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By George Weise
October 2002 -
Maintenance & Operations
Restroom odors can create major problems for housekeeping managers. Many institutional and commercial facilities carry out the basic tasks required to control odors, including performing daily cleaning.
Some facilities have purchased new equipment that is designed specifically for the task of cleaning restrooms, while others have purchased absorbent mats that are placed under toilets and urinals. Still others have installed odor-control products in each restroom, all in the hopes of preventing or masking odors.
But even with these methods, many restrooms have a distinct odor. And if a restroom smells bad, visitors and occupants alike will be perceive it as dirty. Successfully combatting restroom odor requires that managers understand the source of the odor and specify products to address it.
Understanding the conditions that cause restroom odors will help managers devise a strategy to successfully remove them and prevent their return. Primarily, there must both be humidity and warm temperatures. The warmer the temperature and higher the humidity, the greater the likelihood that a restroom will have odors.
Since managers generally cannot control these conditions in restrooms, they must try to control the source of the odor, as well as mask and counteract the odor, if needed.
For the majority of restrooms, urine is the source of odor. This odor is actually caused by bacteria that have grown by using urine as a food source. As the bacteria grows, so does the odor.
How does bacteria grow? Warm, acidic urine makes a good food source for bacteria. The urine changes from an acid to an alkaline, and the alkaline salt attracts more moisture, which allows the bacterial growth process to renew. This process will continue and cause a stronger odor until the bacteria is destroyed.
Another potential source of odors that managers often overlook is the floor drain. If the trap in the floor drains dries out, it will emit sewer gas.
To prevent this from occurring, cleaning crews once a month should pour a cup of water down the drain to keep the trap full and stop the gas from escaping. Some managers also add enzymes to the trap.
Pouring a capful of vegetable oil down the trap also will help seal in the gas and stop the water from drying out and causing odors. But most often, pouring plain water down the drain regularly will prevent floor drains from contributing to restroom odors.
Removing an odor means neutralizing urine salts. Then, crews can eliminate food source and counteract the odor.
Cleaners can use an acid neutralizer to break down alkaline salts. The neutralizer either can be mopped or sprayed on the affected area. After rinsing this area, cleaners can apply a disinfectant to destroy the bacteria. To ensure success, cleaners should allow the disinfectant to sit on the affected area for at least 10 minutes.
Cleaning crews should disinfect restrooms daily using an acid neutralizer to remove urine from floors. Grout, including floor and wall grout, is a perfect place for the bacteria to grow, so cleaning crews should pay close attention to these areas.
Managers also can specify the daily use of an enzyme-based product to destroy bacteria. Enzymes digests the bacteria’s food source, as well as the bacteria itself, causing the bacteria to die. Enzyme products can contain various types of enzymes:
Products that combine these enzymes tend to be the most effective treatment for restroom odors.
While using enzymes will help in destroying the bacteria and reducing the odor, this process might take several days to destroy all of the bacteria.
Managers should be aware of one caveat that goes along with this tactic:Cleaning crews should not use enzymes in conjunction with disinfectants because disinfectants can destroy the enzymes before they are able to digest the bacteria.
Managers also might want to instruct cleaners to apply a deodorant to these areas, which will serve to mask the odors until the bacteria is eliminated.
Once all the bacteria are destroyed and digested, the odor should dissipate. Thereafter, regular use of the enzymes should keep the bacteria away and prevent odor from returning.
In restrooms where poor airflow is a problem — generally, most restrooms — a deodorizer can help. Choosing the right type of deodorizer, as well as the method of deodorizing, is an important part in addressing restroom odors.
Cleaning crews can apply deodorizers by mopping the floor or by spraying them into the air. Some deodorizers are timed-release sprays, others come in the form of blocks that are placed in toilets or urinals, and still others are enzymes and deodorizers that are applied with each flush.
Managers have several classes of deodorants from which to choose. Some mask the odor, and others eliminate the odor. Some absorb humidity and filter the air, and many add a fragrance to the air.
Deodorizers can be gels, solids or oils that are made with strong fragrances to cover unpleasant odors.
Many deodorizers are made from glycol, which makes the odor molecule heavier than the surrounding air, causing them to fall to the ground, where they are later removed by cleaning. A counteractant is a type of pairing agent. This chemical combines with the odor’s molecules to change its make-up and form a new, non-odorous molecule.
So to deodorize any odor, the key is to eliminate the source of the odor, then clean the contaminated area. The last step is to actually deodorize the area.
For urine, simply spraying the area is sufficient. Having a deodorizer in the mop water will enable it to penetrate that area, eliminating the odor. Mopping the floor daily with a disinfectant cleaner will also destroy the odor-causing bacteria, reducing odors.
For the restrooms that have a continuous problem with odors, managers might have to schedule intensive cleaning of grout, walls and ceilings using a neutralizer, followed by disinfectants, enzymes and a combination of odor-control devices.
Finding the right odor-control strategy can be time-consuming and challenging. A combination of different systems might be required in some cases. In general, however, daily cleaning with a disinfectant, combined an odor counteractant, will do the job.