Portable Restroom Equipment Maintenance Tips

Diligently maintaining portable toilets with thorough cleaning processes along with using today’s industrial-grade odor neutralizing agents can help keep portable restrooms clean and smelling fresh. But, keeping a portable restroom clean can be particularly challenging in the case of long-term rentals and multi-day events where usage is very frequent. Below are some helpful tips and general industry information that ALW has received from successful toilet rental services business operators on maintaining portable restrooms under even the most difficult circumstances.

Factors Affecting Portable Toilet Maintenance Quality

It’s not a secret that populations of germs and pathogens flourish on interior walls of portable restrooms and any surfaces on the inside and outside of the unit that is touched by numerous people. The entire interior of the unit and the exterior door and handle must be frequently and thoroughly washed and scrubbed, to keep contaminants that present health risks under control.
A Cornell University study of portable toilets (2006) found that even public facilities that appear to be a clean present very high potential for transmission of pathogens. This is primarily because of the ways the facilities are typically used, of course, with large numbers of people using the same facilities for eliminating bodily fluids and handling the same fixtures and supplies, and other surfaces. The risk of contamination and potential ill health effects is especially high in such environments.
The research study further indicated that the risk is significantly increased in facilities with poor ventilation and insufficient cleaning and maintenance. The hazards were found to be naturally even more extreme where poorly maintained facilities have attracted flies and other disease-transmitting insects and vermin, and where germs and pathogens are on walls, in sinks, on countertops, on toilet surfaces, in drains, on floors, on paper towel dispensers, and on door handles in public restrooms, and cleaning and maintenance practices were inadequate.

Solutions in Today’s Portable Toilet Designs and Cleaning Products and Processes

Over the past decade and a half since that Cornell study, portable toilet rental business owners have become much more informed about the importance of improving on the methods of the past. Today’s environmentally-friendly liquid toilet cleaning solutions are highly effective in killing pathogens. The former standard cleaning agents for portable toilet maintenance involved formaldehyde, which has since become well recognized as a carcinogenic, and an environmentally unsustainable material for the purpose.
Modern “greener” alternatives in portable toilet cleaning chemicals no longer obliterate all microbial life forms in the toilet units. Instead, the environmentally sound approach now introduces enzymes and certain microbes that consume the bacteria that generate bad odors.
Today’s portable toilet units are also incomparably upgraded from the models of the past. Modern toilet units feature ventilation systems that help redirect bad odors out of the unit’s holding tank. And, even toilet units with simple designs often feature dispensers for anti-bacterial gel. Luxury portable toilet trailers go much farther, often featuring flushable toilets, sinks with running water for handwashing, hand sanitizer, hand towels, and multiple forms of deodorizers and air fresheners working in combination.

The Big Tip: Have a Portable Toilet Unit Cleaning and Maintenance and Response Plan

