How to Eliminate Tough Odors in a Commercial Restroom

Although the commercial restroom is not often top-of-mind when most people think of a particular facility, office, shopping area, restaurant, or other public place, one that exudes foul odors can quickly become an unwanted focus. Facilities managers who successfully battle and prevent tough odors in commercial restrooms do a great service in helping to preserve a positive overall image of the buildings they care for.

This primer is designed to help you better understand what causes commercial restroom odors where odor offenders can be found, and most importantly, how to prevent them from becoming a problem.

Causes of Restroom Odors

The main causes of tough odors in a commercial restroom come from urine, feces, and related bacteria. One recent industry survey revealed that nearly 90% of respondents considered a commercial bathroom dirty if they smelled foul odors. The areas in commercial restrooms that require the most attention are:

  • Walls
  • Floors
  • Toilet bases
  • Ceilings
  • Drains
  • Sinks
  • Partitions

One of the most overlooked culprits is liquid splashing from urinals, toilets, and sinks, which can send droplets of bacteria-laden water into the air. Often, the droplets can cling to ceilings, walls, floors, and partitions, which results in foul commercial restroom odors that are difficult to remove.

Here are several solutions to help facilities managers clean, disinfect, and prevent tough odors in commercial restroom facilities.


Urine is a much-desired food source for odor-causing bacteria. As the chemical composition of urine changes to an alkaline salt, the particles attract more moisture, creating a wonderful breeding ground for more bacteria. As these particles multiply, the odor worsens. The smallest particles of urine splashed on the floor or walls can cause this issue.

Be sure to regularly clean urinals with strong and effective products that can fight odors. Although this step should be a regular part of building maintenance, you can prevent odor problems in between deep cleanings with urinal screens and urinal mats. Splashing from urinals can be reduced by investing in these products, which typically fight odors effectively for 30 to 60 days with professionally engineered designs that break up urine streams. They frequently have a pleasant fragrance, keeping commercial restrooms smelling more pleasant longer


Although regular mopping can make a commercial restroom look clean, it frequently does not tackle tough odors. Unfortunately, dirt and germs love to hide in grout lines, far out of the reach of a conventional mop. Since grout is porous, bacteria, mildew, and mold love to take up residence in these cracks and crevices, causing odor.

Sometimes, conventional mopping can actually make the odors worse because mops can pick up bacteria from the grout and spread it to other floor surfaces. Using an odor-fighting, broad-spectrum detergent can help deep clean floor surfaces, helping keep your commercial restrooms healthier and smelling great.

Another frequently forgotten odor-hiding area is inside floor drains, which can collect odor-causing bacteria. Using a maintenance product in these floor drains, as well as bathroom sink drains, can go a long way to fight commercial restroom odors on an ongoing basis.

Trash Cans

It can be instinctive to empty the trash when foul odor begins to waft through a commercial restroom area. However, it’s important to remember that garbage is only one cause of tough odors. Besides removing full bags of trash frequently and regularly, be sure to clean and disinfect the interior of the can before putting in a new bag. The surfaces on the trash can itself can harbor bacteria that can cause tough odors as well.

Miscellaneous Surfaces

Remember that all surfaces within a commercial restroom are fair game for harboring tough, foul odors because they can all hold bacteria that cause them. Use an odor-fighting, broad spectrum detergent to clean and disinfect countertops, light switches, walls, toilet partitions, and any other surfaces on a regular basis.

Although air fresheners may help cover tough restroom odors, it’s important to clean and disinfect surfaces before using such products to add a pleasant scent.

Ventilation System

Facilities managers should ensure that the ventilation system in all commercial bathrooms adequately improves airflow throughout the space. A well-functioning ventilation system goes a long way to prevent odor buildup. Once fresh air is brought into a commercial restroom, active or passive deodorizers can be used to mask lingering odors as well.

Also, be sure to consider the fragrances used in all deodorizing products. Fights between fruity, floral, or minty scented products in the air and on surfaces can create another odor issue that guests find unpleasant. When selecting deodorizers, stick to one scent from the same brand to ensure there are no fragrance wars.

Plumbing Issues

A sudden commercial restroom odor problem that does not seem to respond to regular cleaning and disinfecting protocols may indicate a bigger maintenance issue. Here are three larger maintenance issues to explore:

  • Burst Pipe: A burst sewage pipe can result in a release of foul sewer gases that include elements such as methane hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, esters, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. This can cause damage within the building itself as well result in major drainage problems.
  • Drain Problems: Although drain odors can cause issues, a bigger problem is dysfunctional drain traps that retain water. If these traps become too dry, the sewer gas can return to the commercial restroom, causing tough odor problems unrelated to cleaning and sanitation. Besides odor issues, these sewer gases are potentially explosive and dangerous.
  • Toilet Wax Rings:The wax rings around the base of commercial toilets can also become loose and defective, resulting in a foul odor that is released from the toilet itself.

All these issues should be resolved immediately, not only due to resulting foul odors, but also to eliminate health and safety risks that can result.

Turn to the Experts

Many companies sell odor-fighting urinal screens, broad-spectrum cleaners, air fresheners, and drain deodorizing products.

However, when you select Jon-Don as your vendor of choice, you’re embarking on a partnership with an expert in janitorial and cleaning services and supplies. Our team is made up of knowledgeable experts with years of real-world knowledge. We offer a huge selection of products from top brands and provide the industry's best guarantee for total peace of mind. Jon-Don also offers same-day shipping on all orders of our in-stock products if orders are placed by 5 p.m.