New Tools for Cost-Effective Restroom Cleaning

The traditional cleaning method for restrooms has been heavily labor intensive, relying on maximum manual effort with minimal innovation. This time-worn approach relies on using one or two (usually heavy) mop buckets, heavy cotton or synthetic mops, rags, a variety of cleaning chemicals and a lot of elbow grease. Such techniques translate into high cleaning costs per square foot, worker fatigue and limited productivity.

A national study conducted by an organization that surveys higher education facilities indicated in 1992 and 1998 that restrooms are, per square foot, the most time-consuming areas to clean. Yet, even though a lot of time and dollars are expended in cleaning restrooms, the vast majority of complaints come from this area, more than 75 percent, according to a survey conducted in 2002.

Thus, if a manager wishes to decrease cleaning costs, increase productivity and minimize complaints, he should review labor-saving innovations and processes in restroom cleaning available today.

Cleaning equipment and supply manufacturers are inventing and marketing items that are changing the way restrooms are cleaned. The innovations include the following.

Restroom cleaning kits: These kits include all the basic tools necessary for daily and project cleaning of restrooms, such as lightweight microfiber mops, divided two-in-one mop bucket systems, a variety of swivel-head scrubbing brushes and microfiber cleaning cloths.

One leading provider of cleaning equipment and supplies offers a kit with a belt-mounted trigger sprayer that enables workers to clean without lifting a spray bottle (a coiled solution tube and separate trigger head facilitates directing the spray anywhere within a three-ft. radius) and keeps both hands free when the sprayer is not in use; a microfiber flat mop that cleans and rinses better than traditional mops; an integrated two-bucket system (a bucket divided into two compartments -- one side containing clean solution, one side containing rinse water); a strip washer/squeegee system for walls and partitions; and more. The system is compact, lightweight and enables custodians to clean restrooms, by some estimates, 10 percent to 15 percent faster. The kit even has a special tool that enables the custodian to pick up items off the floor or out of urinals without having to touch the item and with minimal bending.

Vapor cleaning technology: This system uses superheated steam -- and sometimes special towels -- to clean surfaces, often without the use of cleaning chemicals. The steam, heated to between 200°F and 225°F, cleans and sanitizes most washable restroom surfaces.

Pressure washer, squeegee, vacuuming/drying systems: These tools use a special high-pressure sprayer that precisely dilutes and sprays chemicals on washable surfaces. The custodian then uses a squeegee to remove the excess water. Several equipment manufacturers have developed an all-in-one system of sprayer, water pick-up and surface-drying equipment on wheels. These systems are effective, efficient and especially useful when cleaning larger restrooms such as in stadiums. Smaller versions of these devices are available for smaller restrooms.

Restrooms can be cleaned using all-in-one equipment in less time than when using conventional methods, especially in large restrooms, thus reducing labor costs. The integrated machines reduce equipment inventory by replacing pressure washers, wet vacuums, grout-cleaning machines and some janitor carts. Benefits include the following.

Overall savings: Since modern equipment is lightweight, productive, easy to use and uses less chemicals, the facilities manager can justify the expense of purchasing it. Custodians using flat mops, lightweight all-in-one buckets, specialized spraying tools and squeegees can clean more area in less time and be less tired at the end of the process. Steam and powered spraying equipment cleans and sanitizes better in one pass, and eliminates the need for expensive mops and laundering costs.

Chemicals: There has been an increased emphasis on minimizing cleaning chemicals. With modern systems, if chemicals are used correctly, a minimum amount of chemical gets the maximum amount of cleaning done. For instance, microfiber tools enable cleaning with just water and need cleaning chemicals only when disinfection is needed or in the case of stubborn soil. Microfiber cloths have also been proven to physically remove more bacteria from surfaces than conventional cloths, improving sanitation without the use of chemicals. Superheated steam is highly effective in removing most soil and sanitizing without chemicals. By using the new technologies correctly, the facilities manager economizes on chemicals while maximizing labor.

Ergonomics and safety: Manufacturers using new designs and materials are making lightweight, durable equipment such as flat, swiveling mop heads that are 50 percent to 70 percent lighter than traditional cotton or synthetic mop heads. Microfiber cloths are lightweight, clean without streaking, and clean with less chemicals and rubbing. Newer mop and dust-pan handles have improved grips and special contours to minimize worker stress. Integrated, two-bucket systems are lighter and taller for greater ease of use, with drain plugs for emptying and faucet-fill hoses for easy refills without lifting. The pressure-spraying systems on wheels are user friendly, lightweight and easy to move.

Alan S. Bigger, B.S., M.A., R.E.H., is director of Building Services at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Linda B. Bigger, B.A., B.S., is a freelance editor.