One of the most common air quality complaints include odours caused by various channels that can directly and indirectly affect human health and quality of living. Be it the smell of chemical oozing out from the paint work in your facility or the strong food odours from the F&B outlets in a mall, or the faint smell coming from the urinals or the blocked sewage/drainage system the moment you walk into a public washroom. Odour issues can possibly be a result of poor ventilation in facilities too. Extreme climatic conditions especially in a region like the Middle East can also add to this issue causing consistent bad/damp smell due to wetness and humidity.
Speaking about public facilities like malls or any entertainment space Andrea Deutschbein, Director FM, Soft Services, Emaar Facilities Management avers, “Customers do not wish to be in a place with an unpleasant odour. Therefore, the priority should be to ensure that all measures are taken into consideration to avoid odours. Nevertheless, if smells occur, they must be eliminated as quickly asthe mall. There is great discretion required to leave no negative image.”
Even sensitive places like hospitals, clinics or medical centres can be at risk if they are facing issues dealing with odour management. Vishal Kerkar, Group Head, Housekeeping Services, NMC Healthcare explains, “Public spaces in a healthcare facility include the waiting areas, lobbies, and the cafeterias and have their own set of problems as well as odours. These odours can be unpleasant and may trigger some sort of allergy if the building occupant is allergic to certain smells. The facility managers need to pay attention not only in terms of cleaning or trying to mask it but finding the root cause of the issue. In our facilities we suck out all the obnoxious smells and gases and try to circulate in fresh air as far as possible.”
He further adds, “The major way of controlling odours is keeping the area clean hence cleaning becomes the quintessential method. All other methods like masking the odour by placing an air freshener or diffusers are supplementary and will not benefit in the long term. As a healthcare property we don't have the luxury to mask the smell.”
Similarly in spaces like schools and nurseries or corporate offices the footfall in the washroom area will always be higher during the break time or lunch hours which might result in unpleasant odours. In this situation studying the traffic flow is important to decide on the frequency of cleaning the washrooms. Riyaz Ahmad, Area Operations Manager, Berkeley Services informs, “Odours in any facility can be dealt with technical suppor t like having an appropriate ventilation and drainage system, and effective cleaning procedures. Disinfection is critical in eliminating the source of bad odour viz. bacteria, molds and germs, also we use enzyme based green chemicals that are very effective in controlling the infestation of bacteria and germs. Another effective method is periodical use of steam cleaning in washrooms.”
Identifying the source of odours in a washroom
It is observed that odours and their sources are miscellaneous and managing them is often not an easy task. While preventing odours is desirable, it is not always achievable, hence it becomes important to understand the tools and approaches that can be used to assess, mitigate and manage odours and odour concerns.
For instance, there are sensors installed in the washrooms at The Dubai Mall to detect the air quality which measures the amount of ammonia, nitrogen, VOC, and carbon monoxide present in the air. “This gives us the real time status of air quality and potential odour and enable us to take actions like adjusting the fresh air ventilation etc. In addition, we do conduct physical audits,” says Deutschbein.
Kerkar mentions that restrooms odours are a result of organic matter left behind. This is due to the unhygienic human behaviour or lack of understanding to make use of the modern washroom amenities and irregular cleaning schedules. “In public washroomsyou’ll experience a lingering urine smell as a result of bad bathroom etiquette. In most of the cases it is because the cleaners only pay attention to the inside of the WC while completely missing out on the exterior area of the bowl or any droppings fallen on the floor belt or under seat area.”
“To avoid this unwanted situation the managers need to study the traffic entering the washroom at a particular day time. For instance a washroom close to a laboratory will always be occupied when compared to a washroom near the patient’s room. So studying the cleaning frequency required in a particular washroom, optimising staff strength, having effective training programmes for staff and creating awareness for basic bathroom etiquettes will help keep the washrooms clean and odour free,” Kerkar explains.
Furthermore, managing odour is complicated by the fact that the sensation caused by mixtures of odourants is subjective and technically difficult to measure and quantify. A blocked vent, a damaged drain line, a dry trap can be the reasons for the sewer odour gasses getting inside a building. For instance, the u-shaped pipe that runs from the sink drain to a larger wastewater pipe in the wall called the P-trap let the fresh air in while allowing any smelly sewer gases to vent out to the sky. How it works? One end of the P-trap runs down to the sewer or septic system; the other end leads all the way up through the roof. Any failure to properly vent those stinky gases can r esult to unpleasant experiences. That’s why it's important to figure out exactly what's causing the sewage smell and make sure it's corrected quickly and effectively.
Kerkar adds, “For me odour is the symptom that indicates something is wrong in the system. To further avoid such unpleasant conditions we follow preventive maintenance schedules to descale the urinal drain pipes on a regular basis. Either mechanically cleaning it or by using certain chemicals to remove all the deposits formed on the urinal drain pipes. That’s where the smells comes from.” Though the focus is always on maintaining the washroom hygiene by conducting deep cleaning activities every night using the right chemicals, maintaining the cleaning of the drains/change filters etc is also important. Deutschbein informs that they have also installed a new sustainable passive air care dispenser in all their washroom facilities that works purely on-air flow and without any batteries, Aerosol, propellants or liquids to negate any external unwanted odours. She further adds, “We have also placed triple action urinal screens in all the male washroom urinals offering 60 days splash back protection with a dual fragrance and enzyme protection which also compliments our new passive air care dispenser.”
Lastly, Ahmad mentions that another traditional way to control the bad odour is by pouring hot water into urinals bowls and drainage. Agreeing to Ahmad, Kerkar says, occasionally during rush hours we have to block the toilet for few minutes and wash it up with hot water t o clear any organic matter like fecal, urine that literally removes the tinge of smell. So when the source is removed there is no smell.” Finding the right odour-control measure can be time-consuming and challenging but a combination of different systems and best practices will do the job.