Who’s messier in the restroom: men or women?

“I’ve heard women’s restrooms tend to be messier,” says Richard Renert, vice president of Eastern Paper of New England, Hamden, Conn., “but men have more of a problem around urinals.”

Gender propensities aside, the nature of restrooms make them a hotbed for foul odors, and while facility managers go to great lengths to try to eliminate them, plenty of hurdles litter their path. High on the list are inadequate cleaning techniques and failure to identify — and eliminate — an odor’s true source.

Staying In Control
Total restroom odor control is a multi-step process. It involves a joint effort between cleaning products and techniques, plus the distributor know-how necessary to pull it all together.

Microbe-based cleaning products (often referred to as enzyme or bioenzymatic cleaners) have been used widely to attack restroom odors. When the microbes are exposed to organic materials, they become “enzyme factories” that thrive on hair, grease and other nasty odor sources, says Lois Davis, global business manager for Novozymes Biologicals, a Salem, Va.-based company that supplies live microbial products to industry manufacturers for many environmental applications.

These cleaners are recommended for general restroom cleaning, and can also be poured down drains to battle odor sources that reside in pipes and drains.

“The drains generate odors also,” says Davis. “This will get rid of those organics.”

The products distributors sell are generally combinations of the biological component and cleaning chemicals, which provide an immediate effect (a clean smell and appearance) in addition to a long-term solution.

“Once your work is done, the microbes keep on working. They will work as long as there’s moisture,” Davis explains.

So why aren’t these products used in every facility? Cost is one common customer objection.

“To get the customer to use bioenzymatic products it takes a little bit of sales and training, and you have to use it over a period of time to see the results,” Renert explains.

Many facility managers are unaware of how these cleaners work, much less what they can do for them in the way of odor control, says Anthony Bartolo, branch manager for the Pueblo, Colo. branch of Northern Colorado Paper Inc.

“They want something they can spray to make the odors go away, but that dissipates, and it just temporarily masks the odors. But if you’ve got odor coming out of the drain or from the floor, you have to spend some time educating customers as to what to do,” he says.

And most customers need the guidance.

Bartolo explains how his company helped one customer — a popular steakhouse in Colorado — realize its need for greater odor-control measures.

Odors were rising up from the drains and the floor. The problem had become critical to the restaurant’s survival.

“This steakhouse had the best food and a great atmosphere, but nobody would come back because you had that odor.” Once his company helped the restaurant employ an aggressive microbial program, it really helped business, Bartolo says. “The customer is just so happy.”

Even with all these benefits, Bartolo says only 40 to 50 percent of his clientele (or less) use the enzyme-producing cleaners on a regular basis, leaving the door open for salespeople to get in and explain the value.

Renert is well aware of the opportunity to sell these products. “Not enough people use it,” he says. “It takes more of an effort, more understanding from the customer and a willingness to work with the customer on a daily basis.”

Feeling the Pressure
Another odor-fighting cleaning method many distributors advocate is pressure-washing. The facilities first have to qualify as candidates — larger facilities or those with locker rooms and large shower areas are ideal. A minimal amount of chemical and water are sprayed onto surfaces throughout the restroom, then the water is captured by the machine at the end of the process.

“You’re getting to the source of the dirt and grime and you don’t have to touch anything,” says Renert, whose company has had success with these systems.

“It replaces your mop, bucket and wringer, jonny mop, cloth wiper, spray bottle, glass cleaner, bowl disinfectant and standard utility items by bringing in one machine,” he explains. “The savings is time because you’re going to do the washroom in a shorter amount of time and it’s going to save you in supplies that you’re not going to use anymore. If they see that picture, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

If pressure washing isn’t an option for facilities, proper cleaning practices are even more critical. Odor sources are often invisible, and cleaners can skim over important tasks if they’re not trained properly.

“One of the first things we address is getting them to clean along the drains and the grout around the urinals because that’s where the stain or the odor is coming from and it will keep reoccurring. We want to keep them disinfecting as well,” says Bartolo.

“Urinals and floor drains and the floor baseboards along the urinals are probably the most common areas the odor comes from,” he explains.

Renert’s approach is similar.

“The first thing we do when we meet with a customer is determine the source of where the odor is,” says Renert. “In a washroom it can come from a urinal or a toilet, or underneath those fixtures. Or it could be urine in the grout and on the walls,” he adds.

“People don’t want to get on their knees and clean. Only when they realize that if they don’t wipe everything down and clean well will the odors go away. The only way is to get to the source, clean it and maintain it,” says Renert. “Those are the sources that harbor urine, which is the most common odor in the restroom.”

Touchless Transition
Touchless products aren’t known for their odor-fighting properties, but they have contributed to better smelling restrooms. How so? For one, people are less likely to flush if they’re required to touch a handle, so touch-free flushing systems ensure the toilet gets flushed every time. Renert says that without question, the industry is headed toward touch-free products.

“If men and women don’t want to touch the handles and the urine doesn’t get flushed, the odors remain,” he explains. Renert recommends adding an auto-cleaning aspect to the auto flush — a mild disinfectant released each time the toilet is flushed.

“We try to add a cleaning system to continually clean that bowl,” he says.

Scents & Sensibility
Another staple in nearly every odor-control program is malodor counteractants. They suggest cleanliness every time someone enters a restroom.

From gels to aerosols to solids, these products come in a vast array of forms and scents. Bartolo says he usually recommends one to two gel dispensers for a typical restroom. Renert often sells time-release aerosol dispensers, where the customer can program the times of day when they want the unit to spray.

“Scent is released from the spray mechanism based on how you program the dispenser,” says Renert.

Renert says the sprays are well-received. A typical refill lasts 45 to 60 days, he says, so the cost boils down to pennies a day. “If it’s going to work and it’s going to solve a problem it’s basically an easy way to have something in the restroom for customers.”

Restroom odors are inevitable. However, the industry has taken great strides to provide products that diminish odor and in some cases eliminate its source. Distributors have an important role in bringing together the components of a system that will make visiting customers’ restrooms a more pleasant experience.

What You Should Know About Microbes

The microbes used in the “enzyme” cleaners distributors sell would be better described as “enzyme factories.” They react with organic materials such as fatty acids, ammonia and hair, producing enzymes that break the materials down into CO2 and water.

These cleaners can be used as drain cleaners, carpet spotters and pipe cleaners, as well as general purpose restroom cleaners, says Lois Davis, global business manager for Novozymes Biologicals, a Salem, Va.-based company that supplies live microbial products for numerous environmental applications.

Davis told SM some little-known facts about enzyme-producing cleaners:
  • Microbes require moisture to work. “The floor is going to appear dry, but there will be adequate moisture still there,” says Davis. “If it’s completely dry, those microbes will die.” However, new spores will be reactivated when they are again exposed to organic materials.

  • When microbes are used, they continue working well past the actual time the restroom is cleaned.

  • These products are generally safer than chemical products, according to Davis. And they’re more environmentally friendly than the average chemical cleaner.