Nice, but Can You Clean It?

A few years back, a new bank and bank building opened in San Francisco. Because the City by the Bay is already laden with scores of banks and banking services, this new organization went out of its way to build a new facility that was architecturally interesting and impressive. And, sure enough, it was.

Articles were written about how attractive the building was, and accolades were cast upon the architect. The exceptional design fulfilled its mission. Many business owners near the bank took notice, liked the way the building looked, wanted to work with a smaller bank, and decided to move their banking needs to the new organization.

Once the building was completed, the new bank had to hire a cleaning crew to maintain the facility. This is when the new facility started showing its blemishes. It had nothing to do with the cleaning company selected; they did a fine job and at a fair price. While the building was architecturally pleasing, many of the interior touches proved very hard and complicated to clean and maintain.

Here are just two of the issues that soon came up:

The three-story building had a series of flush-mounted lights over a two-story lobby and atop a winding staircase. Extension poles for changing the lights proved useless and this building, while new at the time, used traditional flood lights that burned out frequently. The only option was to install scaffolding in the lobby, which was costly and an unexpected expense. The architect had designed the facility with décor in mind, not necessarily about how to change the light bulbs.

The building also had three conference rooms, all with kitchenettes. The counters were covered with polished, Carrara marble, personally selected by the architect to give the rooms a very high-end look. While attractive, these surfaces also became stained very easily; left burn marks if a hot item, such as a coffee pot, was placed on the marble; and because marble is porous, discoloration occurred. Ultimately, the marble had to be honed (sanded) and re-polished on a regular basis—another unexpected cost issue.

Restrooms Designed for Cleaning

Just as with this bank, building owners, architects, and designers spend months going over every detail for a new facility to satisfy the client. Significant time is devoted to decisions ranging from what light fixtures to install to what color of floor coverings to choose, and so on. However, in far too many situations, there is one aspect of building planning and construction that is often overlooked: is the building designed for cleaning?

Many facilities are simply not constructed with cleaning in mind, and we find this most frequently in restrooms. Typical examples include: soap dispensers that drip on walls, floors, or countertops, usually marring the surface; paper dispensers that are hard to reach or even find; and wall or floor coverings that are selected more for appearance than for how well they will hold up to traffic, function, and resist soiling.

For the more practical architects and building owners/managers, here are some suggestions that are attractive and can keep cleaning and maintenance costs in line:

Countertop colors. Some designers suggest that lighter colored countertops camouflage soiling and water stains better than darker ones. While they inevitably will become soiled during the workday, if cleaned regularly and efficiently, light-colored countertops tend to look better longer.

Countertop materials. Smooth, less porous countertops resist soils, and water-impervious surfaces tend to be easier to keep clean. Stones, such as marble, should be avoided; today, new materials, such as quartz, offer the look of marble without the upkeep issues.

Hand dryers. Electric hand dryers are usually less costly over time than using paper towels and can help reduce cleaning times and labor expenses. Further, because many of these systems are touch free, this further reduces cleaning needs and helps prevent cross contamination.

Paper towel dispensers. If paper towel dispensers are selected, consider systems that automatically dispense a predetermined amount of paper, just enough for users to dry their hands. These systems use paper more sparingly, reduce waste, and make the restroom easier to maintain.

Trash receptacles. More and more people today are using paper towels to open restroom doors while exiting to minimize cross contamination after washing. For this reason, consider installing trash receptacles near sinks and near exit areas. This will encourage users not to toss used paper towels on the floor.

Toilets. Although they can be difficult to source, toilets with lids that close help prevent the dissemination of microbes onto partitions, walls, and floors during flushing. This will keep restrooms more hygienically clean.

Floor drains. There are typically codes that require floor drains to be installed in restrooms. However, more than one floor drain should be installed, especially in large restrooms. Having multiple floor drains makes cleanup much easier should a urinal or toilet overflow.

Outlets. In some communities, there are no requirements as to the spacing of power outlets in a commercial facility. Power outlets should be installed about every 10 feet in restrooms and throughout the facility. This will make it easier and faster for cleaning workers to use vacuum cleaners and other machines. Further, they should be installed high enough on the wall to prevent moisture infiltration of the socket.

Restroom flooring materials. If tile and grout floors are to be installed in restrooms, a medium to dark gray color is preferable. Light-colored floors typically show more soiling and wear-and-tear over time. Further, epoxy- or urethane-based grout should be selected because it is usually easier to keep clean.

Carpet vs. Hard Surface Floor

We would be amiss if we did not discuss one more issue. When it comes to cleaning, should we install carpet or a hard surface material? The answer is both.

In a public facility, carpet helps quiet the building, provides insulation, reduces the chance of slip-and-fall accidents, and, according to some sources, is easier to clean and maintain. This makes it a good choice in office areas.

Hard surface flooring, on the other hand, can last far longer than carpet and many designers are now using hard surface flooring to make a statement, especially in lobbies. Therefore, it has architectural value as well.

As far as cleaning and maintenance are concerned, if a hard surface floor care strategy is in place that stretches refinishing schedules—from every six months to every 12 to 18 months—this should help keep the maintenance and care of hard surface floors in check.

Ron Segura is founder and president of Segura & Associates, an international janitorial consulting company based in the U.S. He has over 45 years of experience in all segments of the cleaning industry with 10 of those years spent overseeing the cleaning of more than 4.5 million square feet for The Walt Disney Company. Ron can be contacted through his company website at