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Preventing Dangerous Restroom Conditions
Cleaning steps professionals can take to make these trouble areas safe for occupants.
By Dane Dickson
MARCH 07, 2014

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The restroom is usually not the most glamorous room in most facilities, and it is certainly not the easiest to maintain.

It is also the biggest problem area in facilities, a source of many customer complaints and a room where many guests and property owners judge the cleanliness of the facility.

Therefore, it deserves every facility manager’s attention.

With this in mind, Clorox Professional Products Company brought leading cleaning industry experts together in a roundtable during the 2013 ISSA/INTERCLEAN conference to discuss the state of the public restroom and learn more about what made it such a tough cleaning job.

The discussion centered on two key trends for 2014 — bioburden and cleaning for health in restrooms — which facility managers and cleaning industry professionals should keep in mind as they think about and improve upon their facilities.

Bioburden In The Restroom

Restrooms can accumulate a lot of grime, debris and odor causing bacteria because of their function and constant use.

Everything from urine and fecal matter to other bodily fluids and dirt contribute to a restroom’s cleaning challenges.

Not to mention, every time a toilet is flushed, it releases a plume of aerosolized droplets that can carry bacteria to other restroom surfaces like floors, walls and handles.1

All these things contribute to a restroom’s “bioburden” or the amount of bacteria present on a surface before it is cleaned and disinfected.

Cross contamination is a major culprit in increasing the impact of this bioburden.

With all the soils and bacteria present on restroom floors and other surfaces, it becomes very easy for cleaning professionals to further spread these contaminants throughout the restroom by using dirtied tools such as sponges, mops and cloths.

Soils can become trapped in mop fibers and then bacteria is redistributed to nearby areas during the cleaning process.2

Consumers can also contribute to its spread via bags and items they bring into the restroom and even their hands.

Dealing with bioburden build up is not a pretty subject.

In fact, a survey of U.S. consumers found that three out of four people are disgusted by urine stains and odors in public restrooms and more than one-third would leave a place of business because the restroom smelled like urine.3

Likewise, another survey of cleaning industry decision makers found that removing urine odors (52 percent) and stains (47 percent) is their number one priority.4

Despite being a top priority, reducing bioburden in the restroom is a tough job in an already challenging environment, but the best approach is to focus on simple daily cleaning efforts.

This includes selecting the right process and products that are easy to use and engineered to deal with problems like stains and odors at their source, rather than masking them.

Try some of these simple daily cleaning suggestions in your facility:

Pre-clean surfaces first to remove bodily soils such as urine, feces and vomit and then use a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered product to disinfect surfaces and kill any odor causing bacteria that may have been left behind.
- Remember to choose disinfectants with label claims to kill germs of the highest concern, such as influenza and norovirus, in order to reduce the risk of outbreaks.
Eliminate restroom odors by breaking them down at their source.
- Choose products that include stable active ingredients, such as hydrogen peroxide, which will fight urine odors and stains effectively whether they are used before or after other cleaning products.
- In comparison, dilutable general bathroom cleaners (GBCs) typically contain less than 0.5 percent of their active ingredient after dilution and enzymatic cleaners are formulated at a neutral pH which do not treat stains well and can be deactivated when used in conjunction with other antibacterial or high/low pH products.
Floorcare is also important. A study published in the journal PLoS One found that restroom floors are the “germiest” places in restrooms with about 230 bacterial species, compared to 150 species in other locations.5
- Remove grime and scuff marks on restroom floors with a multi-surface cleaner and consider using a disinfectant, as well, to minimize cross contamination.
Clean mirrors and glass to keep them shining by removing water marks, soils and streaks with a general glass and surface cleaner.
Scrub away soap scum on sinks, counter tops and more with products specifically formulated to break it down.
Cleaning To Stop The Spread

While cleaning for appearance and to remove bioburden is well understood and a priority for the industry, disinfecting to prevent the spread of illness-causing germs on restroom surfaces is not always as top of mind as it should be.

