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Washroom hygiene in the age of the pandemic

22 February 2021

Joel Kenny and Martin Coles examine washroom hygiene practices and what we need to learn from the current pandemic.

WASHROOMS HAVE always been top of the list when it comes to hygienic cleaning requirements, but this doesn’t mean that the cleaning carried out is always efficient or effective.  

If the necessary steps are not taken then disinfection will be ineffective, leaving invisible microbes that can multiply unseen, putting health and hygiene at risk.  In the wake of Covid, there are important hygiene lessons to learn and straightforward cleaning techniques that any business can implement to ensure exemplary hygiene, even in a challenging washroom environment. 

Washrooms are used by numerous people who could potentially be spreading germs and infection. Moisture and heat in nooks & crannies can harbour microorganisms and organic substances such as dirt or flakes of skin and hair provide the perfect breeding ground. As well as this, contamination from limescale, soap scum, rust, urine and excrement, can also affect washroom environments, requiring aggressive cleaning agents.

Common misconceptions
The most common misconceptions surrounding washroom hygiene are that toilet seats are terrible harbourers of bacteria (actually keyboards and desks are worse!) or that the washrooms are not cleaned frequently enough.

This is not the impression you want your business to give and suggests that the cleaning practices in place are not effective. A visual presence of cleaning records will help to reassure washroom users that cleaning processes are in place, but this isn’t proof that the processes are effective.

Key learnings
In the wake of the Covid pandemic, the most important cleaning takeaway for any business is to learn the difference between sanitising and disinfecting, and to fully understand that without cleaning first, disinfection will be ineffective. Training delivered at the Kärcher academy has always prioritised this process, but even greater emphasis is being placed upon it now as the lack of understanding has become apparent.

Businesses should also be introducing preventative and intermediate cleaning, not just daily cleaning alongside intermittent deep cleans. Prevention is better than a cure!

Sanitising versus disinfection
Sanitising lowers the number of germs on a surface to a safe level, reducing 99.9% of germs, but not viruses. Disinfection is the use of a chemical to eliminate bacteria and other organisms – 99.999% of known germs and viruses to be precise.

When disinfecting is required the correct processes must be followed to safeguard results. Cleaning with water and detergent is a necessary first step to remove impurities, such as dust and dirt, only then can disinfection, the process that destroys and reduces the number of pathogenic micro-organisms, take place. Without first thoroughly cleaning surfaces, disinfection will be ineffective. 

Washroom cleaning
Deep cleaning the washroom must include floors, wall tiles, sinks and mirrors, shower areas toilets and urinals, as well as the associated fittings. Different reactions to cleaning agents should be expected with multiple materials and because of the optimal living conditions for microorganisms (bacteria or fungi) described at the beginning.  

While the aggressive cleaning agents required to tackle particular contaminants can potentially damage surfaces, it is possible to maintain high standards of cleanliness without causing damage if the acidic content of the cleaning agent is considered. Always read the safety data sheet as the acids will vary. CA20 Sanitary Cleaner is ideal for this.

Wall tiles
Before applying an acidic cleaning agent to wall tiles, cement grouting should be thoroughly pre-wetted to prevent damage. Wall tiles should be cleaned with an acidic deep cleaner in sections and subsequently rinsed with plenty of clean water. During the indicated contact time, the surface should be scrubbed with a green manual pad, to assist the removal of dirt and oils. After rinsing, finish by wiping tiles with a rubber squeegee. 

Black mould in crevices can only be removed with hydrogen peroxide, after which it is essential to rinse with plenty of clear water. In stubborn cases joint material will need replacing. For large surfaces, a high-pressure cleaner with foam device is economical, however, it must only be used in cold operation.  Stubborn lime deposits should be treated with products containing phosphoric acid.

Washroom fittings In maintenance cleaning, limescale-dissolving cleaning agents, usually including amidosulphuric acid and/or citric acid, are used to avoid damage to fittings, such as shower heads, mixing valves and taps.

