Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Controlling facility odors

September 19, 2010
The cleanliness of a facility is often judged based on its odor.

If the restroom, kitchen, or locker room, for instance, is emitting odors, chances are clients and users are going to assume the area is not clean.

The first thing BSCs need to do in their efforts to control odors is to identify the source.

Once the source of the problem has been found, BSCs can take steps to neutralize the odor and prevent it from recurring.

Odors in the restroom
In restrooms, foul odors often develop because of urine.

Mike Nelson, who is vice president of marketing for Pro-Link, a JanSan marketing and buying group, says that this problem is often caused by urine saturation in the tile and grout, particularly in the men’s restroom.

Several solutions to this problem are possible.

Some BSCs prefer to use a no-touch restroom cleaning system because these machines can penetrate porous tile and grout, and effectively reach embedded soil areas and remove contaminants, which are then rinsed and vacuumed up.

Other BSCs use conventional floor machines with pads specially designed to scrub-clean deep into porous tile and grout.

Powerful floor care cleaners, many of which are now green-certified, can also be used to loosen soils and dissolve urine and odor-causing bacteria, according to Nelson.

A third option Nelson suggests that has proven very successful and can take much of the “leg work” out of tile and grout cleaning — and help remove odors — is to use an enzymatic cleaner.

Enzyme cleaners eat away at the bacteria which causes odors.

Once the area is rinsed clean, the odor is gone.

Often overlooked, floor drains are frequently a cause of malodors in restrooms.

When the drains dry out, sewer gases are able to escape into the room and foul the indoor air quality.

Some BSCs pour bleach down the drains to prevent this, says Klaus Reichardt, who is managing partner of Waterless Co. LLC, but this is of little benefit and can be harmful to septic tanks as well as the environment.

A more effective and healthier option Reichardt suggests is to use “priming liquids” specially designed to keep the traps in floor drains and other plumbing fixtures full so they never run dry.

Usually just adding a few ounces of these priming liquids in each drain can entirely eradicate these odor problems.

Other sources of odors
Kitchens, locker rooms, and trash receptacles also harbor foul smells.

The causes can be complex, but the solutions, if done frequently and thoroughly, are simple.

Again, BSCs will often use no-touch cleaning equipment to wash out trash cans, garbage cans, and similar receptacles.

Additionally, enzyme cleaners can be used as well.

Food particles left on counters, tile, and grout add to the sour odors often present in a commercial kitchen.

Some foods, such as fish, other seafood, and meats, can release oils, proteins, blood, and grease that emit odors.

Keeping these areas clean and sanitized helps prevent these odors from materializing.

In addition, BSCs should always wipe down appliances.

Clean range hoods to prevent greasy buildup, and don’t forget to clean out refrigerators, disposing of any spoiled food.

Remove refuse as often as necessary and check for leaks in the liners.

Trash cans should be washed out with warm soapy water to keep food particles and bacteria from accumulating or growing.

In locker rooms, mold and mildew can grow, particularly in shower areas, which leads to odors.

Nelson says the goal, no matter what cleaning systems are used, is to effectively remove the bacteria that cause the odor.

Once that is done, the malodors will be gone.

Keeping odors from recurring
The key to preventing unpleasant odors from recurring is twofold: Training of cleaning crews and appropriate product selection.

Fortunately, a number of cleaning products and systems are available to help curb malodors in the restroom, kitchen, and other problem areas.

BSCs should be aware that there are also air freshening products intended for use in restrooms that require no batteries, have no propellants, and are made of recyclable components, according to Nelson.

A similar product runs on two D-cell alkaline batteries, which last a year or more and allow it to quietly yet effectively freshen restrooms with scents that elevate mood and reduce stress.

These systems can be regulated per restroom needs.

Besides choosing the right products, BSCs must also train their cleaning crews on how to use them.

One of the most common errors when trying to disinfect is not allowing enough “dwell” time for a product to work effectively.

Many cleaners do not let disinfectants and cleaning products dwell on restroom surfaces long enough to effectively kill odor-causing bacteria and be able to break down the soil that needs to be removed, according to Nelson.

Cleaning professionals should apply cleaners and disinfectants at the very beginning of the restroom cleaning process, allowing the product to sit on surfaces while they perform other tasks.

“When cleaning is done frequently, with the right products, and with the suggested dwell time, keeping odors in control and eliminating them when they occur is relatively easy,” says Nelson.

Facility malodor can be reduced, even eliminated, when identifying and terminating its main source.

An effective odor control and prevention program is vital to a healthy, happy facility.

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, author of two books on the professional cleaning industry, and a writer for the building and cleaning industries. He may be reached at