Sleuthing out

Restrooms are often dwarfed by the rest of the facility, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make an impression on building occupants. As such, jan/san distributors need to help their clients get a handle on is restroom odor control, especially where it concerns those so-called “hotspots” that can be prolific generators of unpleasant smells.  

In some cases, the odor culprits are fairly obvious. Other times, they fly under the radar and their presence is announced only by their stink. Dealing with these odor hotspots isn’t always easy, but facilities that ignore it do so at their own peril.  

“Unidentified and unaddressed restroom odors will lead to occupant complaints,” says Teri Guinn, general manager for High Point Sanitary Solutions, Houston. “Lingering odors give the perception of a dirty restroom and moreover a dirty building. Many facilities will mask unidentified odors with air-management systems and urinal screens/bowls clips, but covering urine odors with a citrus or vanilla scent isn’t the answer.”  

Failing to adequately respond to restroom odors and allowing these hotspots to fester can result in increased maintenance costs — think degraded fixtures/surfaces, mold and mildew, and plumbing problems — and even “serious health and sanitation concerns,” says Mike Holland, chief revenue officer of Brame Specialty Company, Durham, North Carolina.  

The most recognizable odor hotspots are found under and around toilets, urinals and floor drains. Trash receptacles, toilet bowls/seats, feminine hygiene disposal containers, floors and walls with grout, along with towel bins containing wet or damp towels can also be easy-to-identify offenders. 

“Obvious hotspots are generally caused by direct use and contact with bodily waste, lack of cleaning or improper cleaning practices,” Holland summarizes. “Not-so-obvious hotspots often stem from hidden moisture accumulation, neglected maintenance, poor ventilation and bacterial growth due to these conditions." 

Addressing the Overlooked 

Most cleaning professionals are aware of these hotspots and the need for custodians to address them, says Bill Allen, territory manager for Fagan Sanitary Supply, West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania — but there are potentially potent odor contributors that can be overlooked. 

Take sinks, for example. Although it’s typical to pay attention to the tops of the sinks and the surface around them, end users spend less time cleaning underneath, where odors can originate. This often has to do with the P-traps and water condensation, resulting in a “bacterial breeding ground,” Allen explains.  

He also points out the importance of training customers to tend to air vents. If they’re not vacuumed/dusted or being used regularly, odors can result when the fans are eventually activated — especially if they’re exhausting moist air. Experts point out that it’s also easy for frontline crews to miss damaged tile or grout under fixtures, which if left un-repaired may become an odor source. 

Urinals are yet another troublesome odor hotspot, says Charles Moody, president of Solutex Inc., Sterling, Virginia. Of course, urine can build up in grout and tile around and underneath the urinals, but it can impact the metal partitions as well. As he explains, the salt and crystals that urine deposits can cause these to rust; one indication more attention should be paid to this area. 

“Humidity brings out the ammonia smell of these salts,” Moody continues. “The solution is to clean, disinfect and then spray with a bacteria/enzyme digester to break down the salts and biological matter.” He adds that digesters are also handy where there’s a shower component to the restroom, which can result in a buildup of hair in the drain, causing water to pool, resulting in scum lines, rings and odor. 

Just like urinals, commodes should be monitored for their potential odor-causing capabilities. For example, poorly installed toilets where the wax ring around the base has been compromised or is faulty can generate odors — and in some cases sewer flies. Another more common source of sewer smells is floor drains where the trap has dried out. 

“The easy thing to do is train end users to add water to the drain to act as a sewer gas barrier,” says Moody. “For a longer-term solution, there are products available that act as an odor blanket to prevent sewer gasses from coming up the drain.” 

Ferreting out lingering odors can be frustrating, particularly if all the main hotspots have already been addressed, says Guinn. In these cases, additional detective work may be required. 

“The buildup of urine and bacteria under the bell housing of urinals is a less obvious source,” she says. “Older restrooms may have less-obvious hotspots, including ceiling tiles and even walls that have taken on years of urine smell.” 

Then there’s always the chance that odors may be invading the restroom from other areas of the facility, requiring the involvement of maintenance departments such as plumbing, HVAC and mechanical, says Holland. 

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Allocating Adequate Help for Facility Odor Prevention