To avoid long-term damage, apply acidic deep cleaner, like CA10, to a cleaning cloth or pad sponge rather than spraying directly onto fittings and only use non-abrasive pad sponges (white pad) to avoid scratches. This also applies to mirror surfaces. To prevent permanent damage to fittings, the acidic cleaning agent must be rinsed thoroughly. Calcified aerators on water outlet valves should be unscrewed and placed in an appropriate acidic solution overnight. 

Floors In general, highly textured or rough fine stone tiles are used with high slip resistance (R 12) in shower and toilet areas. These can only be efficiently and economically scrubbed with a roller scrubber with the addition of the acidic Deep Cleaner RM 751 (pH value 0.7, dosage 5-25%) in the two-step method and then carefully rinsed with clear water. 

After deep cleaning, surfaces must be disinfected to inhibit the growth of bacteria with the application of disinfectant to the cleaned, rinsed and dried surface. Spray misting machines, such as the Kärcher PS 4/7 Bp, are ideal for large surface areas like this, even reaching inaccessible nooks where disinfection is hard to achieve with wiping. The disinfectant, such as RM 735, is delivered by a spray gun, under pressure, so that consistent, uninterrupted coverage is achieved. For maintenance cleaning, it is recommended that you select a cleaning agent with both a fungicidal and an antibacterial effect to keep the number of microorganisms as low as possible for the long term. 

Additional washroom areas Toilet lids and seats must be treated with an all-purpose or alcohol-based cleaner, as acids can dissolve dye pigments and cause stains. Doors, door frames and separating walls should be cleaned with all-purpose or alcohol-based cleaner using scratch-free pad sponges. 

Any furniture in the changing area, such as seating and coat racks, should be manually scrubbed using a light alkaline cleaning agent, CA 30, or everyday cleaner, then rinsed and dried with a yellow cleaning cloth.

Cleaning products
When it comes to choosing the best products to keep your washroom areas hygienic and clean, there are various options available depending on the size and format of your facilities. For example, a health spa will have numerous large areas in need of attention versus an office with only one or two smaller areas to consider.

In terms of equipment, cold pressure washers are effective for cleaning large shower areas and tiled walls, while steam cleaners and steam vacuum cleaners are good for more detailed cleaning around fixtures and fittings, with the added benefit of sterilising as they clean. Scrubber dryers are well-suited to large public floor areas, leaving them dry and suitable for walking on immediately after cleaning.  All of these products can be used with cleaning detergents, care agents and disinfectant agents, such as Kärcher’s extensive RM range.

Wet & Dry vacuum cleaners are ideal for picking up waste water and residues on flooring, after cleaning with high pressure cleaners while a pump sprayer effectively disinfects wide areas after sanitisation. 

Traditional manual cleaning equipment, such as mops, cloths and brushes are also indispensable, for use in conjunction with manual cleaning agents.

When it comes to equipment, a key consideration too often forgotten is to regularly clean the equipment itself. This should be considered a key learning as it is generally done infrequently, if at all, leaving it harbouring germs and bacteria between cleans.

Ensuring hygiene and cleanliness

In conclusion If observed, these cleaning processes and observations will ensure that washroom facilities are hygienically cleaned and in good order, safeguarding the health and wellbeing of staff and visitors, with the knock-on effect of preserving a positive reputation for your business.

Effective cleaning has never been more important and, as public areas begin to re-open post-Covid, cleaning practices must be exemplary to prevent further spread or similar outbreaks.

Important note: sanitary cleaners must be used as directed and in accordance with accident prevention guidelines. This means wearing protective gloves and eye protection if necessary. Never mix cleaning agents, pay attention to the prescribed dosage, do not use warm or very hot water and rinse well with clear water.

Joel Kenny is national training coordinator and Martin Coles is product trainer at Kärcher UK.

For more information visit https://www.kaercher.com/uk/