Public Restrooms

“The maintenance crews love it,” he notes. “There was some early resistance to using it, but once we trained them and they learned how to use it, they discovered they can get restrooms very clean, much quicker, and without having to touch the surfaces of the facilities.”

This writer can personally attest to the morale-booster these machines are to the cleaning crew, and to the improved cleanliness of restrooms. When I was director, the department purchased a couple of the machines, and every time I saw the restroom cleaning crew, the employees thanked me, and patrons began giving us compliments instead of complaints.

Graffiti Happens

Although graffiti are a problem everywhere, public restrooms tend to get more than their fair share; most of the graffiti contain unsavory messages totally inappropriate for young people, who generally use parks and rec restrooms. This problem needs to be eradicated quickly.

Preventing graffiti is the best policy. Restrooms that are monitored, either by paid staff, volunteers, or park users, will normally be more graffiti-free.

Keeping restrooms locked when parks aren’t in use is another

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Leaf

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Leaf

graffiti-busting technique. But that doesn’t always serve the needs of the general public that uses passive parks throughout the day and early evening. Since these restrooms need to be open, what to do when graffiti appears?

Rapid removal of graffiti is one way to deter future vandalism, according to Arnold P. Goldstein in his seminal book on vandalism, titled The Psychology of Vandalism.

When vandals realize their graffiti is being removed immediately—and the facility is being watched by someone who cares—they will generally move on, Goldstein writes. Unfortunately, vandals often move into someone else’s backyard.

Catching these vandals in the act is the best deterrent: employing quality cameras connected to a digital recording device will help identify perpetrators so police can track them down and prosecute them. Once word gets around, other would-be graffiti artists will stay away.

Of course, all of the above requires funding—for staff, materials, equipment, and supplies. Describing the need and importance for clean restrooms to elected or appointed officials who provide funding is critical. While an articulate staff member may be effective for this purpose, it is often more compelling to have citizens who actually use the facilities be the messengers. After all, they are served by both staff members and elected officials.

Pictures can help tell the story, too. For example, in order to justify funding, a picture before cleaning with the machine and after will present a vivid image. A video showing the machine being used is better; on-camera testimonials from satisfied users can also be of benefit. Or, even better yet, arrange to let the decision makers use the machine so they can see for themselves.

Having a secondary request is a good idea as well. If the self-contained, powered cleaning unit cannot be purchased, perhaps obtaining upgraded hand tools for cleaning crews can be justified. Anything one can do to improve work conditions in restrooms will serve the double-purpose of raising crew morale and delivering better service to patrons.

If PRB readers have any other secrets to keeping public restrooms clean and healthy, or if you have any stories to share, contact me or the editor, and we’ll spread the word.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Beaufort, S.C. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email

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