The Cleaning Worker’s ‘Mobile Workstation’

The University of Notre Dame is currently building the Campus Crossroads Project. This $400 million building initiative will be the largest construction project in the history of the school. When completed, the more than 750,000-square-foot facility will house classrooms, research areas, a digital media center, and areas for public performances, events, meetings, as well as hospitality space.

Knowing Notre Dame, there was a lot of planning for this new facility long before the first nail was ever hammered. And along with this, there was likely a lot of planning as to how the facility would be cleaned and maintained once constructed.

Hopefully, university administrators did not forget something that is often overlooked, especially if the new facility is to be cleaned by in-house custodial workers. That is the janitor's "rolling office," traditionally known as the janitorial cart but fast becoming known as the custodial worker's "mobile workstation."

Those of us in the professional cleaning industry are always a bit surprised that managers and administrators do not realize the importance of the janitorial cart. But just think about it:

  • The janitorial cart is used every day by a school's cleaning workers; using our Notre Dame facility as an example, this would mean several hundred cleaning workers using about as many janitorial carts.
  • The more ergonomically designed the cart — meaning the cart works with the user rather than the user needing to adjust to the cart — the less physical stress on the user and the less likely a work-related injury will occur.
  • The more organized the cart and the more tools and supplies it can hold — so that users can access just about anything they need easily and quickly — the faster the work can be completed.
  • With enhanced worker productivity, more cleaning projects can be completed in a shorter period of time, which, for college administrators, may mean fewer cleaning workers would be needed or more cleaning tasks could be accomplished each shift.
  • Plus, we must add, the sleeker, more sanitary, and more professional-looking the cart, the more professional the cleaning workers feel about their work and its importance.

Hopefully you have a better understanding of why the custodian's "office on wheels" is so important to its user, and to college administrators. Realizing this, let's dig a bit deeper into what a well-designed janitorial cart looks like.

Designed for Cleaning
College and university administrators may not realize how many items are often carried on a janitorial cart — or how many the cleaning worker wishes were available on a cleaning cart. Among them are the following:

  • A trash collection container
  • Plastic bags for trash
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Warning signs (safety signs, in particular, should be readily available so the cleaning worker does not need to return to the janitorial closet for a warning sign)
  • Chemical containers and/or a variety of spray bottles
  • Dispenser refill items such as paper products and soap
  • Feather duster
  • Broom, dust mop, and dustpan
  • Brushes and towels
  • Gloves and goggles

Having all of these items readily available makes the cleaning work easier and faster, as we've already pointed out. And considering a building the size of the one under construction at Notre Dame, it becomes very clear what a time-saver the cart can be.

Today there are a small number of manufacturers making janitorial carts. Surprisingly, carts can vary considerably with some having more, or should we say different, features than others. Whichever cart you select, here are some attributes of the most efficient carts to look for.

  • Quiet. As you can imagine, pushing a noisy janitorial cart can become a hindrance that can negatively impact worker morale. Look for a cart with rubber wheels; these tend to be quieter for both the custodial worker and building users.
  • Rounded front end. The front end of the cart is typically where a large trash container is placed. It may be squared or rounded. In an industrial location, a squared front end will work well, but inside a college building, a rounded front end will be more protective of walls and easier to maneuver in and out of doorways.
  • Concealed trash. Some carts now have space for a zippered refuse bag in the middle of the cart. This allows the worker to remove the trash from the side of the cart rather than lifting it up and over the cart, reducing worker stress. The zippered bag conceals the trash while improving the appearance of the cart and helping to contain odors.
  • Moisture block. Some carts are designed to separate potentially wet areas from areas of the cart that must remain dry. For instance, to house vacuum cleaners. This design detail promotes safety for the user and the equipment.
  • Utility hooks. We mentioned the importance of having warning signs readily available. The cart should have some sort of hook, often called a utility hook, to hold items such as signs.
  • Many deep pockets. The custodial worker will want a cart with several deep, molded pockets. "Molded" means the pockets are built-in — molded — into the cart. This helps ensure cleaning chemicals, supplies and other items are safely stored.
  • Handles away from trash. At one time, carts were designed with the trash area directly in front of the cleaning worker. Instead, select a cart where the push handles are spaced away from the trash receptacle. It's simply more sanitary.
  • Area for a vacuum cleaner. Not all carts have an area to hold a vacuum cleaner; this design is based on how the cart is used. If the cart is designed for use in a large industrial area, with no carpet, no storage area for a vacuum cleaner would be needed. But for use in a college building, select a cart that holds a vacuum cleaner snugly in the back of the cart and allows the worker to easily grab and then replace the vacuum cleaner when needed.

When Shopping for a Janitorial Cart
There is one more suggestion I would like to make. Now that you know some of the things to look for in a mobile workstation, do not make a purchasing decision without input from a group of custodial workers. Many times, college administrators will purchase an item they believe will work perfectly for their cleaning staff only to find the staff never uses the new product.

Always include them when making the final buying decision. After all, it's their "office," and quality janitorial carts can last for years.

About the Author

Dennis Knapp is director of product development at Impact Products, LLC ( He can be reached through his company website.