Design your building with cleaning in mind

by Jeff Shaw

Smart choices in technology and materials can reduce costs, improve resident satisfaction.

By Michael Wilson

The most common cleaning complaint heard in many facilities, including seniors housing communities, involves the restrooms. In the professional cleaning industry, restrooms are referred to as “complaint centers.”

But let’s suppose we have a new seniors housing community in which complaints about restrooms are few and far between. Paper towels and toilet paper are replenished long before they run out. Soap dispensers are always full, and if a dispenser is not working properly, the cleaning professional knows about it long before any tenant complains. Furthermore, he or she knows why the dispenser is not working.

Even more amazing, the cleaning staff knows exactly which restrooms on the property need the most attention and when. Breaking this down even further, they know which days and even which hours of the day the restroom gets the most use. This helps prevent malodors from developing. And having this data helps improve efficiencies and moderate costs as well.

What we are discussing is referred to as IoT — the Internet of Things — where technology throughout the building can communicate its status. While this technology can be added to current restrooms, it is most commonly included when new buildings are being designed and built.

This is an example of a restroom built for cleaning. It provides the data necessary for cleaning professionals in a seniors housing development to know where their services are needed and when. And although we have focused on restrooms, similar systems have been developed that can be used for a variety of purposes.


Less Tech, but Still Helpful

While IoT is certainly high tech, we should not overlook the low-tech measures that new facilities can incorporate to make cleaning faster, more efficient, more effective and reduce costs.

Examples include:

• Countertop materials: Granite and marble countertops suggest luxury, but in a seniors housing facility they may not be the best choice. Marble specifically — even if sealed — can become stained and show water marks and cup rings. While granite tends to hold up better than marble, it can become scratched and show wear and tear and other imperfections. Making matters worse, these tend to be pricey countertops. A more cost-effective option is to select a synthetic, smooth and nonporous countertop that resists soils and stains and is impervious to water.

• Countertop colors: Contrary to what many suspect, light-colored countertops tend to better camouflage many types of stains, especially water stains, which can become difficult to remove. If installing stone countertops, make sure the product has speckles, veining or a mixture of colors. This helps hide water marks and stains.

• Floor colors: Just the opposite is true of flooring in restrooms and around community kitchen areas. A darker floor will not show stains as much as a light-colored floor will.

• Touch-free dispensers: Electric paper towel and soap dispensers that automatically release paper or soap offer several benefits in a seniors housing facility. First, they do not require touching, which can help stop the spread of disease. Additionally, facility managers can regulate how much product is dispensed. This can help eliminate waste and overuse by restroom patrons.

• No electric hand dryers: Even with the latest advances, many people tend to not like electric hand dryers. Further, public health officials recommend using paper or a towel to dry hands after washing. On the positive side, they can help keep restrooms cleaner. However, because older people living in senior housing projects typically have weakened immune systems, electric hand dryers are not recommended.

• Trash receptacle placement: The location of trash receptacles can have a big impact on how much time and effort are required to maintain the restroom. Always place receptacles as near to sinks as possible. Some countertops are designed with openings so paper and trash can be deposited right through the countertop. The goal is to make it as easy as possible to dispose of trash. Additionally, many people now like to grab a paper towel to open restroom doors. A dispenser and receptacle by the exit door helps facilitate this and ensure no paper ends up on the restroom floor.

• Outlets: Don’t be stingy when it comes to installing power outlets. There should be no need for cleaning workers to use 50-foot power cords for vacuum cleaners or similar equipment. These present a safety concern because people might trip over these cords.

• Floor drains: In most states, the installation of floor drains in “wet areas” such as restrooms is required. However, the regulations can be confusing with variances and exception. Nevertheless, when it comes to building a seniors housing facility with cleaning in mind, it is always best to install floor drains wherever water fixtures are placed. A resident may forget to turn off a faucet, a toilet may overflow or some other water-related incident may occur. With a floor drain installed, water damage is kept to a minimum.

Operational Issues

While there is much that can be done to build facilities with cleaning in mind, there are also ways to address the cleaning needs of a seniors housing facility once it is constructed. The problem is that not all cleaning issues and challenges are the same for every facility. This means cleaning tools and solutions used in one facility may not be as effective or as cost effective if used in another.

The way to address this challenge is to work with a distributor with access to web-based dashboards or similar technologies. Essentially, these systems take the roof off the facility, look in, and help determine which and what types of cleaning products would best meet the needs of the specific location. Because costs are always an issue, the same dashboard can compare costs and provide other cost-related information. This allows management to make what are called “thought-based” decisions and eliminate trial-and-error purchasing.

After all, after taking the time to ensure your seniors housing location is built for cleaning, it could be all for naught if the wrong cleaning supplies and products are used to maintain it.


Michael Wilson is vice president of marketing for AFFLINK, which provides supply chain optimization services for the healthcare, hospitality, industrial and commercial industries.

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