Keeping your company’s portable toilet units clean and smelling fresh while they’re on customers’ sites requires a diligent maintenance routine as well as highly responsive additional on-call care, as-needed. This is especially the case in long-term rentals to commercial, construction, and industrial job sites, and for large events over extended periods of days, where the toilet units are receiving very frequent use.
Will Niccolls, Owner, Green Latrine, Seattle, WA, designed his company’s “10-Point Clean Guarantee,” and devotes a full page of its website to a presentation of the policy. “To me, cleanliness is the top priority. That’s the mark I want to leave.” Many of the top-quality operators ALW has featured in our Spotlight over the years all have their well-itemized cleaning and maintenance policy. Collectively, their portable toilet cleaning and maintenance systems serve very well to create a checklist of tips for cleaning and maintaining quality portable restroom rental operations.
Green Latrine emphasizes in its cleanliness guarantee that the cleaning regimen “is performed every time we service a toilet.” (See GL’s extensive 10-step on-site process at greenlatrine.com.) The procedures include these cleaning and disinfecting tasks to be performed at customers’ locations during the rental period:
• The toilet unit will be serviced every week, or according to the requested interval for servicing.
• The portable toilet will be completely cleaned both inside and outside, disinfected, and deodorized with eco-friendly deodorizing products.
• The toilet’s holding tank is flushed using freshwater, bacterial disinfectants, and an eco-friendly deodorizing product.
• Anti-bacterial hand washing and hand sanitizers are fully restocked.
• Dispensers are stocked with two rolls of high-quality toilet tissue.
Some portable toilet rental companies see their preparatory unit cleaning and maintenance work as a 4-step process, others describe theirs as a 7-step process, or divide it into some other number of steps. Most appear equally thorough, involving substantially the same general processes for cleaning and maintaining portable toilet units in clean, well-functioning, and well-stocked condition.
Here we’ve consolidated their multiple processes, to build this list of tips from methods applied by top professionals across the U.S. portable toilet rental industry:
• Air out portable toilet units. — Keeping doors on the units closed while toilets are not in use is not the best approach to controlling odors. The stench becomes most extreme inside when there is no outlet for it. Leaving the door open even briefly can help reduce the odor inside.
• Focus on all touchpoints. — Some spots in portable toilet units are typically dirtier than other areas. Give extra attention to those parts that are touched most often by people, including door handles, toilet paper holders, hand sanitizer dispensers, door handles, etc.
• Scrub toilet unit walls. — Give abundant attention to walls and high-contact areas inside toilet units, to kill all germs and bacteria possible. Wash and scrub walls, toilet seats, urinals, floors, and door handles.
• Prepare the tank for use. — Refill the toilet tank with an industrial-grade additive for the most potent biocide designed to break down and disinfect waste.
• Fog the toilet unit. — Cover the entire interior of the restroom unit with a wide-spectrum antimicrobial fog.
• Evacuate the waste from the tank. — Use a proper hose, pump, and procedures for removing waste from the holding tank. After pumping the tank dry, use proper procedures for transporting the waste collected to the nearest wastewater treatment facility.
• Charge the portable toilet unit. — After cleaning the waste tank, charge the unit by adding five gallons of fresh blue additive, to disinfect and help control odor in the unit. (If the additive has begun to have a green tint, it needs replacement, regardless of the service schedule.)
• Add extra odor controls. — Use the most effective blue liquid chemicals available, plus spray deodorizers, and additional highly fragrant air fresheners.
• Use graffiti remover, as needed. — Keep portable restroom unit interiors and exteriors looking cleaner and more generally presentable with ink and pencil mark remover, a Magic Eraser sponge designed for scrubbing, and a power washer.
• Keep restroom supplies fully stocked. — Check all portable toilet units routinely, regardless of how frequently they’re being used. Promptly replace empty toilet paper rolls, and hand soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, air freshener, and cleaning tablets, as applicable and as needed.
• Add cleaning tablets. — Though controversial, because tablets don’t do the job of deep blue liquid, they can help control odor and stop some germs from flourishing. Placing a fresh cleaning tablet in portable toilets at least monthly in units under long-term rental may add value.
• Sign and date the toilet unit service sticker. — Maintain easy service interval tracking, to help ensure prompt routine attention to every portable toilet unit, and to provide rental customers and restroom users at their sites with helpful information about the timeliness of cleaning.
• Perform cleaning weekly. — Generally speaking, portable toilet units should be cleaned and receive other routine maintenance a minimum of once per week, including cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces, pumping waste from the tank, replacing the toilet paper and other supplies, and refilling deodorizer.
• Use quality products. — Use only the highest quality of deep blue liquid and the highest quality of odor control products available. Ultimately, those offer the best value, because they promote greater customer satisfaction leading to repeat and referral business.

The Eight-Fold Cleaning Method

To help prevent cross-contamination between cleaned and uncleaned surfaces during cleaning processes, apply the approach to using cleaning cloths known in the industry as the eight-fold method. This involves folding a clean rag over two times, then using one side for wiping. Then the cloth is turned over to clean the next spot. This may sound tedious, but it’s easier to keep track of clean and unclean sides of the cloth if you use microfiber towels that are marked to identify different sections.

Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting

Cleaning portable restrooms effectively require the correct products. The terms sanitizing and disinfecting are not interchangeable, although they are sometimes erroneously used as if they mean the same thing. Here’s the important distinction between these two terms:
• Sanitize — To reduce the number of pathogens on a given surface by 99.9%. Sanitizing products are often used to clean in public buildings.
• Disinfect — To eliminate 100% of pathogens on a given surface, per the kinds of microorganisms the agent is formulated to kill. A disinfectant should be used for cleaning portable restrooms.

Disinfecting Portable Toilet Units

Disinfecting agents sold in the U.S. are certified by the EPA, assessed for their effectiveness and their impact on the environment. To make sure a disinfectant is effective in eliminating pathogens, it’s important to follow these steps:
• All dirt must be removed (cleaned) from the surfaces, before using a disinfectant.
• Following instructions on the product label for allowing disinfectant enough time to be effective in killing pathogens (usually 5 to 10 minutes).
• Dilute the disinfectant product according to the ratio provided in the instructions. Keep in mind that adding too much water weakens disinfectant, which makes it ineffective. Alternatively, using too much disinfectant in the mix may leave residual chemicals, which can attract contaminants and soil to the surfaces.

