In some facilities in North America, especially public schools, it might still be wise to wear disposable gloves, goggles, and even an air filtration mask upon entering a public restroom.
Although there have been improvements, and some states and municipalities now have laws and regulations requiring school restrooms to meet specific cleanliness standards, unkempt and unhealthy restrooms still exist.
Surveys continue to point out that scores of Americans, as many as 70 percent, believe public restrooms are “unsanitary.” In fact, one in ten has a fear of contracting a disease by using a public lavatory and nearly as many complains about restroom odors.
On top of these issues, building owners, managers and school administrators are coming under increased pressure to “Green” their restrooms, selecting cleaning tools and products that help reduce the impact of cleaning on people and the environment. Luckily, going Green and improving the overall cleanliness and health of restrooms may go hand-in-hand.
Due to new, advanced technologies, Greening a restroom can be achieved without a great deal of effort or expense. The first part of the process is simply a matter of selecting the certified Green cleaning systems, tools, chemicals and products necessary to do the job.
However, another very important part of the process, still often overlooked, involves training and education. A well-trained cleaning worker not only knows how to use the environmentally preferable cleaning products, but also why they are being used and the benefits they can provide.
Selecting Green cleaning products
Any discussion of Green cleaning, whether in restrooms or any other area of a facility, is not complete without understanding the Green certification process and its impact on the JanSan industry. While it has been a long time coming, this process has played a pivotal role in the Greening of our industry.
A quick review of the Green cleaning movement shows that it was essentially dormant from its early beginnings in the 1970s until just recently. Many of the early environmentally “friendly” products performed poorly and/or were very costly—usually both.
Numerous individuals in the JanSan industry considered Green cleaning to be just a fad, and often manufacturers feared these products might harm the sale of their traditional product lines; this resulted in a reluctance to look for Greener, healthier ingredients and technologies.
However, one of the biggest obstacles to the Green cleaning movement was that there simply were no standards or parameters that helped define what was and was not considered Green.
Almost as important, there was no measure of how well the environmentally preferable cleaning products performed compared to traditional cleaning products used for the same purpose. Different advocates promoting the use of Green cleaning advanced their own sets of criterion, leaving the industry in a state of confusion and uncertainty.
This has all changed now that two organizations with very similar verification standards and procedures have been widely accepted as the deciding voice on Green cleaning products throughout the industry: Green Seal® and The Environmental Choice™ Program (ECP). These two, independent and third-party organizations also have reciprocal agreements that, in most cases, honor each other’s certification and verification procedures.
The impact Green Seal and ECP have had on our industry has been enormous. The confusion in regards to Green cleaning products has dissipated now that manufacturers, distributors and building service contractors (BSCs) understand what an environmentally preferable cleaning product actually is.
If it is certified by either of these organizations, we know that the ingredients used are, among other things, safer, made from sustainable sources or reusable sources, packaged in recycled materials, and as good as – if not better – than traditional cleaning products.
Along with the growing interest in Green cleaning and selecting environmentally preferable cleaning products to clean restrooms, many facility managers, school districts and BSCs have reexamined the ways restrooms are cleaned. A quick assessment reveals that in many facilities, not much has changed over the years.
“Selecting environmentally preferable products is just one part of the Green cleaning equation,” said Ronald Goerne, a cleaning consultant for major private and public organizations and past president of the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI). “Another equally important component of the process is examining the systems used to clean restrooms.”
Usually, restrooms are cleaned with cleaning cloths, chemical sprayers and a variety of hand-tools. Microfiber cloths have been found to be much more absorbent than traditional terry cloths and require less water and chemical. As a result, many experts now include them as part of the Green cleaning arsenal.
Certified Green cleaning chemicals are available for use, as mentioned previously, and several manufacturers have introduced cleaning tools such as toilet/urinal scrub brushes that are lighter and more ergonomic. However, how environmentally preferable these tools are remains in question.
“The problem is that these old methods have not always cleaned very thoroughly,” said Goerne. “They can help maintain restrooms on a daily basis, but over the long term, soils and contaminants build up in tile and grout areas, on floors and around fixtures, which causes the restroom to become increasingly unhealthy.”
Goerne suggests a more thorough, healthier, and Greener system for the job, such as the no-touch or spray-and-vac systems now available through leading manufacturers.
“Often, we see BSCs use these systems to correct years of neglect or inadequate cleaning,” said Goerne. “However, many contractors – especially those with contracts to maintain restrooms in large public facilities throughout North America – find that using this system regularly with the certified Green cleaning chemicals helps prevent soil build-up and minimize restroom cleaning’s impact on the environment.”
With a no-touch system, a machine is used to apply chemicals to all surfaces: fixtures, floors, walls, etc. Many systems employ metering devices to mix water and chemical, thus reducing chemical usage.
The same areas are then rinsed clean, loosening and blasting away contaminants. Some manufacturers also include a built-in wet/vac system to vacuum up and collect these contaminants.
“The no-touch system is thorough and helps to eradicate soils that are often hard to reach or remove using small hand tools,” said Goerne. “In combination with certified Green cleaning chemicals, the system makes cleaning safer and healthier.”
The training component
Many of the leading Green cleaning experts, such as The Ashkin Group President Stephen Ashkin – long recognized as the industry’s most vocal proponent of Green cleaning – believe that Green cleaning will help elevate and professionalize the entire JanSan industry.
“Cleaning and its connection to the occupant and environmental health in general is now more clear than ever before,” said Goerne. “However, Green cleaning cannot be accomplished by simply changing tools and products; proper training is crucial.”
Goerne, who has worked with major clients around the country, says that the opportune time to re-train cleaning workers on proper restroom cleaning procedures is during the transfer to Green cleaning systems.
“There is training required to use a no-touch system, but it is fairly easy to follow,” said Goerne. “However, cleaning restrooms with traditional methods can take more time and training because there are more tasks and variables involved, and it tends to be more labor intensive.”
However, whichever system is being implemented, proper training and an understanding of why Green cleaning chemicals are being used are essential information for cleaning professionals and the industry as a whole, according to Goerne.
“Often, people will make comments such as ‘from the company president to the janitor’ when describing an organization,” Goerne said. “That comparison has always bothered me, but especially now, when it is so clear that we are helping to keep that company president—as well as everyone working for that company—healthy and productive. I want everyone, but most especially BSCs, to know how true this is.”
Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and now works as a communications professional for the jansan and building industries.