Routine Care and Quality Products Are Key to Successful Odor Removal

February 10, 2004
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In offices, hotels, restaurants and other public spaces, there's a growing trend underfoot: Odors. And the employees, customers and clients who utilize these spaces are increasingly intolerant of lingering smells.

In order to deliver energy efficiency, today's buildings are tighter than ever, with less natural ventilation to help remove foul smells. Although the unpleasant scents can stem from a variety of causes, the root cause often lies in your flooring.

To attack the problem, you need to first confirm that the odors aren't caused by the commercial flooring itself. If you have new flooring, you may find that there are characteristic odors associated with it. While it's a good idea to thoroughly clean these new surfaces (deep vacuuming of carpets, deep scrubbing and finish application, if appropriate, on resilient and hard floors) after installation, it's partly just a matter of time to allow them to air out.

In terms of odor removal, commercial cleaning is most effective when dealing with smells from challenging soils. The two major categories of commercial floor coverings are carpeting and hard or resilient flooring, and the challenges can be different between them.

Hard or Resilient Flooring
Included in the hard-floor category are VCT, rubber, wood, ceramic tile, marble, terrazzo and similar surfaces. While such commercial flooring may seem hard and thus impervious to penetration by soils, the opposite is true. It only takes microscopic quantities of a soil to spread negative odors throughout an entire space. Long after the visible dirt is gone, the dirt you can smell may still be present. Therefore, very thorough cleaning is critical to successfully eliminating odors.

This is why the quality of cleaning products is so important. Although containers may look similar, and the color of the products may look the same, all cleaning products are not created equal. What is the difference between quality and inferior cleaning products? Well, besides a few cents, using inferior cleaning products can actually add to an odor problem rather than remove it, by adding their own unpleasant scent to the mix.

Commercial Carpeting
As difficult as odor removal can seem for hard floors, the problem is even more difficult to deal with in commercial carpeting and soft flooring. These types of floors have the ability to absorb large amounts of soil, and can release odors over a long period of time.

Food is certainly a major culprit. As food begins to decompose or break down in carpet, it will increasingly produce unpleasant odors over time. A great example is milk; fresh milk doesn't smell bad right out of the refrigerator, but if spilled, the milk will sour after only a few hours at room temperature, and continue to do so for a long time.

Other common spills that are on the short list of odor causers in the office or public space environment include body soils such as vomit, urine and fecal matter; which can be a huge issue depending on the environment; soils absorbed from the air, typically smoke and other cooking odors from kitchens are major contaminants that can trigger persistent odor problems; and cigarette odor. Office workers and people who share public spaces (such as hotel rooms and restaurants) are increasingly sensitive to tobacco smoke. Non-smokers are more aware of smokers infringing on their space, and don't forget that ever-tighter building construction means reduced air turnover and movement.

Unexpected Spills
What about unexpected spills? The best way to avoid odor resulting from a spill is to clean it immediately with towels or any available absorbent material and then begin spot treatment. After that, it's vital to follow up with extraction cleaning. If the problem persists after completing those procedures, then there are specialty odor removal products on the market to address your problem. They will react with the odor-causing residues that have saturated the carpet. For controlling odors of unknown type or source in carpeting, look for products that contain cyclodextrin odor-removal technology. This technology will lock onto odor molecules, and effectively convert them in a way that there is no longer any scent.

Avoid quick-fixes like so-called malodor counteractants, products that are simply a cover-up. Many of these are nothing more than diluted cheap perfumes that try to confuse the nose by adding fragrance, instead of addressing the root problem. These products, while inexpensive, are not going to fix the problem or satisfy the people who have to use the space, whether they are guests in a hotel or occupants in an office tower or visitors to any kind of public space. Rather than contributing to a solution, they may actually make it more difficult to identify the cause of a bad odor.

Finding the source of an odor may be a tough task even in the best of circumstances. Cleaning crews are often asked to follow up on odor complaints days after the problem is in full bloom. As a result, they may never know the cause. Nonetheless, part of their efforts should include trying to identify the exact location of the spill, though it may be invisible. Not knowing the source complicates the removal process.

The first step in finding odor is bulk soil removal, scraping or wiping up any visible debris. The second step is to remove the remnants. On hard flooring, this requires mopping and auto-scrubbing with appropriate cleaners. For commercial carpet, it means using spot- and extraction procedures. It's important to let the area dry properly, and then if odor returns, to treat it with an odor-removing product.

Odors that linger even after cleaning may require yet another option: bio-spot and odor removers, and anti-microbial products. These items are particularly useful in treating body fluid and food odors. The odors are actually caused by the bacterial or microbial degradation of the soil residues. Bio-products alter the degradation process and stop the creation of such odors. Certain antimicrobial products, such as disinfectant floor cleaners and carpet extraction cleaner-sanitizers designed and labeled for the purpose of destroying odor-causing germs can, if used according to their very specific instructions, block the degradation process and prevent these odors from returning.

Regardless of the source, or how it ended up in your flooring, addressing odor problems - like so many other things in life - ultimately comes down to doing the right thing at the right time. In other words, don't skimp on routine care for your flooring, and don't compromise on the quality of the cleaning products that you use.

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