Cleanliness Counts

By Robert Kravitz

Many park and recreation managers involved with facility maintenance know that when it comes to cleaning, restrooms are a center of complaints. However, a recent poll of  managers of all types of facilities by a leading professional cleaning magazine found that some of these complaints are actually quite basic and can often be remedied fairly easily.*


For instance, at the top of the complaint list was empty soap and towel dispensers. Many park and recreation locations have done away with paper towels, so that may no longer be an issue. However, soap—or lack thereof—is often a concern.

The economy and budget cuts have, in some situations, played a role in this. While not a major expense, commercial hand soap can be more costly than, say, cleaning chemicals. As a result, maintenance administrators may try to get by with less. Sometimes they can … and sometimes they can’t. And when they can’t, that’s when park users raise their voices.

In other cases, maintenance personnel simply forget to refill soap dispensers. One way to rectify this problem is to post a “Got Soap?” sticker or something similar in the janitorial closet. Some managers report that posting these stickers has helped minimize or eliminate this problem.

Overflowing Trash Receptacles
The second key restroom complaint was overflowing trash receptacles. Once again, for those facilities that have transferred to electric hand dryers, this may not be a big concern.

One way to rectify this problem, if paper is still being used, is to install touchless paper dispensers. These systems can often be regulated so they dispense only so much paper at a time. This helps reduce waste, and less paper ends up in the trash. Additionally, and as practical as it may seem, a larger receptacle may be all that is required. Some paper dispenser/receptacle systems installed in park and recreation locations are designed more for small offices than recreation locations with many users.

Urine Odors
Urine odors are high on the restroom complaint list, especially in men’s restrooms. The problem is that when using a urinal, splash back on walls, floors, partitions, even the user is common. The urine and bacteria then find their way into grout, porous floors, and hard-to-reach areas. As the bacteria grow, the odor becomes more potent.

Unfortunately, most conventional cleaning methods provide only temporary relief. They may remove surface-level urine and bacteria, but the more embedded soiling remains. One way to remove more deeply embedded soiling is through the use of spray-and-vac cleaning systems that essentially pressure-wash the troubled area, and can be used to clean the entire restroom. The systems are frequently found in sports centers with high-volume traffic. The “vac” component of the machine vacuums up the solution after cleaning. This also helps remove all the embedded bacteria and contaminants causing the odor problem.

Soiled And Vandalized Restroom Fixtures
Very often, soiled restroom fixtures are the result of inadequate cleaning frequencies. In some park and rec locations, cleaning restrooms and their fixtures once per day may suffice. However, in a busy location, this may prove inadequate. If increasing cleaning frequency using conventional cleaning methods does not fix the problem, other solutions include steam cleaning, vapor cleaning, or the spray-and-vac cleaning method discussed above.

Related to this is the issue of restroom graffiti. Graffiti problems have a tendency to flare up and then disappear … for a while. One of the most important steps managers can take to address this problem is to remove the graffiti as quickly as it appears. Graffiti has a tendency to attract more graffiti. Removing it quickly can help break this cycle.

Visibly Dirty Floors
Finally, the fifth item that receives the most complaints is visibly soiled restroom floors. This may prove to be more of a problem in a park and recreation location than in an office building because most park and recreation facilities are outdoors; the time of year can also impact how floors become soiled during the course of the day.

In most cases, this is, once again, a cleaning issue. Increasing cleaning frequencies can help keep floors cleaner. Also, look into how the floors are being cleaned. Actually, mops and buckets can be cleaning troublemakers. Many studies now confirm that mops and buckets spread soils over the floor in the act of cleaning. Alternative methods include steam cleaning the floors, using the spray-and-vac system, or using vapor cleaning, as mentioned above. None of these systems requires the use of mops, and each can help leave floors visibly and more thoroughly clean and healthy.

Facing Restroom Complains Head-On
While the poll found these five issues the main complaints in public restrooms, your facility may have its own unique concerns. There’s no point in hiding from them. Instead, managers and maintenance professionals should encourage users to mention them. Install a “suggestion” or “comment” box right in the restroom. Some concerns are so basic that they can be easily corrected. Others may require changes in how the restroom is cleaned and a selection of new cleaning equipment; however, the improvement in cleanliness can be well worth the investment.

Work Cited
Mesko, Dave. “Making a Positive Impression.” =

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and frequent writer about professional cleaning issues and concerns. He may be reached at