Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Updating Your Restroom Care Tools

September 19, 2010

The Great Recession, as the current recession is now being referred to by some, has caused many businesses and organizations to make some very difficult decisions based on a very critical set of circumstances.

For the professional cleaning industry, the economic downturn has made it necessary for many facility service providers (FSPs) as well as managers to postpone large equipment purchases.

These people are making do with older tools and equipment, many of which are nearing or are past their life expectancies.

Several facilities have had to scale back hiring and, worse, let cleaning professionals go due to severe financial circumstances.

This at a time when facilities around the country, especially schools and universities, are nearing a panic situation concerning the spread of the H1N1 influenza A (swine flu) virus and the possibility of it inflicting users of their facilities.

Essentially, FSPs and facility managers are being forced, probably more so now than in decades past, to do more with a lot less and still maintain necessary health standards for their facilities.

According to Colin Butterfield, a Canadian-based cleaning consultant, author and president of Yoredale Consulting Ltd., for more than 100 years, the accepted knowledge has been that soils harbor germs; that these germs cause disease; and that disease and other health-related problems can be minimized or eliminated through proper cleaning.

And, germs are especially present in restrooms.

Public restrooms have more "high-touch" contamination points than any other area of a facility.

Not only are counters, surfaces, doorknobs and fixtures a concern, so are the floors.

Mark Warner, product manager for disinfectants and sanitizers for Enviro-Solutions Ltd., says we have as many as 50 direct and indirect contacts with floors every day.

This means that if floors are contaminated, the possibility for cross contamination is much greater than most FSPs and facility managers ever thought possible.

In light of all these issues — the tough economy, doing more with less, grave concerns about swine flu and the many contamination points in restrooms — cleaning professionals and managers must step back, reevaluate their restroom cleaning systems and see how they can keep standards and appearance high throughout this difficult period.

Some business consultants refer to this as a "cleansing process."

As it applies to cleaning, this cleansing process allows a facility to determine which cleaning tools and procedures protect health and improve the appearance of restrooms — keeping those that do and eliminating those that do not.

Old But Still Good?

Mops and other conventional floor cleaning tools are a multibillion dollar business in the United States.

Virtually every facility — regardless of size — has a mop on hand.

Mops are one of the oldest cleaning tools available.

String mops, essentially as we know them today, were invented by Thomas Stewart back in 1893.

Although there were other types of mops before his invention, Stewart''s mop was different because the head was made from yarn that could be wrung out and rinsed. And, it also allowed for the replacement of just the mop head, and not the handle, when needed.

His invention made restroom floor cleaning much easier and more cost effective, since users no longer had to replace the entire mop but just the head when it became too soiled.

But did it make floor cleaning healthier?

Jumping forward to the present day, we now realize the answer is likely no.

In 2006, with the help of Dr. Jay Glasel, professor emeritus of the department of microbial, molecular and structural biology at the University of Connecticut Medical/Dental School, a series of tests were conducted evaluating soil removal capabilities of string mops and flat mops, which were invented about 50 years ago, versus a modern no-touch cleaning system introduced about 10 years ago.

The study found that:

  • String and flat mops left 30 times more urine residue on hard surface floors and grout

  • On smooth floor surfaces, there was as much as 13 times more urine residue remaining after cleaning with a flat or string mop

  • In facilities cleaned with only a mop, nearly as much urine residue was present on hard floors after cleaning as before cleaning.

Core to the problem, as we know now, is that conventional restroom mopping processes spread contaminants as much as or more than they remove them from floor surfaces.

This should come as no surprise to FSPs who use mops every day.

This has been substantiated by studies dating back more than 35 years.

One such study found that mops, stored wet — which is not uncommon in most floor mopping situations — support bacterial growth to very high levels, which "[cannot] be adequately decontaminated by chemical disinfection."

Where Do We Go From Here?

Fortunately, there are ways to keep restrooms hygienically clean and healthy in a cost-effective manner.

Some ways to do this include:

  • Turning to modern tools. Advances in new restroom cleaning technologies and equipment have been scientifically proven to improve restroom sanitation.

  • Training, training and more training. Many custodians are self-taught, which is one reason cleaning quality, times and performance can vary. Custodial training should always be viewed as an investment in protecting the health of a facility. Training has a financial return on investment as well since it improves cleaning procedures and efficiency, thus reducing overall cleaning costs.

  • Testing and evaluating. Relatively inexpensive equipment is now available, such as a hand-held adenosine triphosphate (ATP) meter that allows FSPs and managers to prove a surface is clean and healthy.

We must also recognize that improving restroom cleaning effectiveness and protecting the health of a facility is a top-down process.

This means that it involves not just FSPs or even facility managers to make a difference.

It starts at the top, with high-level administrators setting the tone for overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges to help foster a healthier, more hygienically clean facility.


Angelo Poneris has been involved with the professional cleaning industry for more than a decade. He is currently a customer service rep with Valley Distributors, based in Hamilton, Ohio.