With flu season in full swing, cleaning to stop the spread of infections is especially important now, as the flu virus and other illness-causing germs can survive on surfaces for extended periods of time and can spread when people touch infected surfaces and then touch their eyes, mouth or nose.

The issue of cross contamination is also something to consider when cleaning in order to prevent the spread of infections.

Cross contamination occurs when bacteria and viruses are transferred from one surface to another.

For example, when a woman’s purse is placed on restroom floor and then placed on a sink counter, the germs and bacteria can hitch a ride.

One study even found that 20 percent of handbags contained more germs than the average toilet flush and could potentially cross-contaminate other surfaces.6

Good hand hygiene practices in conjunction with efficient cleaning and disinfecting are crucial to preventing the spread of germs and reducing cross-contamination concerns.

Keeping people healthy can also go a long way to show the return on investment (ROI) for a clean restroom, as illness-causing germs can contribute to employee absenteeism or presenteeism.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine reported that health-related “lost productive time” costs employers $225.8 billion per year, or $1,685 per employee per year.7

The ISSA roundtable panel discussed how cleaning professionals and frontline workers should be educated and reminded often of how important their job is to preventing illnesses and how much it impacts their business’ bottom line.

Here are some tips facility managers can share with their staff to help educate them on the importance of cleaning to stop the spread of infections:

Frequently touched restroom surfaces and objects such as faucet handles, countertops, doorknobs and dispensers need to be disinfected at least once a day with an EPA-registered disinfectant that has kill claims for some of the most contagious and hard-to-kill viruses such as influenza and norovirus.
Always refer to the product label and follow manufacturer’s instructions for use and contact time, or the length of time the disinfectant needs to remain wet on the surface to properly kill pathogens. Different products have different contact times for killing certain pathogens.
To prevent the spread of infections, employees should wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water, especially after emptying waste baskets, touching used tissues or using the bathroom.
As the industry thinks about these trends, another one to keep in mind that may eventually help facility managers better understand the impact of bioburden and cleaning for health in the restroom is the emergence of science-based cleaning research.

In the past year, there has been urgency in the cleaning industry to push for more science-based research to inform practices and procedures and validate ROI and results.

When research-based benchmarks are in place, cleaning industry professionals will need to start considering how results will impact the products and processes they use on a daily basis.

1Barker J, Jones MV. “The potential spread of infection caused by aerosol contamination of surfaces after flushing a domestic toilet.” Journal of Applied Microbiology. 99 (2005): 339–347.
2“Gerba: Sometimes It’s Better Not to Clean.” CleanLink News. (April 4, 2008). Web. Retrieved from: http://www.cleanlink.com/news/article/Gerba-Sometimes-Its-Better-Not-to-....
3Clorox Professional Products Company and Opinion Research Corporation. (March 2013). Restroom Pet Peeves Omnibus Survey. (Survey of 1,005 U.S. adults).
4Clorox Professional Products Company and ClearVoice Research. (February 2012). Online Survey of Professional Cleaning Service Industry Decision Makers. (Survey of 933 cleaning industry decision makers across various industries).
5Flores, G.E., Bates, S.T., Knights, D., Lauber, C.L., Stombaugh, J., Knight, R. and Fierer, N. “Microbial Biogeography of Public Restroom Surfaces.” PLoS One. 6.11 (2011): e28132. Web. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3223236/
6Castillo, M. “Handbags may contain more germs than average toilet flush.” CBS News. (May 20, 2013). Web. Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/handbags-may-contain-more-germs-than-average....
7Stewart, W. R. Lost productive work time costs from health conditions in the United States: results from the American Productivity Audit. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine. 45.12 (2003).

Dane Dickson is the R&D director at The Clorox Company. He develops science-based product solutions for Clorox Professional Product Company, and he has 27 years of experience in product development. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis. For more information on Clorox Professional Product Company’s products to help achieve a complete clean in restrooms, such as Clorox Urine Remover and Clorox Hydrogen Peroxide Disinfecting Spray, visit www.CloroxProfessional.com/Cleaning.

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