The Janitorial Closet Makeover

As part of a charity event, several luxury apartments in a prestigious Chicago condominium were opened for visitors to admire. It gave people an opportunity to see “how the other half lives.”

One unit especially caught the attention of many visitors, not only because of its design and furnishings, but also because of the scores of closets. In fact, there were so many that some nosy visitors decided to open a couple.

To their surprise, they found the closets dirty and cluttered–everything from clothes to children’s toys randomly tossed around and on the floor. Shoes were strewn about, and even an old computer monitor–circa 1990–was on the floor.

Needless to say, as beautiful as the apartment was, visitors left with a different impression of the unit–and its owners. A cluttered closet is often a sign of distress, lack of harmony and clarity and, if nothing else, poor housekeeping. According to John Walker, a cleaning consultant and founder of Janitor University, some archaeologists even study the way early civilizations stored items because that indicated how advanced, organized, health-conscious and even intelligent early peoples were.

The same may be true of janitorial closets. A disorganized closet looks unprofessional and unhealthy, and often tells building occupants, visitors and facility managers, “We [the cleaning crew] don’t really know or care about what we are doing.”

But LEED Cares

So important are janitorial closets that LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) awards a minimum of one point toward LEED certification if the closets are clean and well-organized. The assessment criteria state closets should be:

• Structurally sealed

• Separate from the ventilation system used in the rest of the facility–including an independent ventilation system

• Equipped with hot- and cold water and drains

• Organized so that cleaning chemicals and products are easily found

• Adequately lit.

Adhering to these criteria is important even for those facilities not seeking LEED certification. And the reason is simple: the janitorial closet is the “office” of the custodial department. It reflects the level of professionalism–or lack thereof. An improperly maintained closet also has a tendency to cause worker anxiety, diminishing the cleaning workers’ effectiveness.

Safety Concerns

There are safety issues to consider as well. “Commercial cleaning chemicals stored in janitorial closets can be dangerous,” says Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm for “green” cleaning products. “And the threat becomes all the more severe when the closet is cluttered, dirty and disorganized.”

Ashkin adds that this is true whether the products stored are environmentally preferable (“green”) or conventional. “Without question, a “green” cleaning product is typically safer than a conventional cleaning product, but just because a product is “green” does not mean it is always safe. All cleaning chemicals can be dangerous if misused, incorrectly mixed or improperly stored.”

For instance, a common cleaning product found in a janitorial closet is bleach. Its most active ingredient is sodium hypochlorite, which can vary in concentration depending on the product. Although bleach is not considered environmentally friendly, it definitely is a powerful disinfectant. However, mixing it with or even storing it near products such as ammonia, drain-, window-, or toilet-bowel cleaners, or some floor and carpet cleaners can potentially lead to dangerous accidents.

In fact, accidents using and storing bleach and other chemicals are fairly common. Overall, it is estimated that each year six of every 100 janitors are injured by the cleaning chemicals they use.

The Janitorial Closet Makeover

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