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Feminine Hygiene Waste Receptacles

August 23, 2012
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A topic that does not receive regular attention, the cleaning and disinfection of feminine hygiene waste receptacles is of critical importance to maintaining germ-free and odor-free women's restrooms.

According to Ann Germanow, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Scensible Source Company LLC, the accepted method for disposing soiled feminine care products in women's restrooms — a hinged metal or plastic receptacle mounted or built into the stall partition with a small wax paper bag inside — is a health and safety risk to both restroom patrons and cleaning staffs.

"The insides and outsides of these receptacles are one of the most contaminated yet most neglected fixtures in women's restrooms," states Germanow. "Users are exposed daily to potentially harmful germs and bloodborne pathogens as well as offensive odors."

In understanding the importance of establishing comprehensive guidelines regarding cleaning and disinfecting feminine hygiene waste receptacles, Germanow enlisted the expertise of three veteran cleaning professionals.

With the assistance of Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc. and The Housekeeping Channel LLC; Lynn Krafft, owner of Krafft Cleaning Service Inc. and associate editor of the International Custodial Advisors Network (ICAN); and Perry Shimanoff, president of Management and Communication Consultants (MC²), The Best Cleaning Practices for Sanitary Product Disposal Receptacles was published as an educational resource on July 6, 2010.

How Clean Is Clean?

Although it does have a standard regarding bloodborne pathogens, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not specifically address this blood and bodily fluid hazard.

"Used feminine hygiene products present a health concern for the custodians and others who have contact with the receptacle before it is disinfected, assuming that it ever is," notes Krafft.

Given the apparent lack of attention, the goal of the standard was and continues to be elevating awareness of the hygiene issues related to feminine waste receptacles and to provide special, best practice instructions that can easily be adopted into routine restroom cleaning.

According to Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, studies have shown that, without proper disinfection, feminine waste receptacles can harbor alarming levels of pathogens such as Echerichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, Staphylococcus, Yersinia and many others that can cause anything from mild skin discomfort to death.

Concurrent with studies performed by Gerba, the findings of a study conducted by Ethox International showed that the unlined interiors of these receptacles yield more than 10 times the biological contamination of the exterior surfaces.

While custodial professionals don gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) when performing cleaning duties, restroom patrons do not.

As such, and whether she is aware of it or not, a woman using a feminine hygiene waste receptacle could be unnecessarily exposed to any number of harmful pathogens.

"The custodians did not like the system we had in place, as the brown bag would fall into the container and the feminine products disposed of would often need to be touched to be removed," proclaims Donald Sullivan, manager of custodial services for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "They always wear gloves, but it's still not the most sanitary way of disposal."

Moreover, if receptacles are not cleaned and disinfected properly and frequently, restroom patrons may be discouraged to make use of them.

And, as any weathered custodial or maintenance professional knows, feminine hygiene products can wreak havoc on plumbing systems when flushed.

As Sullivan explains, before new units were installed that are easier to clean and disinfect, most women were flushing their feminine products down the toilet.

"The units we had looked disgusting and patrons didn't want to deal with them," asserts Sullivan. "Our campus plumbers seem glad we installed these new units — fewer plugs in sewer lines to deal with."

Because our job as custodial professionals is to provide safe and healthy indoor environments for building occupants, Germanow, Rathey, Krafft and Shimanoff provide the following guidelines in a step-by-step procedure to ensure the proper cleaning and disinfection of these often forgotten about receptacles.

Ten Steps To Cleanliness

  1. Empty the receptacle's contents by removing the liner bag, sealing it and placing it in a lined cleaning cart trashcan or lined trash pickup container
  2. Use extra caution when handling the liner, which may contain sharps such as needles
  3. Visually inspect the inside of the receptacle and carefully remove debris remaining in the bottom and discard it in the trash
  4. Use paper towels or other disposable wipes only
  5. To properly clean, apply — via disposable wipes and/or a spray bottle — a hospital-grade disinfectant cleaner registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the interior and exterior of the receptacle, including the lid and even when there is no visible soiling
  6. In order to be effective, always follow the recommended dwell time on the manufacturer's product label
  7. To dry receptacle surfaces, use paper towels or other disposable wipes only and discard them when saturated
  8. To comply with the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen standard, line the clean receptacle with one bag that will completely cover the inside surface and totally enclose discarded sanitary products, which protects custodial staffs from coming into direct contact with materials containing blood or bodily fluids

    • Check the dimensions of the receptacle to choose the correct size bag
    • The liner should reach all the way around the sides and to the bottom of the receptacle
    • Use one liner bag only; do not place multiple waxed paper bags in the receptacle

  9. Handle the filled trashcan or trash pickup container carefully knowing that sharps and bloodborne pathogens may be present; do not sort through or compress trash, even with gloved hands
  10. Inspect your work to ensure visible and hygienic cleaning standards are met; adenosine triphosphate (ATP) measurement can help to verify organic soil removal.
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