Nature Calls: Clean Park Restrooms

By Amy Milshtein

Nature Calls: Clean Park Restrooms
A worker cleans a urinal in a park restroom with a Kaivac No-Touch Cleaning system.

Clean park restrooms are not a luxury. Yes, outdoor spaces give us the opportunity to rough it, step away from our built environments and connect with nature, but humans still need restrooms and we demand that they are clean. National park managers leverage this by boasting about their impeccable facilities. 'The most important job in the park is cleaning the toilets—so our visitors have told us,' according to the Rocky Mountain National Park website. To that end they employ a dozen full-time custodians to clean the 267 toilets every day during the busy summer season.  


Not every operation is as vast as a national park, but even small neighborhood greenspaces, walking and biking trails and large city commons benefit from clean park restrooms. 


Park Restrooms Make the Outdoors Accessible to All


Providing restrooms in parks makes them more accessible and welcoming, which is known to boost park usage. People are more comfortable spending time away from home if they are confident that there is a comfortable, clean, working restroom nearby according to Recreation Management Magazine. They find that  a park's usage can be influenced by the availability of the restroom.


Carol McCreary, program manager for Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH), a Pacific Northwest-based advocacy group focused on access to public restrooms agrees. 'Knowing that there's a restroom there supports you physically and puts your mind at ease,' McCreary states in an article for Pew Trust . 'People will not congregate in multigenerational groups in public space unless the restroom is there.'


This can be especially true for people with certain health conditions. There is even evidence, according to the American Restroom Association, that shows some people, for instance a person with hypertension who was prescribed diuretics and walking, may hesitate to participate in outdoor fitness activities that put them out of range of toilets. 


Keeping them Clean


The setting may be rustic but restroom cleanliness is just as vital in parks as in any other public space. To the users, poorly maintained facilities are as bad, or perhaps worse, than no facilities at all. A study conducted by the San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council (SFNPC), found that 42 percent of those surveyed cited cleanliness as the single biggest problem with San Francisco park restrooms. Sixty percent of those surveyed rated their overall park restroom experience as very unpleasant or unpleasant.


Luckily, cleaning park restrooms isn't too different than cleaning any other public restroom. These structures are normally constructed with robust, easy-to-maintain materials like concrete and fiberglass reinforced panels. Inside, stainless steel fixtures make them low maintenance and vandal resistant. But there are some important differences to keep in mind. 

  • Environmentally sensitive areas: Chemical use should be limited when cleaning restrooms and showers in national parks and other sensitive areas to protect water, plants and aquatic life. An EPA study[AM1]suggests choosing the safest and 'greenest' janitorial products with a proven record in commercial operations.
  • Different toilet technology:  The more remote the area the less likely there will be a flush toilet. Don't be put off by a vault toilet, chemical toilet or composting toilet. Maintence priorities may look a little different--insect control, for instance, becomes paramount—but cleaning procedures look the same. 
  • Hard-to-reach locations: Some isolated back country restrooms require extreme, and extremely cute, effort to reach. Rocky Mountain National Park has employees who spend as much as 75% of their time during the summer hiking with two llamas to remote, solar-powered composting toilets to shovel them out and pack out the waste.
  • Limited personnel: Providing clean, well maintained restrooms takes staff time. Budget shortfalls, government furloughs and deferred maintenance schedules stress these resources. The most extreme examples can be found at National Parks during the 2018-2019 government shutdown. U.S. News reports that human feces and overflowing garbage are overwhelming some of the country's most iconic natural treasures. 


Kaivac Makes it Easy


No matter the park restroom cleaning task, a Kaivac No-Touch Cleaning System can make the job easier, faster and more complete. The technology is proven to be 60 times more effective at removing soils and bacteria and traditional mops, buckets and rags. It works in one half to one third of the time so staff can be more efficient. 


A No-Touch Cleaning System removes more than 99.9% of targeted bacteria with just plain tap water, meaning it can be used in environmentally-sensitive areas. Simply spray water, or diluted cleaning solution if appropriate, on fixtures and floors, rinse with fresh water and vacuum the floors dry. It's also great for shower stalls and dressing areas.  An on-board trash compactor can reduce trash volume by a third or even a half. 


For the more remote areas, try a battery-operated model. This rechargeable technology allows you to cut the power cord and clean almost anywhere…but probably not places only accessible by llama!


Want more ways to clean park restrooms? Click here.

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

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.

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