How To Identify And Fight Restroom Germs
Using Proper Chemicals To Clean Restrooms
PPE That Protects Cleaning Workers
BY Lisa Ridgely
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The science of cleaning is important in all custodial applications, but it should be particularly prioritized in restrooms, where a unique and potentially dangerous mix of germs, bacteria and pathogens lurk. Cleaning and disinfecting restroom hot spots — including door handles, sink and counter areas, toilets and urinals, and floors — requires constant vigilance and attention to detail by a properly trained staff.
While occupants’ health is of the utmost importance, in-house custodial managers also need to prioritize the health of their workers. Not only do custodians need to be trained on what materials they may be exposed to, including cleaning chemicals and common restroom germs, but they also need to know how to protect themselves against those materials.
“Front-line workers wear PPE not just to protect themselves from the chemicals they’re using, but also to protect themselves from the materials they’re cleaning up,” says Keith Schneringer, marketing manager at Waxie Sanitary Supply in San Diego. “In restrooms, you just don’t know what sort of bacteria and pathogens you’re going to come across, so it’s smart to protect your skin, your eyes and your respiratory system using personal protective equipment, or PPE.”
Germs are everywhere, especially in contaminated restrooms. Infectious agents commonly found in restrooms include viruses such as influenza, streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli and hepatitis. They can be airborne or spread through mucus, fecal matter, and blood — so cleaning and disinfecting surfaces frequently is the best way to protect occupants. However, workers must first be trained on how to identify and deal with the materials they come into contact with.
“Ongoing restroom cleaning training, safety training and bloodborne pathogen training should be provided to employees to arm them with the knowledge to be able to handle various situations they may encounter in a restroom,” Schneringer says.
Custodial managers should talk to their distributors about the training programs and tools that may be available and preferred for the types of facilities they clean, he adds.
Breeding Ground For Germs
The types of bacteria in restrooms can generally be divided into three groups based on region. The first are skin-related germs found on touch points such as sinks, soap and towel dispensers, door and toilet handles. Second are intestinal and fecal bacteria commonly found on and near toilets and urinals. Last is floor bacteria tracked in and out on shoes.
The shift of many modern restrooms to touchless or hands-free fixtures is a logical and necessary response to touch-point bacteria, says Sandra Harshman, custodial superintendent at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
“Once a restroom has been used after it has been cleaned, it is considered contaminated,” says Harshman. “All areas need attention but especially those considered ‘high-touch’ such as toilets, door handles, faucets, etc.”
Because of the potential danger of fecal bacteria, toilet and urinal areas require complete disinfection one or more times a day, says David McCannon, training specialist with Athens, Ga.-based University of Georgia’s (UGA) Building Services department.
“Fixtures, walls and the floors under the fixtures need to be disinfected,” he says. “Also, sink and faucet areas can be particularly dirty because that’s the first place touched after occupants use the restroom.”
Another surface that needs special attention is the feminine disposal unit in women’s restrooms, where bloodborne pathogens are a concern. Custodial workers must be trained to include the disinfection of these surfaces.
Because they are rarely touched with hands, floors are often overlooked as surfaces needing disinfection in the restroom. But, floors typically have the greatest spectrum of bacteria, thanks to splashes, drips and splatters. Managers should train staff on the importance of cleaning and disinfecting floors daily.