Why cleaning around urinals is vital

A study finds traces of coronavirus can become airborne when urinals are flushed after being used by an infected person. 
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Cleaning washrooms has always been a given for facility managers, but new studies have highlighted the importance of proper cleaning around urinals as well as of the urinals themselves.

A study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases reports that traces of the pathogens that cause coronavirus can be found in an infected person’s urine.1

Further, another study, published by scientists from China’s Yangzhou University, finds that when urinals are used by people infected with the virus, traces of coronavirus can become airborne when the urinal is flushed.2

The study noted that within 5.5 seconds after flushing a urinal, airborne droplets are released, potentially spreading the coronavirus. In the process, the pathogens can be inhaled by others in the restroom.

While the researchers did not conclude definitively that this would spread the disease, they indicted the potential is there. Certainly, common sense and best hygiene practices call for enhanced cleaning to avoid this.

Key findings also include:

  • During the 5.5-second period after flushing a urinal, about 60 percent of the droplets generated by the flush have travelled past the urinals’ exterior.
  • Within this period, droplets reach a height of approximately three feet.
  • The droplets form a trajectory, initially pointing directly at the urinal user.
  • After six seconds, the airborne particulates travel higher, coating walls, partitions, and other surfaces around the urinal.

“Even if the droplets do not contain traces of the virus, they still may contain germs and bacteria that can be dangerous if inhaled or touched,” says Matt Morison of Kaivac, developers of cleaning equipment engineered to fight the spread of infection.

Aware of this, the China News Service reports that staff members at some of China’s international airports are now spraying disinfectant liquids on the walls above, sides, and below urinals to help eliminate any pathogens on the walls.

“This type of cleaning and disinfecting should not be performed manually. That’s too slow and requires touching contaminated surfaces,” adds Morrison. “Instead, using what ISSA calls “spray-and-vac” (no-touch cleaning) systems will do the job faster, and [will] certainly be safer for the cleaning worker.”

1. Xiao, F., Sun, J., Xu, Y., Li, F., Huang, X., Li, H….Zhao, J. (2020). Infectious SARS-CoV-2 in Feces of Patient with Severe COVID-19. Emerging Infectious Diseases26(8), 1920-1922. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2608.200681

2. “Virus transmission from urinals,” by Ji-Xiang Wang et al., published in Physics of Fluids; August 18, 2020.


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