Adding Value to Your Cleaning and Maintenance

Using extra odor control and upgraded supplies is a key tip from Charlene Endsley, Owner of Charlene’s Waste Services, Inc., Wentzville, MO, which serves the greater St. Louis metro area. “We prefer a liquid cleaner, instead of tablets. The tablets, we find, don’t break down the toilet paper as well as the liquid cleaner. So, we use liquid blue. We also spray down the interior walls with cleaning products that come in many different aromas, like Cherry, Bubble Gum, Lemon, etc., and we use air freshening disks that you put on the toilet paper holders. Those smell great. And, we always use two-ply toilet paper.”
Another great value-added concept for cleaning and maintenance of portable toilet units is offered by Shannon Lock of American Waste Systems Inc., Kansas City MO. Shannon emphasizes the superior utility value and convenience of having a power washer on the company’s portable toilet trucks. This is an immeasurably valuable tool for field services operators. Shop the wide variety of truck-mountable powerwashers.

Maintaining Portable Toilet Units in All Weather Conditions

The effectiveness of your portable toilet unit maintenance can be seriously impacted by weather conditions. Here are some seasonal maintenance tips to help you keep your portable toilet units safe and secure, and help ensure the safety of your employees, customers, and their onsite users of your rental products:
• Heat Protection — In warmer weather, inside temperatures greatly exceed those outside the toilet unit. This is an ideal condition for bacteria to reproduce, which leads to bad odors in poorly maintained toilet units. People need fresh air, so toilet unit designs should permit breeze to enter the interior.
o To minimize odors and to preserve the life of the toilet units, position them out of direct sunlight. Use a tent or tree-shaded area for the toilet units.
o Significantly increase your ratio of water per the number of chemicals you use during hot weather months. Use ventilation, especially when frequent use of the unit is expected.
• Wind Protection — Bring portable toilet units inside a stable structure, if possible, when expecting windy conditions. Or, if necessary:
o Move the toilet unit to position it near a wall that is located where it can provide some shelter from the wind. Or, create a wind barrier by placing a large piece of heavy equipment or another object besides the unit. Use ropes or chains, if needed, to secure the unit in wind, and use spikes made for keeping portable toilets anchored to the ground.
o Purchase impact-resistant toilet units. Regardless of how well you secure your toilets against the wind, objects can be blown into them in high winds and cause damage that results in extra work for your team and unit rental downtime.
• Rain Protection — Protecting a portable toilet unit in a tent can help preserve the condition of the equipment and shelter the people who use the facility during rainy periods.
o Putting the toilet unit in a tent is the preferred solution for full protection from the rain.
o Some portable toilet units are designed with their rain gutters, to direct rainwater flowing from the roof of the unit away from the entry door.
• Cold Weather Protection — Managing frozen waste matter and a toilet tank that becomes a solid mass of ice consisting of feces and urine is a tough task. Experienced northern operators take measures to mitigate this problem:
o Add a salt brine solution, to reduce the freezing point inside the tank.
o Adding a rock salt cake to the urinal, to control proportions as the urinal is used, which causes the cake to release additional salt into the tank.
• Ice Protection — Winterize your portable toilet units, to maintain them in sanitary condition, to help users avoid slipping and falling, and to preserve the life of the units.
o Use salt to de-ice the toilet.
o Use antifreeze to prevent the toilet unit’s system from freezing. Using antifreeze or some other effective solution prevents the toilet liquid from freezing so that you can treat the toilet with disinfecting chemicals.

Partnering with Customers to Ensure Ideal Maintenance at Their Sites

Getting the customers involved in the maintenance process is sometimes necessary. It can be especially important for some smaller toilet rental companies with solo or couple operators with customers in very remote locations, in severe weather conditions, for long-term customers with many toilet units at certain exceptionally busy and/or distant locations, or at industrial or construction sites where units undergo extreme rates of daily use in comparatively dirty environments.

Setting the Industry Standard for Portable Toilet Cleaning and Maintenance

Properly maintaining portable toilet units requires diligent monitoring and treatment with high-quality cleaning processes and supplies. To make your efforts more effective, encourage customers to ask questions, provide feedback, and notify you when there is a problem of any kind, with cleaning or maintenance or anything affecting their satisfaction with the use of your rental restroom product or service.

Additional Information Resources

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