Keeping a bathroom clean and odor-free is always a challenge, but the chore can feel like “Mission Impossible” if the facilities are used by hundreds of employees. When a 24-hour manufacturing facility in Nevada was struggling to rid restrooms of odors, it turned to its distributor for help.

Lake Tahoe Supply Co., Carson City, Nev., responded with in-house training, and showed its customer how to find the sources of odors and eliminate them. With its distributor’s help, that customer now has a structured cleaning regimen and uses products that kill odors instead of masking them.

“There’s nothing worse than a bathroom that smells like a ‘Porto-Potty,’” says Nick Spallone, general manager of Lake Tahoe Supply. “The ideal situation is to walk into a bathroom that doesn’t have an odor at all.”

Restrooms are, by their very nature, breeding grounds for odor. They are repositories for unpleasant waste and they often have poor ventilation, providing a perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. Despite this reality, patrons expect and demand a clean, pleasant environment. It’s no surprise that odor control is one of the biggest challenges for janitorial crews.

Where Odors Lurk
A foul odor in a restroom is obvious to all who enter, but its source may prove elusive. To pinpoint the culprit, conduct a thorough inspection using the old-fashioned “sniff test,” or use a black light.

The most common sources of odor in a restroom are organic materials — the most prevalent being urine and feces. Bacteria feed off these sources and as bacteria grow, so does odor. Over time, mold and mildew develop and exacerbate the problem. This can happen very rapidly, depending on heat, humidity and ventilation.

“Any area that is going to be a breeding ground for bacteria is also going to be a breeding ground for odor,” Spallone says.

The most obvious areas bacteria develop are those where urine and feces are found, including inside and all around the toilet and urinal. Areas that can also cause odor include stall partitions, walls, exposed plumbing, drains, grout and trash cans.

Stamp Out Stench
When a restroom is plagued by odor, the only way to get rid of it is to search for and destroy the cause. “It is essential to remove the source of the odor ... to truly eliminate it,” says Chris Spila, president of Erzen Associates Inc., Monroeville, Pa.

Soak the soiled area with a high-quality enzyme cleaner, he says. It must sit for about 10 minutes to completely destroy the organisms causing the odor. Then clean thoroughly with a disinfectant. Allowing ample time between applications is essential.

“If you mix a disinfectant with an enzyme cleaner, it will negate any effectiveness it has,” says Chris Martini, director of marketing for Central Sanitary Supply, Modesto, Calif. “It’s important to make sure you go through with your enzyme first.”

The final step: deodorize the foul odor with a more pleasant scent. It is essential that this happens only after a thorough cleaning; otherwise the deodorizer will only temporarily mask the odor.

Deodorizers can be applied in a number of ways — by mopping them onto the floor or spraying them into the air, as time-released spray, and through blocks placed in toilets and urinals that apply enzymes and deodorizers with each flush. There are many people who are sensitive to fragrances so it is best to pick a natural smell or, better yet, one that leaves no noticeable odor.

Get Control
Once the restorative cleaning is finished and the restroom is free of odors, it’s important to get back into a daily maintenance program that will prevent an odor relapse. The easiest way to control odor is to stop it before it starts.

Spraying something sweet in the air and then walking away is not effective odor management. It’s important to abide by a holistic program that utilizes the best procedures and products.

“End users should have a procedure in place so the restroom gets cleaned the same way every time and things aren’t missed,” Spallone says. “And they need products that are designed to not just cover up but actually do something to kill the root cause of the odor.”

In addition to frequency, a comprehensive policy should detail every cleaning procedure, from how to properly clean grout to how to work with HVAC professionals to ensure good airflow in the restroom. The policy should also outline all of the products the facility uses.

There are some newer products available to help with odor control. Autoflush toilets prevent waste from pooling in toilets and creating an odor. Touchless systems with pressurized wands allow janitors to clean hard-to-reach areas with little effort. Absorbent mats or pads can be laid on the floor to absorb urine and act as a deodorizer.

The majority of items in a janitor’s arsenal, however, are tried-and-true products. A mop, bucket and ringer are musts. Most facilities use an air freshener, whether it’s a simple solid or a more sophisticated aerosol — either metered or continuous. Also popular are bowl hangers and urinal blocks and screens.

Stubborn Smells
Sometimes facilities produce persistent odors that simply won’t go away despite best efforts — including daily and restorative cleaning.

In these rare cases, an odor may be symptomatic of a secondary problem.

Check the batteries of air fresheners and bowl deodorizers to be sure they are working properly. Examine for blockages in the urinal or toilet (a plumber may be required for this task). The problem could also have its origins in floor drains that emit sewer gas when they dry out. Treat the odor with an enzyme deodorizer and then prevent future problems by pouring a cup of water down the drain once a month.

Finally, an enduring odor — particularly a musty smell — could be evidence of mold. Damaged water lines or other leaks could be out of sight. Look for signs of decay on walls or floors and call in a professional for help in treating mold.

Selling Strategies
Although the bulk of the products used for odor control are inexpensive items, they are something every customer needs on an ongoing basis.

“It’s one of the easier sales we have,” Spallone says. “It’s recognizable to customers. If they aren’t happy with the way the restroom smells, you give yourself the opportunity to help them.”

To take full advantage of this product category, do whatever it takes to help end users maintain a pleasant smelling restroom. Make yourself available to answer questions and offer training to the cleaning crew. Go to the facility and demonstrate proper procedures using quality products. These extra efforts will pay off by setting you apart from the competition.

“It gets you in the door because it’s an area where other people don’t like to demonstrate,” says Victor Winik, president of All Service & Supplies, Boca Raton, Fla.

“We go out and show them the right way to eliminate of odors and then return to have them show us what they’re doing to be sure they’re using the proper procedures. We try to stay in constant contact with them on how to do this.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SM.

Helping End Users Avoid Mistakes

In an ideal world, restroom odors simply wouldn’t exist. In the real world, however, janitors make mistakes that can create a smelly space. All of these mistakes can easily be avoided if the janitorial staff is properly trained.

Distributors can help by offering on-site training and then updating the training as there is staff turn-over. Here are four of the most common problems:

• Without an established program in place, each janitor is left to clean the space however he or she likes. They may not clean often enough, focus on the wrong areas, or use incorrect methods or tools.

• Scrubbing the floors and walls after an odor exists isn’t enough. There must be a commitment to odor control so it is addressed on a daily basis. “It has to be ongoing,” Victor Winik, president of All Services & Supplies, Boca Raton, Fla., says. “It’s not something you can do one day and not the next.”

• Cleaning a restroom is not glamorous work. Many janitors want to get in and out as quickly as possible, skipping important areas in the process. Repeatedly missing bacteria that hide under the toilet rim or behind the urinal can quickly cause odor problems.
“These areas are not cleaned as frequently as they should be,” Chris Martini, director of marketing for Central Sanitary Supply, Modesto, Calif., says. “A custodian has to get on his or her hands and knees and scrub. You get lazy and skip past the hard-to-reach areas and, over time, these areas become the most critical.”

• Cleaning all the right spots but doing it improperly can be just as ineffective as skipping them entirely. For example, if a janitor uses a dirty mop and water to clean, he will only make the situation worse.

“What starts off around the urinals can move around the entire bathroom and get in every corner of the bathroom,” Nick Spallone, general manager of Lake Tahoe Supply, Carson City, Nev., says. Change the mop water often to prevent bacteria in the water.

— B.M