Step by Step

Feb. 1, 2007
It’s back to the basics when it comes to clean school restrooms.

Yes, there is a right way to clean a restroom. If a worker does two things wrong, repeated in 20 restrooms a day, it is fairly certain that restroom users will complain. However, what people see or smell is not the most important issue. The overriding guideline should be to clean for health first, appearance second.

Minimizing pathogens — disease-causing microbes and bacteria — is crucial. This leads naturally to a second guideline: use clean tools. A third rule is to use a systematic, scientific approach to restroom cleaning.

Workflow planning

Proper training means having a step-by-step procedure for workers to follow — a standardized, repeatable, trackable pattern. First, identify all the steps necessary to clean a restroom. By eliminating wasted motion, the daily process can be reduced to about seven steps, and a worker will have to make only a couple of decisions. These steps incorporate consistent, reliable, sanitary cleaning standards.

The basic rules in workflow planning: Always clean from top to bottom, and always clean from dry to wet. Set out the “Wet Floor” sign first. Move the dirt from walls and fixtures onto the floor, where it is easier to sweep or mop. Some other key steps: flush all toilets and urinals first, and apply a precise solution of disinfectant. Let stand 10 minutes while handling other tasks. Refill all soap, paper and tissue dispensers; empty trash containers. Continue cleaning from top to bottom; disinfect door handles; and flush handles and faucets every day. Rinse and clean buckets and mops thoroughly when done. The process should eliminate all guesswork by mapping detailed routines and methods for workers and training them accordingly.

Tools of the trade

Bacteria multiply. In fact, their numbers can double every 15 minutes — unless controlled through proper disinfecting. Pathogens can cross-contaminate from place to place if workers use dirty equipment.

The best tool for toilets is a disinfectant applicator — essentially a bowl brush. Brush applicators are good because they use friction to clean. They also air-dry faster than wet-mop varieties of applicators. That means less chance for bacteria to multiply, as they tend to do in warm, moist, dark places like custodians' closets. It is best to use a wet-mop acid applicator in bowls only to remove hard water accumulations, but use a disinfectant brush daily.

For floors and other surfaces, a compact “flat” mop is another good tool for restroom specialists. Unlike the long-handled spaghetti or “Kentucky” mop, a flat mop is ergonomically designed; it is lightweight and maneuverable, and fits into more compact buckets, which in turn fits easier onto the restroom cart. It enables a worker to disinfect restroom walls and stalls without bending over, and to mop floors quickly and effectively. Timesaver tip: a short “point-of-use fill hose” that connects to restroom faucets allows refilling mop buckets and solution bottles on site without trips to the utility closet.

Consider including restroom floors in a vacuuming routine. A backpack vacuum is an effective tool for quickly removing what brooms often miss: hair and lint, dirt and dust in grout, and fine particulate.

Another ergonomically designed aid is a lobby dustpan and broom. A lobby dustpan — ideally suited to removing large debris quickly — has a long handle with a pistol grip. It reduces fatigue because the worker does not need to bend down.

The choice of cleaning wipes is a major issue. Microfiber is an excellent choice. Launder towels regularly and often.

Organizing it systematically

A distribution tray can reduce cleaning time. A tray acts as a transportable supply case and can hold safety glasses, keys, premeasured packets of cleaning solutions and daily supplies. A supervisor can load the trays in advance. The concept is called “kitting” — providing tools in a kit. It reduces mistakes and helps workers stick to correct procedures and dilution ratios.

Portion packaging of chemicals helps workers manage the cleaning process precisely. A liquid premeasured chemical goes into solution instantly. It must meet EPA requirements if it is a germicidal product, and it always mixes in the same way. Schools should set up a “one-to-one” system, color-coded for restroom cleaning. For instance, restroom products may be shades of red — one pink packet of disinfectant into a one-gallon red bucket.

Modern cleaning chemicals often are so versatile that many major facilities find they can limit cleaning products to only three chemicals, including one disinfectant. Workers appreciate a simplified system and are likely to clean better than they could when facing a jumble of bottles in a custodian's closet.

Restroom workers should change their cleaning water before it becomes soiled. And it bears repeating — use clean tools. Protective gloves and goggles also are important. Cleaning in a safe and healthful way is as vital for workers as it is for restroom users.

Specialist cards

Job cards are a valuable tool not only for training, but also for tracking daily cleaning. The basic principle for cleaning teams is to define in logical steps who is doing what, when, how, where, in what order and how often. And write it down — summarize it, preferably on color-coded cards that can be carried by specialists.

Cards guide each team member — in this case, a restroom cleaner — to follow a step-by-step course of efficient, high-quality cleaning. Each team member's work can be assessed and mapped (along with appropriate equipment, supplies, techniques and training procedures). The workers then learn exactly how to do their own jobs, while also learning how the work of other team members complements and supports their work. The desired outcome is a strong team spirit and genuine pride in workmanship as members pull together.

The best way to overcome resistance to change is through education. Demonstrations and hands-on training sessions that include step-by-step exercises in procedures and techniques can transform individual workers into a team of professional cleaning specialists. By equipping workers properly and training them effectively, education institutions can reap the financial and psychological rewards of having a precision “assembly line” of workers that deliver highly satisfying cleaning results.


Number of minutes it takes for bacteria to double in number — unless controlled through proper cleaning.

Walker is a president of ManageMen, Salt Lake City, and instructs at Janitor University, an educational course for the cleaning industry.

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