Proper restroom cleaning maintains a high level of appearance, eliminates unpleasant odours, elevates the image of custodial staff and improves the overall health and safety of the facility.
- Establishing cleaning standards
- Developing guidelines
- Communicating expectations
- Effective training
- Selecting the right chemical cleaning products
- Including all stakeholders
The latter is extremely important to the appearance of the facility and the health of cleaning workers.
Cleaning product selection should be based upon more than a pleasant fragrance, an attractive color or cheap price. The cost of overlooking the safety and environmental impact of a chemical cleaning product can be enormous. Using hazardous acids, caustics or volatile solvent scan result in on-the-job chemical injuries, contaminated indoor air and damaged restroom fixtures.
An organized and well-planned restroom care program will select and use cleaning products that:
- Are effective
- Are safe for workers
- Protect surfaces being cleaned
A trend is emerging to eliminate acids, replace glycol ethers and find sustainable earth alternatives, (‘‘green’’ alternatives) to traditional restroom cleaning products. But most cleaning products are formulated using a mixture of chemical ingredients. This makes their environmental, health and safety (EHS) assessment complicated.
For example, if isopropyl alcohol were being considered for use in a cleaning operation, EHS professionals would review a variety of scientific and medical databases about isopropyl alcohol and make an informed choice about its safety. However, if isopropyl alcohol were formulated with five other chemical ingredients into a glass cleaner, the potential adverse health effects of the cleaning cocktail would need to be considered.
Since the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not require full disclosure or exact percentages of all ingredients on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), this can be a problem for EHS professionals.
The relationship between the chemistry of one chemical and another is important. Recently, I visited a custodial closet near an area where office workers complained about unpleasant odors causing headaches and respiratory discomfort. I opened the door and immediately recognized a chemical odor that was related to ammonia and chlorine being mixed. An investigation of the closet revealed leaking containers of an aqua ammonia detergent dripping into a bucket filled with a sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) mildew remover. A review of the two chemicals’ MSDS indicated they should be kept away from each other. This accident could have had serious consequences on workers there. Avoid High Levels of Corrosive Acids and Alkalis
Hydrochloric acid (HCl) and phosphoric acid are effective ingredients sometimes used to formulate tub, tile, toilet and shower room cleaners. These acids are aggressive and are capable of damaging, among other surface areas:
- Toilets and urinals
- Floor tiles
Acid toilet bow l cleaners typically have an acid content between nine and 25 percent, which may be effective in removing tough deposits from toilets and urinals, but can etch the toilet bowl and urinal surfaces. That makes them more receptive to minerals deposits and soils. Avoid Hydrofluoric Acid and HF Salts Hydrofluoric acid (HF) and its salts are sometimes used to formulate specialty mineral stain removers. These chemicals are effective in removing the toughest of mineral stains, but can severely damage:
- Porcelain enamel
- Glazed ceramic tiles
Care should be taken to control the contact time of products formulated with these ingredients. Proper cleaning and care of these surfaces can prevent the need to use these HF based products. Additionally, some mild abrasive solutions that contain cerium oxide . . . can be used to remove these deposits without the risk to workers and surfaces.
Using chlorine bleach to clean restrooms is not a good idea. In fact, it is a bad idea. Quaternary disinfectant cleaners are currently the best choice for cleaning and disinfecting the restroom environment. Many of these products are effective against a broad spectrum of disease causing microorganisms including:
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Herpes Simplex 1 and 2
- A variety of strains of Influenza viruses
- Covid Virus
Read the product label and literature to confirm what organisms your disinfectant cleaner will kill. Many institutions do not use household chlorine bleach because it:
- Lacks detergency
- Adversely reacts with other chemicals to create toxic byproducts and gases
- Attacks hard surfaces
- Discolors fibers and colored surfaces
- Damages floor finishes
- Rapidly loses its strength
- Is expensive to use
There would be significantly less root canals and expensive dental care needed if patients would properly brush and floss. The same is true in caring for toilets and urinals. When toilets and urinals are properly cleaned and brushed daily, they are less likely to need expensive and hazardous remedies, such as acid cleaners. It takes unsightly rings and deposits long periods of time to form. under normal water and plumbing conditions.
These conditions can be prevented with milder cleaning products and proper daily cleaning.
Research is being done and databases are being developed to assist in comparing the relative hazards of ingredients used in cleaning products. One database that is particularly interesting is the Indiana Relative Chemical Hazard Score (IRCHS). This is a scoring method developed by Purdue University that evaluates an ingredient and assigns a chemical hazard value based upon the average of the Environmental Hazard Value and the Worker Exposure Hazard Value. The lower the score, the more favorable the evaluation. This allows individuals to compare the relative hazard value of ingredients in various cleaning products.
A basic rule should be, use the least amount of cleaning products necessary to meet your specific needs. The least number of cleaning products are needed when a restroom is properly cleaned and maintained.
Planning Reduces Risks Hazardous chemical cleaning products have found their way into many restroom care programs because the other elements of the cleaning process have failed. For example, when toilets are not properly cleaned because of poor planning or ineffective training the result is mineral buildups and stains. A well-planned restroom care program will prevent the stains and eliminate the need for hazardous chemicals.
The basic rule should be to select chemical cleaning products that are effective and yet safe for workers, building occupants and environmental surfaces.