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Tackling trouble areas: Grout

September 19, 2010
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Maintaining a high level of cleanliness, appearance and sanitation in restrooms can be a very difficult task for cleaning professionals.

This is especially true in schools and industrial settings, where restrooms are heavily used, and often abused. Most public restrooms have tile covering floors, walls and even ceilings.

Tile, and the grout used to anchor it to these surfaces, is porous. Time, moisture, contaminants and dirty mop water will eventually discolor the tile and grout, causing staining and odors, fostering the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew.

Some cleaning professionals believe that simply sealing tile and grout will prevent these problems from occurring, but while most tile and grout is sealed when installed in a commercial setting and can be resealed as necessary, the sealers eventually break down.

Very often, this happens because of the powerful chemicals used to clean the tile and grout areas — especially floors. When this occurs, the cleaning problems begin and the surface areas end up looking unkempt and dirty.

Many of the traditional methods used for cleaning tile and grout are heavily labor-intensive.

Often, they require the cleaning professional to get down on his/her hands and knees to manually scrub the tiles and grout areas using hand brushes and powerful cleaning chemicals.

This system might work well in a small restroom that only needs occasional grout and tile maintenance, but it would be very difficult to do this in a factory restroom with 30 or more fixtures that are used 12 or 24 hours per day.

Scrubbing by hand would be far too slow and costly to even be considered.

Since restroom cleaning in general — and tile and grout cleaning in particular — are some of the most labor-intensive and time-consuming cleaning tasks in the industry, facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) must reevaluate their restroom cleaning procedures if they want to increase worker productivity and cut costs.

This includes taking a serious look at how to prevent or delay tile and grout areas from becoming soiled and discolored and, if and when this does occur, selecting cleaning systems that clean these areas quickly, safely and efficiently.

According to William R. Griffin, a nationally recognized cleaning consultant and president of Seattle-based Cleaning Consultant Services Inc., the initial planning and design of a restroom can double the life of some surfaces and reduce the cost of cleaning by as much as 30 percent over the useful life of the building.

Griffin offers several suggestions and techniques to help keep restrooms, tile and grout clean, but most of them apply to building designers, contractors and architects.

However, a number of these tips are specifically cleaning-related and should be adopted by facility managers and BSCs.

To best clean restrooms:

  • Use chemical proportioning/mixing systems. This will help to ensure proper dilution so enough chemical is used to help eliminate waste and improve worker safety. Too much chemical can hasten the breakdown of the sealants.
  • Have adequate ventilation to prevent odors and expedite drying. Restroom doors should be left open, if possible, during and after cleaning to allow them to “air out.” Ventilation systems should be checked to make sure they are clean and working properly. Floor drains should also be kept in proper working order at all times.
  • Change mop water and mop heads frequently. Microfiber mops are often the most effective at removing contaminants from floor surfaces.
  • Use proper, safe and effective chemicals. Bacteria can get trapped and build up in grout and tile, especially around urinals and toilets. Therefore, a germicide cleaner is often necessary to kill the bacteria. It can also aid in the removal of urine that may have dried in the grout or tile.

Another component in preventing or delaying tile and grout from becoming soiled is to make sure a restroom cleaning system has been established, as restrooms often take more time to clean than any other area of a facility. Additionally, they get the most complaints at a facility.

It is helpful to have the restroom cleaning system in writing, so that it is clear to all parties and can be thoroughly taught and incorporated by all employees.

This also helps to maintain not only the tile and grout, but the entire restroom itself.

Innovative equipment
Luckily, today’s facility managers and BSCs can take advantage of some new tile and grout cleaning systems to help make this tough job a bit easier — and a lot faster.

One new system uses high-pressure water — up to 1,200 psi — to deep clean, loosen and remove soils.

Some of these machines also heat the water to temperatures as high as 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which helps to facilitate the cleaning process.

These machines, which release large quantities of water at the tile and grout surface, have auto-feed/auto-dump capabilities so they can be used continually without stopping. Soils are loosened and vacuumed up in one pass, leaving no residue.

Although some of these high-pressure machines are specifically designed for industrial cleaning situations, many have variable psi, which allows them to be used on a variety of hard surfaces and for a variety of cleaning problems.

And, some machines are “dual-surface.” They may be used on both hard surface floors and, by changing wands, carpets.

Another tile and grout cleaning option is cylindrical brush technology. Rotary buffers are often ineffective at deep cleaning tile and grout because they cannot penetrate deep enough into the tile and grout surface to loosen and remove soils.

Also, the soil that is loosened must be picked up with a wet vacuum, often leaving chemical and dirt behind.

Cylindrical machines do not use pads; instead, they have rotating brushes that can penetrate deep into porous grout and tile areas.

A final thought
One final factor that must be included for successful tile and grout cleaning and maintenance is the proper training of employees.

Often, cleaning professionals are taught how to clean and maintain restrooms, including tile and grout areas, but too frequently these techniques are soon forgotten.

The inevitable outcome: The quality of cleaning and appearance of the restroom declines over time.

Training, follow-up, prevention and new technologies all help to keep tile and grout clean and looking their very best.

Steve Williams is senior vice president for research and development at U.S. Products, manufacturer of carpet cleaning and restoration equipment.

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