Cleaning Public Toilets: COVID-19 Edition
Cleaning public restrooms remains one of the most important jobs for maintenance workers. There's plenty of research about the benefits, both real and perceived, of a clean, fresh-smelling public bathroom. Past studies show that unpleasant restroom experiences creates negative perceptions and a potential loss of customers and sales. And bathroom dangers, like contracting streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli and hepatitis A, present real public health risks.
Now add the threat of contracting COVID-19 to the mix and cleaning public toilets has never been more important to human health and economic stability.
Here's what to consider when looking at your restroom cleaning schedule in the age of Coronavirus.
COVID-19 and Public Restrooms: What are the Risks?
Research and findings change constantly but, according to the CDC, the virus is mainly spread by person-to-person contact. The CDC also says it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. There is also mounting evidence that the virus may spread by aerosols, tiny droplets that waft through the air and accumulate over time.
So how risky is it to use a public toilet? Microbiologist Ali Nouri, president of the Federation of American Scientists, summed it up in a CNN article, "They're not great," he says. "If you don't have to use a public restroom, don't."
But in the same breath Nouri realizes that this is not really practical advice. "Sometimes when you gotta go, you gotta go,' he says before breaking down the risks:
- Public restrooms are small: This makes it hard to practice social distancing.
- Public restrooms can be poorly ventilated: This means the virus could linger in the air.
- Public restrooms have many touch points: Handles, taps and flushers present hazards.
- Public restrooms generate toilet plumes: Tiny microbes can become airborne after each flush and COVID-19 has been found in fecal matter. It remains unclear if these particles are infectious, but still…. eww!
COVID-19 and the Public Restroom: Are Any Even Open?
Because of the uncertainty around infection and the public restroom, some organizations are choosing to opt-out and close their facilities outright, much to the dismay of road-trippers and parents with small kids. Many fast food outlets moved to a drive-through only model and shuttered their restrooms. Gas stations, another dependable place for a road trip rest stop, have also started closing their restrooms.
And monitor your liquid intake carefully if you're looking to go thrift shopping. Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina writes that they are "reducing store hours to allow more time for cleaning," which includes wiping down all high-touch surfaces regularly throughout the day. But the strategy doesn't include the restroom. "As another precaution bathrooms, break rooms, and water fountains are temporarily closed to the public," according to their website.
Cleaning Public Toilets: COVID-19 Edition
No matter what phase of reopening an area is in, public restrooms, especially those in essential businesses like grocery stores, will require attention…and lots of it. McDonald's famously pledged to clean bathrooms every 30 minutes in their "Dine-In Reopening Playbook" distributed to franchisees.
That 30-minute timeline may not be appropriate for every business. Managers must take other factors into account like frequency of use, soil loads and disinfection protocols. But no matter the circumstance, expect to clean more often and more thoroughly than before. That means dedicating staff time to the task and providing the training and tools to get the job done safely and correctly.
That extra time will be important. Industry standards say it takes about three minutes to clean any given restroom fixture be it toilet, urinal or sink. But that doesn't include hitting all of the important touch points, or the floor which should be considered a touch point as well. And disinfection requires a product be allowed to dwell to work adding extra time to the task.
Consider upgrading your cleaning equipment to make this task easier, safer and faster. Mops, buckets and rags are slow, cumbersome and require cleaning staff to get down on their hands and knees to touch every surface. Even worse, they don't fully remove dirt, bio-pollutants and other soils.
Try a Kaivac No-Touch Cleaning system instead. This innovative spray-and-vac system removes soils from fixtures, floors and walls in one step, leaving surfaces dry and ready to use. Cleaning time is cut to as little as one minute per fixture and workers never have to touch a dirty surface.
For irregular touch points like soap dispensers, light switches and door handles try the Smart Towel. With eight numbered quadrants, staff can always use a fresh section, eliminating the possibility of cross contamination.
No doubt, battling COVID-19 will require an enhanced restroom cleaning schedule but it doesn't have to stress your staff. Click here for more ways Kaivac can help.
Get detailed information about how Kaivac helps you clean better and faster:
Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.