Wet paper towels stuck to the ceiling. Graffiti on the toilet stalls. Puddles on the floor around the urinals. Sounds like a typical day in the life of a school custodian.
Nathan Burns, an assistant unit director with SSC Services for Education who works at the 41 facilities in the K–12 Bentonville Public School District in Bentonville, Arkansas, said restroom
problem areas vary from school to school depending on the age of the students.
“With the smaller kids, it’s a lot of grosser messes. In the elementary schools, the boys using the urinals will purposely aim for the drains, so it’s good to keep your sprayer handy,” he said. “With the older kids, it’s less gross and more destructive, so rather than poor aim so you’re dealing with graffiti, vandalism, and wet paper towels they threw up to the ceiling.”
Brian Addington, a unit director with SSC Services who works at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, said the university’s custodial team has 70 facilities to
maintain on 500 acres of the main campus and outlining areas throughout the city, including an airport, a dirt-floor arena, a colosseum, and office spaces. When dealing with restrooms, he named
the urinal area as the No. 1 problem spot. “A lot of the facilities go back to the 90s, with the style of urinals that go all the way down to the floor,” he said. “Imagine the splashback and the lack of aim. We spend more time in those areas.”
“In college you’re dealing more with theft of paper products, soap, and hand sanitizer, especially in the dorms,” said Addington. “If you leave a couple of rolls of toilet paper out, those are gone.”
Time is of the essence
Both men consider time management to be the biggest challenge in school restroom care, with Burns adding it is especially difficult “throughout the day, while the kids are present, to keep [the
restrooms] at the level you want them to be at.”
“With the workload we require of our day staff, it can be rather challenging keeping up with restroom care when you have so many other tasks, an excessive amount of foot traffic, people getting
sick, spills, and leaks,” said Addington. “And it’s rare we have people on staff just doing restrooms.”
According to Addington, responsibilities for the day crew include keeping restrooms stocked and neat, while the evening and night crews typically perform the deep cleaning. To make the most of
their time, the custodians rely on a strict schedule. “Consistency is the key,” said Addington. “If the night shift misses something or cuts a corner, it can spell disaster for the day staff, because they
are basically playing catch-up and spinning their wheels all day.”
“It’s the same situation if the day shift skimps,” said Burns. “They’re on an hourly rotation to check the restrooms, to make sure they’re clean and nothing is destroyed.”
No time for a summer break
Custodians at the Tennessee university spend the school year focusing on the common areas. When summer break arrives, they can then enter the dorms to clean. But they don’t have long, as
the university hosts athletic and cheer camps for students in elementary through high school every summer. “After commencement in early May, the crews have until the beginning of June to turn
over the dorm rooms from top to bottom, from the light fixtures to the floors,” Addington said. “That’s no small feat for a few short weeks.”
The campers occupy the university’s two dormitory high rises: seven floors with 33 rooms per floor plus common space. “They occupy every square inch for a month in June; then they move
out, and we repeat the cleaning process for the July campers; then in August, the students start coming back,” Addington said.
Tried and true equipment and cleaning solutions
To help them clean quickly yet efficiently on a tight schedule, both Addington and Burns said their custodial crews rely on touchless sprayers, which Burns compared to mini pressure washers.
“We use them during the day if there is a big mess, then do a good spray down nightly,” he said. “It helps keep the drains clear.”
Both men also said their crews rely on green cleaning solutions, mainly aqueous ozone. “Aqueous ozone is a good cleaning alternative for reducing our chemical footprint,” said Addington. “When you use it continuously, it makes a difference regarding restroom cleanliness in the long run,” said Burns, adding his crews will bring out stronger chemicals when needed, but only when the students have left the building.
Addington said the university keeps enzymatic chemicals on hand for issues with drains, such as drain flies. “We also use some ph-based and bleach-based chemicals for general cleaning, and
more acidic solutions for cleaning the toilets and removing stains on the urinals. We have a handful of chemicals we use where the aqueous ozone is not available. We would prefer to use it everywhere, but having one spray machine in each building is not feasible when we have about 70 buildings.”
Removing unwanted “art”
Another specialty cleaner the schools keep on hand is a graffiti remover. “We’ve had a lot of ‘tagging’ around the campus—that’s a new thing,” Addington said. “If a painted surface is tagged, we
put in a work order for it to be repainted. We use the graffiti remover on other surfaces.”
“We also utilize erasers to remove the graffiti if we can,” said Burns. “It depends on the surface as these erasers can take off the paint.”
Whether it’s graffiti, urine stains, clogged toilets, or another mishap, school custodians are prepared to tackle a new problem each day. “Every day is a new adventure; you never know what you
will walk into,” said Burns. “I wouldn’t dare give you details on some of the gross stuff I have run into over the years,” said Addington.