What Stinks?

By Robert Kravitz

Summer is a great time for kids. They’re free to have fun in the sun and do pretty much what they want to do—within reason—for a good three months. The fact that it might be hot and humid means nothing; after all, there’s always the pool at the local recreation center.

However, for park and rec administrators, these busy summer months, along with the hot and humid weather, can be an entirely different experience. Of particular concern are restrooms, especially if they are not air-conditioned. The heat and humidity create a perfect environment for another type of visitor, and that is bacteria, building up just about everywhere and anywhere in the restroom.

Not only is bacteria a potential health hazard, especially for youngsters, but with this buildup can come offensive odors. What is amazing is that the malodors can emanate from various places in the restroom, so finding the source of the odors is the first step in eradicating them. In this article, I’m going to point out some common—and some not-so-common—sources of odor in a park and rec restroom or any other type of outdoor facility.

The Common Culprits
Let’s begin with some of the most common odor centers. These are not necessarily toilets and urinals, but the floors, baseboards, and partitions. Take a gander at how your restroom floors are being cleaned now. Ten-to-one, the cleaning professional is using a mop bucket and a mop to clean the floor. Perhaps he or she is using a microfiber mop head; at least that is a step in the right direction.

But look closer. How clean is the mop head? How clean is the mop water? Here’s what happens when the mop water is soiled. First, the cleaning solution in the water loses its effectiveness. It is being diluted with soil, microorganisms, pathogens, you name it. But that leads to a second problem. If the water and the cleaning solution are diluted, what’s on the mop? The mop is essentially spreading that contaminated water over the floor, up against the wall, and into the grout, nooks, and crannies. With heat and humidity—and repeating this procedure—bacteria thrive and malodors come to life.

Here are some quick and easy steps to remedy this situation and that will likely make cleaning professionals happy as well:

·         Do away with the mop bucket. Select a trolley-bucket that can be rolled over the floor. A spigot at the bottom releases clean, fresh water directly onto the floor. Provide a second bucket for employees to use to rinse the mop.

·         Do away with the mop. What was just described is the old way of mopping floors with two buckets. That approach is somewhat healthier but definitely slower, which is one reason few custodial workers use this method. Here’s another option. Attach a dispense-and-vac system to the trolley-bucket. With this relatively inexpensive system, fresh cleaning solution is again released directly onto the floor, then a brush on a wand—not a mop—can be used to agitate the floor and spread the solution. Be sure to use the brush to clean the baseboards, as these can become bacteria-ridden with mops. Now, turn the brush over and vacuum up the solution and soils.

·         Bring in the big guns. If the restrooms are relatively large, and especially if there are serious malodor issues, it may be best to select what the International Sanitary Supply Association refers to as a spray-and-vac or no-touch cleaning system. This system applies a solution to all areas to be cleaned—floors, fixtures, counters, walls, ledges, partitions, etc.—and then power-rinses the surfaces. The final step is to vacuum up any solution, moisture, and contaminants. Different manufacturers are now making this type of equipment. Be sure to select a machine that vacuums up the moisture, and be wary of equipment that was formerly an extractor or some other machine that was “reworked” to be a spray-and-vac system. It’s best to select a machine originally engineered for this type of cleaning.

Finally, as noted above, toilets and urinals can be a common malodor center, but usually what is needed is an effective cleaning, using a proper solution. A spray-and-vac system can be effectively used to clean and eradicate odors in these areas. But if you are cleaning restrooms manually, try the following:

·         Use a microfiber cleaning cloth; many of these cloths can be folded into quadrants so a fresh section of the cloth can be used as needed.

·         Spray the cleaning solution onto the toilet or urinal, and then allow it to stay for five to 10 minutes. Do not let it dry out. This wait time allows the cleaning chemicals to work more effectively.

If there are odor problems with waterless urinals, these are almost always a sign of poor maintenance. Spray the interior of the urinal with a cleaning solution and allow an appropriate wait time. Wipe the surface clean with a microfiber cloth. Check that the trap/cylinder at the base of the urinal is still effective and liquid-sealed. If not, odors may be coming up from the sewer, and as nasty as these can be, they can easily be rectified by replacing the trap/cylinder or filling it with a liquid sealant made for this purpose.

The Less Common Culprits
Now let’s look at less-common malodor culprits—the ceiling and floor drains. Humidity can build up on the ceiling and as it does, the ceiling becomes one more area for bacteria to grow.

In some cases, the soiling on the ceiling has developed so slowly that the it may be more soiled than it appears; this means the ceiling may also harbor more contaminants and odor-causing bacteria than you might think.

Options here are as follows:

·         Manually clean the ceiling with an effective cleaning solution, wearing gloves, goggles, and protective clothing. If possible, pressure-rinse (with a garden hose) the ceiling afterward to remove chemical residue along with soils.

·         Use the spray-and-vac cleaning system mentioned earlier. Again, wear protective gear for this task.

Fortunately, floor drains are probably the easiest malodor problem to correct. The pipe under the drain is designed so a small amount of water is always present in the pipe. This prevents sewer odors from escaping into the restroom. But let’s say the restroom has received very little attention during the cold winter months, which also means the floor has been cleaned only a few times with any of the cleaning methods noted above. The water in the pipe may have evaporated, and when that happens, the odors appear. A simple solution is to pour some water down the drain. But a more effective solution is to add a small amount of what is often referred to as “ever prime.” Now the problem is essentially eliminated, no matter how often the restroom is cleaned or used.

While park and rec managers will likely not have as much fun cleaning the restrooms as the youngsters have who use the facilities, the problem areas discussed here—and the methods used to address these problem areas—will at least be one less thing administrators have to be concerned about.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries. Reach him at robert@alturasolutions.com.