tarnish metal after a period of time. You usually see it happen in health clubs that aren’t careful about the chemicals they use.”

However, if the right cleaning disinfectant is found — one that is effective with a low pH level — then it can be very effective and streamline the cleaning process, says Dan Crawford, sales manager at Galer/Hillyard, Horsham, Pa.

“I think it’s very effective to use one cleaner on all surfaces,” he adds. “It simplifies inventory. It simplifies training. It makes things easier on the end user. We use a ‘quat’ (quaternary ammonium) hepatitis B (HB) disinfectant that is non-corrosive and has a low pH level. It can be used on all surfaces: metal fixtures, tile or even marble.”

What is the biggest challenge for distributors who are trying to help end users use disinfectants most effectively?

Professional Cleaning Contractor – Cincinnati

“Because of the turnover that happens in the housekeeping department, people are often just not knowledgeable about how to use disinfectants most effectively,” says McCann. “We try to train and be with our customers on an ongoing basis. We provide all the data and MSDS sheets for exactly what needs to happen.”

Sometimes, finding out how the customer wants to organize the process of cleaning restrooms can be a challenge, says Michael Sulkin, LBH Chemical & Industrial Supply, Evansville, Ind. “We need to look at what equipment they have, and we try to locate where all the janitorial closets are. We look at how everything is labeled and if there are secondary labels.”

I’m responsible for the cleaning and maintenance of a health club. There is a lot of bacteria build-up from people working out and sweating. Should I implement a heavy-duty cleaning once a month to remove bacteria, or is daily cleaning enough?

Facility manager – Philadelphia

“We really emphasize keep-up cleaning, rather than catch-up cleaning,” says Crawford. “Of course facilities are all different, but if daily cleaning is being done correctly, there should be very little need for heavy-duty cleaning.”

Restroom cleaning should be practiced efficiently and effectively each day. When distributors train their customers to clean the right way, it saves them time and money. “It’s the most important thing,” says Sulkin of end user training. “We’ve dedicated a large part of our business to making sure our customers clean properly. We have a training department, and we do our own in-house inspection. We train the individual janitors who do the cleaning in addition to providing weekly or monthly inspections for the facility.”

Lundeen agrees that heavy-duty cleaning becomes necessary only when regular jobs are being missed. “I think the best cleaning is daily cleaning,” he says. “If you clean effectively every day, then you bypass the need for monthly restorative cleaning.”

Recently, I heard about an outbreak of Hepatitis B along the West Coast. Should I be worried about the effectiveness of my HB disinfectants? What about other airborne pathogens?

Contractor —Colorado Springs, Colo.

Scott Williams tries to be aware of all the newest methods for killing bacteria. “California is very health-conscious when it comes to HIV, HB or even tuberculosis (TB),” he says. “There has been a recent outbreak of HB in California. That means distributors and end users here need to be more educated. For example, a cleanser that has a good smell but doesn’t actually remove germs won’t satisfy California regulations.”

Williams says that TB is particularly troubling. He tries to learn as much as he can about new cleaning methods so that he can pass on that knowledge to his customers. “TB is very hard to kill when it’s airborne because the molecules have a protective coating,” he says. “But whenever it lands, it dies right away.”

Sulkin explains that it’s also critical for end users to allow enough contact time for each disinfectant, so that the cleaning chemical is able to do its job. “We always explain that it’s very important to have a certain amount of contact time to disinfect effectively and kill all the bacteria,” he says. “There are certain procedures that must be followed to make sure the end users are giving enough contact time and that germs are actually being killed.”

It seems like there are a lot of new disinfectants that have a strong fragrance. Is it better to use a cleaner that is fragrance-free?

Hotel Housekeeping Manager – Seattle

“It really depends on the facility,” says Williams. “Some customers don’t like a scent. Other customers think it’s not clean if they don’t smell anything.”

The most important issue is whether or not bacteria is being killed, says Lundeen. “My only feeling on fragrances is that they shouldn’t be covering up the bacteria,” he says. “If a disinfectant cleans effectively then a scent can improve the quality of the overall clean atmosphere.”

It’s important for distributors to talk to facility managers and janitorial staff when it comes to fragrances. A facility manager may want a mild scent, but the end user may think that a stronger smell translates to a cleaner area. When it comes to fragrances, the people using the product should be well educated.

I feel like my distributor just wants to give me more combinations of disinfectants. How do I know if the salespeople are really trying to help me clean better or if they just want to make a sale?

Elementary School Head of Janitorial Services – Elgin, Ill.

“Distributors need to train their sales reps,” says Lundeen. “A lot of times you get into trouble because the salesman is just matching products. But if he’s not trained, he’ll probably match some products that will be wrong for the restroom.”

Salespeople should always take the time to listen to the individual needs of each customer. “We have to look for what the facility has and what their ultimate goals are,” says McCann. “After we’ve done that, then we can recommend the best product.”

It may be tempting for distributors to just look at what an end user has in the janitorial closet and pretend they know what else is needed, but dialogue is necessary if a distributor wants to make a real partnership and help his customers clean effectively.

“We have to make sure that our customers are able to make a broad kill with a quality disinfectant,” says Lundeen. “Everyone’s under a budget, so distributors need to help their customers lower costs. There was a hospital that was using 2-ounce dilution per gallon when all they really needed was one-third of an ounce dilution per gallon. We explained it to them, and it saved them thousands of dollars over the course of the year.”

Additional Resources:
Get Below the Surface
Disinfectant Decisions