Guest Column - May 2013
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From Schedules to Standards
Keeping Restrooms Clean

By Robert Kravitz

Facility managers and custodial workers typically view cleaning as a "must do" task. It is not something that can be skipped or overlooked. This is why cleaning is so often performed on a schedule. This ensures that specific tasks—cleaning restrooms, for instance—are performed a set number of times per week.

In the professional cleaning industry, this is often referred to as "frequency cleaning," a practice that establishes how often some rooms, surfaces, floors or other items are to be cleaned per day, week or month. Within the industry, these schedules are typically referred to as "specifications" or "specs." Specifications define what is expected to be cleaned and how often.

While cleaning specs are not set in stone and can be adjusted based on the many different factors that impact how soiled areas or surfaces become, very often once they are set, they are rarely changed. However, the cleanliness of a recreational facility can be affected by many factors, including how often it is used; the activities that take place there; the type of users (seniors? adults? children? teenagers?); as well as seasonal and climatic conditions.

What's more, many managers and custodial workers now realize that frequencies and specs do not always work. Don Aslett, a former owner of a large contract cleaning company and an author and public speaker specializing in cleaning-related issues, believes facilities should instead establish standards or levels of cleanliness. "This will keep us from neglecting [cleaning] tasks or cleaning things that do not need cleaning," Aslett said.

As an example, Aslett indicates that many cleaning specifications now state that "floors shall be swept and cleaned once per week." But what if the floors need to be cleaned more frequently? Less frequently? What if more than sweeping and mopping are necessary? Specifications do not take these variables into consideration.

Instead of basing cleaning on a frequency, a level or standard of cleaning for floor care might state that "floors shall be free of dust, debris, soils and heal marks." Whether it takes once a week, every day or just once a month, this is the level or standard of cleaning that will be met, regardless of frequency.

According to Aslett, many other specs can be rewritten as more useful, functional standards:

  • Sinks and fixtures shall be clean and shiny.
  • Counters shall be cleaned and cleared at all times.
  • Glass will be free of marks and smudges.
  • No accumulation of dust shall be allowed on exposed surfaces.
  • Showers and locker rooms shall be clean and odor free.
  • Soap dispensers and the like shall be filled as soon as they run out.

Cleaning standards allow custodial work to evolve beyond the "have to" level based on the clock or the calendar. Standards focus instead on the conditions managers want to maintain in their facilities at all times.

New Standards Require New Systems

After putting new cleaning standards in place, facility managers and custodial workers may need to reevaluate the actual cleaning tools and methods used to clean their facilities. A good example of this is floor care. The conventional way to clean floors is with mops and buckets. However, we now know that as mops and buckets are used, they become soiled and contaminated. This means they can actually spread contaminants instead of removing them from floors. This is true whether using string or microfiber mop heads.

Further, according to reports by the Montgomery Insurance Company, when mops and buckets are not cleaned and maintained properly, they can leave a residue on floors. As this residue collects, it can lessen the slip resistance of the floor, potentially contributing to a slip-and-fall accident.

Obviously, both of these factors are counterproductive when it comes to maintaining cleaning standards. An alternative presented at a recent Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) symposium suggested not using mops and buckets at all, but rather cleaning floors using what are referred to as "no-touch" or "spray-and-vac" type systems. These machines clean using pressure-wash technology, loosening and removing soils that are then vacuumed up. This cleaner, more hygienic procedure can help managers and custodial workers meet the new cleaning standard and desired level of cleanliness.

Cleaning Standards Require Proof

While Aslett is a strong advocate of putting cleaning standards in place, he admits that procedures must evolve in order to allow managers and custodial workers to prove that those standards are being met. For instance, he says that "clean" is a value judgment, not a precise scientific determination. What might be clean to one person may not be clean to another.

Because of this, cleaning standards typically require some method of proving that surfaces not only look clean, but are actually hygienically clean. This means the number of contaminants and pathogens on a surface have been reduced to a safe level. One way to address this challenge is through the use of ATP monitoring systems, which many cleaning professionals now use to evaluate cleanliness.

ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate, which is an energy molecule found in all forms of life. When found on a surface, it can be an indication that potentially health-threatening microorganisms may be present. The handheld devices used to detect ATP look similar to a television remote control and can provide results in about 10 to 15 seconds. These monitors can provide quick and easy verification that cleaning standards are actually being met.

Cleaning Standards and Training

Managers adopting new cleaning standards will need to train their cleaning workers regarding the new system. Managers also need to communicate with their workers regarding any new tools and equipment that might be necessary.

Most importantly, workers need to know why standards are being put in place. While using cleaning standards does generally make a facility look cleaner, the real reason for implementing these systems is not appearance, but health. With cleaning standards in place, the ongoing health of a facility can be maintained at all times, which is very important in all types of facilities, including recreational locations.

Robert Kravitzis a former building service contractor and a writer for the professional cleaning industry. For more information on cleaning standards and tools, visit