Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Odor control options

September 19, 2010

Have you ever walked into a restroom that was so clean — shiny fixtures, mirrors with no water spots, grout as white and pure as fresh snow, tile so glossy you can see your reflection — you were mesmerized, only to be completely put-off by a repellent odor from somewhere in the depths of this "too-clean-to-smell-bad" restroom?

Well, if you have, you don''t need to be told how disheartening it can be.

Controlling and eliminating odors in restrooms can be frustrating. Even in a clean restroom — especially in high-traffic facilities — foul odors can exist.

Sometimes, regularly scheduled cleaning of common high-touch areas is not enough to rid a restroom of repulsive smells. The only solution is frequent cleaning of the entire restroom, not just where it might be dirty.

Regardless of how clean the restroom appears, an odor will overpower the senses and give the impression that the restroom is dirty and unsanitary.

Remember, the cleanliness of a restroom represents the overall cleanliness of a facility.

Origins of odors
The root of offensive restroom odors can be nearly anything in the facility. Some common sources of persistent or ongoing odors include, but are not limited to:

  • Toilets and stall dividers
  • Urinals and urinal dividers
  • Floors, including tile and grout
  • In and around sinks
  • Floor drains and other plumbing
  • Trash cans
  • HVAC systems.

Transient or temporary odors can also be present in a restroom. While these odors can be equally annoying, they generally come from sources separate from those producing chronic odors.

Some of these sources include:

  • Smoke
  • A recently used stall
  • Body odor
  • Cologne or perfume.

Omitting ongoing odors
If there is organic matter present, bacteria can and will grow and feed off it.

The constant use a restroom receives ensures there will be potential food sources for bacteria.

"The best procedure is to employ a product that actually neutralizes the organic matter that the bacteria are using as the food source. Bacteria produce gases that cause odors, and if you eliminate the food source, the bacteria cannot survive," notes Scott Maag, international director of research for Buckeye International Inc.

Organic cleaners with elimination chemistry are formulated with natural enzymes that "eat" potential bacterial food sources, thus decreasing the chance of recurring odors.

This is not, however, a one-time fix. Because restrooms are frequently used, it is necessary that this aspect of odor control be adopted into your regular cleaning schedule.

"If the source of the odor is in an area that is cleaned frequently, just add the odor elimination product to the cleaning solution. Be sure the product you use can be readily mixed with detergents and/or disinfectants," states Michael McGuire, president of the Thornell Corporation.

Tackling temporary odors
"For transient odors, short of not allowing items — certain foods, smoke, etc. — in the facility, there is no way to prevent them from occurring," says John Schauff, bioaugmentation manager for Spartan Chemical Company Inc.

Though cleaning alone will not get rid of them, they are generally easier to resolve than persistent odors.

Odor neutralizers are chemically engineered to counteract odor molecules and render vapors odorless.

Another popular option is using a desensitizer that will overpower the odor with a pleasant fragrance.

This does not actually get rid of the odor, but it will mask the foul smell long enough for it to dissipate, rendering it inoffensive and undetectable.

Odor masking techniques tend to work best when there is ample ventilation.

Replacing air filters on a regular basis and keeping air ducts and other components of HVAC systems clean and operating at optimum performance will ensure proper ventilation.

Odors prevent productivity
It is no secret that foul odors reduce productivity.

"When people encounter foul odors, most will avoid the area at all cost — even if that means changing routines," states Eric Probst, regional sales manager for Waterbury Companies Inc.

People want to be in clean, fresh smelling areas, plain and simple.

If a foul odor is present in a restroom, many employees will do whatever is necessary not to use it. This can include walking a farther distance to another restroom that smells cleaner, or even holding out until they go home.

Schauff notes that employees who are exposed to persistent foul odors may develop an acute sensitivity to the situation, causing them to go home sick.

Situations like this not only decrease productivity, they bring it to a standstill.

Employees are less likely to use sick days if the environments they work in are clean and fresh-smelling.

Therefore, it is crucial to combat unpleasant smells immediately, and before they become a cause of complaints or concern.

It is the responsibility of an employer to provide a safe work environment that encourages productivity.

Scents of the seasons
Everyone knows that certain smells are associated with different seasons.

Some smells can encourage tranquility, while others bring you back to the days of grandma''s fresh baked goodies.

The effect that certain scents have on senses and overall mood need not be overlooked when choosing odor control options.

Maag breaks it down like this: Spicy scents are preferred in the fall and winter; these include wintergreen, cinnamon and pine.

In the spring and summer, floral and fruity scents are more popular.

If scents are not agreeable with the natural smells of the building, or are not enjoyed by occupants, problems can occur.

And, there is a possibility of creating an even more offensive smell than the original with odor-masking fragrances.

This is an important reason why you should check with building occupants to find out if there are any scents they find unpleasant or could trigger allergies and cause headaches.

As always, if you are uncertain as to which odor control options are best for you — odor elimination, odor masking, or a combination of the two — consult an expert.