Call me strange, but the holidays make me think of germs. Every year, we have our Thanksgiving feast with husband Patrick's side of the family. The patriarch's home, where the dinner is usually held, crawls with humanity. Hordes of messy, over-stimulated children on a pumpkin-pie high take over the house. Among them, every year, there are quite a few sick kids. "The big germ fest," I call it. Husband Patrick affectionately terms it "sharing the love."
I can't help but think the bathroom might be the spot where the love is being shared. The bathrooms at these events are disgusting. The little guests forget to flush, they pee on the floor, and they don't wash their hands. I want to help keep the germ-spreading to a minimum this year, so I have made it my mission to study Sanitary Bathroom 101.
Brad Stinton, president of Padre Janitorial Service, Inc., gave me the dirty details. "There have been some studies done on cleanliness in the workplace," he explained, "which found a higher concentration and a wider variety of germs on things like desktops and door knobs than on the toilet or the floor in the bathroom. Part of that is because, generally speaking, toilets and floors are cleaned more frequently than the desktops and door handles. I recommend cleaning the door handles every time you clean the bathroom. Make it one of the first things to clean when you start on the wet cleaning, just to make sure you hit it. It is just too easy to forget it at the end [of your cleaning]."
What is the proper order for cleaning a bathroom?
"My general rule of thumb is to clean-dry first, wet second, and clean from top to bottom. So when we clean, if there is any dusting that needs to be done, that is done and then the floor is swept. Then we normally clean the mirror first, then the sink, then the toilet. If you are dealing with a bathroom at home with a tub or a shower, clean the tub or shower before cleaning the toilet. Your toilet is that last thing to be cleaned. If there was anything particularly infectious in that area, you want to clean that last so that it doesn't get on your other materials. Certainly, I don't recommend using the same sponge or cloth to clean the sink and the toilet."
How often should a bathroom be cleaned?
"Part of it depends on how many people you have using it. I would recommend, if you had even as many as two people using any one bathroom, that you clean it a couple of times a week, as far as the basic surfaces go. I have a housekeeper that comes to my place every two weeks. But you just don't want to leave certain things that long. I keep some Clorox Wipes [$2.99 for 35 wipes at Smart & Final] in my bathroom, and when in doubt, I go over the basic surfaces with one of those. They are really good in a home environment because anyone can grab one and wipe down something that looks questionable at any time."
For deep cleaning, what products do you recommend?
"If a person wants to go to the trouble of shopping at janitor supply houses, a quaternary disinfectant is a very strong, broad-based disinfectant. It cleans germs, viruses, just about any kind of airborne or blood-borne pathogen out there. You are basically doing a hospital-type disinfection. The one thing to keep in mind with a disinfectant like that is that generally there is no protection after the fact. You have cleaned and killed everything that it comes into contact with, but once it is dry there is no residual germ-killing ability."
For the weak-hearted shopper looking to limit the number of store trips, "bleach is a terrific disinfectant, as are the Lysol products. We do use Simple Green [$4.25 for 32 ounces at Smart & Final], which is a fairly strong cleaner and a germ killer."
What about tools?
"I definitely recommend using latex gloves, like surgical-type gloves. You can buy hundreds of them in a box [$9.99 for 300 Kirkland brand latex gloves at Costco], and then you can toss them out each time you use them. Dishwashing gloves are kind of hit-or-miss. They are fine for doing dishes, but they tend to spring leaks pretty quickly, especially if you are using them to clean aggressively. [For hard house-cleaning] they sell neoprene-lined latex gloves [$1.43 for a pair of Safety Zone Neoprene gloves at CM Supply] at the janitor supply houses. They are much more durable.
"For dried-on, caked-on dirt," Stinton continued, "or if you have stains, oftentimes the chemical will still do the trick. For hard-water deposits or rust, there are chemicals that are designed specifically to take that off, so usually there is not a lot of scrubbing that has to take place. But I do provide my people with the green nylon scrub pads."
And when the party hour has arrived, how can I encourage better hygiene among the feasters?
"Leave paper towels out, instead of setting out extra cloth towels. A couple of hours into a party, those cloth towels will be soaking wet and all jumbled up and people will be discouraged from washing their hands. Some people will even keep the paper towel in their hand to turn off the light switch and grab the doorknob. That is a really good way to prevent a typical way that germs spread -- by touching the surface that the germ is on and then touching your eyes or around your mouth."
The saleslady at Mission Janitorial & Abrasive Supplies recommended a quaternary disinfectant by Spartan called Foamy Q & A Acid Disinfectant Cleaner ($3.85 for one quart). As a second option she suggested Spartan Non-Acid Disinfectant Bathroom Cleaner ($2.80 for one quart).
The saleslady at CM Supply likes CM Supply Shower Power ($2.02 for 1 quart). "It is 15 percent phosphoric acid, gel-based so it stays where you put it, and it cleans well." She also pointed out Betco AF79 Concentrate acid-free cleaner ($3.98 for a quart).