Keep Your Water in the Closet

October 20, 2003
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What do you get when you cross a facility's most expensive square footage with a bored juvenile delinquent, or maybe a disenchanted sports fan? In many facilities, that would be a flooded restroom.

As if restrooms didn't suffer enough indignities just by being restrooms, they are quite possibly the most frequent victims of facility flooding. A regular target of vandalism, a restroom is just as prone to burst pipes, leaky plumbing, or even natural disasters and torrential downpours as any other area of a building. And when Murphy's Law is in effect, the adventure often begins during the night or over a holiday weekend, adding to the potential for damage.

Whatever the cause, proper restroom flood recovery and restoration requires rapid-yet-certain action to ensure safety, minimize damage and associated cost as well as eliminate possible health issues.

Safety first. When arriving on the scene, the cause or source of the flooding is not always apparent. Before rushing in to a flooded restroom, it's a good idea to turn off the electricity. Turn the heat down to 65 degrees or lower to minimize bacterial growth. It is also recommended to wear rubber or other water-resistant gloves during cleanup procedures.

Stop it. Identify the source of the water and stop it if possible. It may be necessary to shut off the main pipe.

Get the water out. Remove the water from the restroom as quickly as possible. Speed is of the essence here and can mean the difference between minor damage and major devastation. One of the most commonly used tools is a wet vacuum, simply because of their relative low cost and nearly universal ownership. However, except in the case of minimal water, they can be very inefficient since they must be emptied frequently, wasting critical time during a vulnerable phase.

A better alternative is a "continuously operating" flood recovery system. These systems are designed to rapidly move high volumes of water through a continuous pump-out operation, eliminating the need to physically transport and empty the water. It is important that the system includes a discharge hose of sufficient length to reach a suitable drain, such as a free-running sink, toilet or even outside. Although invaluable in the event of flooding, not many facilities have one of these machines on hand due to cost and storage concerns, as well as their single-purpose nature. In this case, they are usually available through sources such as a fire department or disaster recovery service. Unfortunately, arranging for an outside service at this point can cost precious time.

A more practical option is a "portable sump pump" available as a low-cost accessory to several all-in-one touchless cleaning systems. These flexible units can immediately convert any wet vacuum source into a flood recovery system.

Regardless of the equipment used, it is important that it include a long electrical cord so that it can be plugged in out of flood range. Also, it should include a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to protect against electrocution.

Complete cleaning. Standing water from any source provides a potential breeding ground for microorganisms, including bacteria and mold. A restroom is at even greater risk because of the probable presence of fecal matter and urine along with other possible contaminants such as vomit, blood, and so on. In order to eliminate current and future health risks and persistent foul odors, it is imperative that all soil and contaminants be completely removed using one of several solutions available today.

The most common method of restroom cleaning today involves the traditional cotton fiber mop and mop bucket. The problem with this approach for flood recovery is that the mop water becomes contaminated the moment the mop head touches it. This necessitates frequent water and mop head changes. In addition, mop heads can't get into tight spaces, such as corners or behind commodes, and tend to deposit soils in grout lines. In the end, it is virtually impossible for the mop to remove all of the soils, leaving the potential for germs and odor-causing bacteria to remain.

A more effective solution for heavy-duty restrooms combines pressure washer, chemical injection and wet vacuum into a single machine. Workers apply a proportioned cleaning solution to the restroom surfaces and fixtures using a spray gun in low-pressure mode. In this situation, a multi-purpose hydrogen peroxide and citrus-based chemical works well.

Next, with chemicals turned off, the dirt is blasted from the fixtures, surfaces, and floors, including grout lines, with a high-pressure spray of clean, fresh water. The operator then uses a wet vacuum equipped with a squeegee head to suction the solution from the floor, removing soils and moisture leaving the floor virtually dry and soil free.

For light duty restrooms with non-grouted floors, flat microfiber mop systems can be used. Microfiber pads lift and trap up to seven times their weight in dirt and moisture and can be used on most restroom surfaces. When the microfiber pads become dirty, they are simply exchanged for clean ones. To achieve best results, it's important to use only those systems that 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 microfiber pad removes the soil and eliminates any threat of cross-contamination.

Regardless of the cleaning method employed, some facility managers prefer to use an antimicrobial cleaner or disinfectant during the process. This is certainly a sound precaution; however, no amount of disinfectant can compensate for incomplete soil removal.

Inspect for damage and moisture. Floodwater has a knack for penetrating surfaces and traveling throughout a building. Incomplete drying can result in further structural damage in addition to foul odors and even toxicity in the air. Carefully inspect the facility for signs of damage and moisture. To improve air circulation, which will aid in the drying process and retard microbial growth, make sure that the air vents are sufficiently dry, clear and working well. Excess retained moisture may require the services of a restorative drying service.

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