Caring for Commercial Rest Rooms

The life of a rest room floor is not easy. Every flush of the commode releases millions of bacteria into the air to create an aerosol of fecal toxins, most of which end up on the floor. If that is not bad enough, rest room floors are the reluctant recipients of additional substances like blood, urine, vomit, spit and so on. And there is the constant parade of shoes tracking in additional types of dirt and microorganisms. All of these factors contribute to making rest rooms a haven for soils, odor and disease-causing bacteria.

It should come as no surprise, then, that rest rooms generate more complaints than any other area of the building. According to recent research, rest rooms result in two out of three complaints from tenants in office buildings across the country. Even newly constructed rest rooms quickly begin to display the telltale symptoms of decline, such as obnoxious odors and stained, darkened grout lines. In a society increasingly concerned about the threat of disease caused by bacteria, the appearance of a building's rest room plays a critical role in the tenants' perception of its health. Rest rooms can be the facility manager's or contract cleaner's nightmare. Even after rest rooms have been "cleaned," they're generally no better.

A Number of Challenges
The mop-and-bucket approach may be the most common method for maintaining rest room facilities. This inexpensive, low-tech system provides facility managers with a simple, easy-to-use solution. The problem stems from the fact that almost all traditional mop buckets contain dirty, contaminated water that cotton fiber mops simply spread around, leaving surfaces dirty and wet. Mop buckets must be continually emptied, washed and refilled to avoid simply moving the contaminated water from one area to another.

Another concern is that, during mopping, grout lines on the floor actually act as super-efficient squeegees that remove and collect soil and soap scum from the mop head. When the water evaporates, soil, hard-water mineral deposits, soap scum and more are left behind on the floor, eventually penetrating and adhering to the porous grout. Grout lines that started out light gray or white soon turn a grimy shade of black.

In addition, some mop heads cannot maneuver in tight spaces, such as corners or behind commodes, allowing soil and bacteria to pile up in those areas. Residual soap scum actually scrubs soil and bacteria from the shoe soles of rest room users, depositing more gunk on an already filthy floor. In the end, only a small portion of the soil is ever removed, leaving an unhealthy breeding ground for germs and odor-causing bacteria.

Total Soil Removal
No amount of elbow grease can alleviate the situation. The only way to truly eliminate grout and odor problems is to completely remove the soil from the floor. One approach is no-touch cleaning, a system that combines pressure washing, chemical injection and wet vacuuming in a single machine.

A proportioned cleaning solvent is applied to the dirty floor using a spray gun. The dirt is then blasted from the grout lines and floor with a high-pressure spray of clean, fresh water. The pressure washer also works to flush soils out of tight places that mops cannot reach. The operator then uses a wet vacuum equipped with a squeegee head to suction the solution from the floor, removing soil and moisture from grout lines and crevices. Once the soil is removed, the bacteria die, effectively killing the odors.

Depending on the condition of the floor, it may need to undergo a period of restoration wherein the procedures are repeated multiple times over the course of a week or two. Once restored, a regular maintenance schedule of routine cleanings will help keep the floors in great shape. The same procedures are equally effective on other rest room surfaces such as fixtures and walls.

For non-grouted floors, such as terrazzo, vinyl composites or cement, microfiber mop systems may be the solution. Microfiber pads lift and trap up to six times their weight in dirt and moisture. They can be used wet or dry to clean hard surface floors, combining multiple cleaning steps while eliminating the need for specialized tools. When the pads become dirty, they are simply exchanged for clean ones. Some systems are equipped with self-dispensing reservoirs or solution tanks so that custodians use only fresh, clean solution. Since the pads never enter the solution tank or reservoir, the cleaning solution remains fresh. Simply changing to a clean pad removes the soil and eliminates any threat of cross-contamination.

In large rest rooms, such as those found in some sports venues and airports, small auto scrubbers can be very effective, bringing to bear a highly efficient cleaning system in a mobile, time-saving package. However, their size prevents some of them from reaching deep into corners and other tight spaces found in rest rooms, so custodians may want to supplement them with another cleaning system.

Cleaning vs. Disinfecting
Many facility managers mistakenly try to compensate for incomplete soil removal by using disinfectants. In essence, the floor is being washed with a mixture of contaminated water and disinfectant, is not rinsed, and is then declared clean.

This is like washing dishes with a dirty rag in used water laced with disinfectant and not rinsing them. And while no one would really want to apply the standard of "clean enough to eat off" to a commercial rest room facility, it is a standard a professional should look to achieve.

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