Dirt never takes a holiday. You may stop and admire a newly-cleaned space, but don’t get too comfortable. Soils and pathogens will be back soon; constantly reintroduced to freshly-washed floors and newly-shined surfaces and then redistributed throughout the building. Don’t believe it? Researchers conducted a study where they contaminated a single doorknob with a tracer virus. Within just two to four hours, the virus was found on 40-60% of the facility’s occupants and most touchpoints and surfaces.
If contaminated shoes and hands are the zombie-like carriers, then dirty restrooms are ground zero. These spaces host a wide variety of soils and germs from E. coli to Clostridium difficile, also known as "C. diff." that can be picked and spread throughout a facility. Here’s how dirty restrooms soil everything.
The Game’s Afoot
Restroom floors get dirty fast as they are attacked on two different fronts. First there’s the ground assault from soils tracked in on the soles of shoes. A study by the University of Arizona found an average of 421,000 different bacteria on shoes. Coliforms, a bacterial indicator of sanitation, were detected on a whopping 96% of shoe bottoms. These nasty pathogens hitch a ride in and are transferred to floors about 90-99% of the time.
But restroom floors are also assaulted from above via the toilet plume. Research shows an aerosolized mix of water, fecal matter and potentially infectious bacteria and viruses is dispersed up to 15 feet into the air with every toilet flush. While low-flow toilets have alleviated the issue some, the notorious toilet plume is real, misting floors with a dirty and dangerous spray. These droplets can now be tracked throughout a building by shoes or other personal items set down on the floor.
Proper handwashing goes a long way in protecting populations from flu and diarrhea outbreaks. Unfortunately, a 2013 Michigan State University study discovered that a shocking 95% of people who visit public restrooms do not wash their hands well enough to fully kill germs. Even worse, 10% of patrons didn’t wash their hands at all.
Now imagine those patrons moving from the restroom to the rest of your facility, touching door knobs, light fixtures and key pads as they go.
The Clean Regime
Dirty shoes and unwashed hands are an unfortunate reality. Thankfully, a cleaning protocol that pays attention to restroom floors and touchpoints will help keep an entire facility clean and safe. Train maintenance personnel to use the right tools, methods and cleaning chemicals. Emphasize the importance paying attention to touchpoints like soap dispensers, faucets and toilet flushers to stop germs in their tracks.
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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.