December 14, 2015 5:03 PM   Subscribe

The accessibility bathroom at work smells absolutely vile. Please suggest to me something that will help, like a particular kind or type of scent neutralizer or diffuser.

Additional facts:

  • Single toilet accessibility bathroom in a corporate high-rise office.

  • Bathroom is regularly cleaned by professional staff, and appears clean.

  • It does not appear to be physically vented. (Like, there aren't any vents in the ceiling or walls of the room.)

  • There are no windows.

  • Clients never see it, so there is no argument about how this is embarrassing to the company and we should fix it before clients are grossed out.

  • Most of the hideous smells are, I'm guessing, due to the combined lack of vents/windows and a years-long buildup from certain people (all old retired-in-place dudes who are the equivalent of former vice presidents/department heads) who don't have much work, and consequently, take long, luxurious shits in there. Please assume that for workplace hierarchy/cultural reasons, there is nothing I can do to fix their plentiful free time, or to encourage them to, for example, spray something or put something in the toilet that will cover their awful smell. Or take their shits to the men's bathroom, which is strongly vented and LITERALLY ACROSS THE HALL.

  • There is an air freshener in there now, but it appears to be adding to the miasma.

  • I'm not kidding. I was in the kitchen just now, at least three to four hours after "post-lunch old guy recreational shits" prime time, and one of them came out of it, and you could smell the disgustingness just hanging in the hallway for a good 30 seconds afterwards from the dude just opening the door as he walked out. I estimate that it was 60% fermented poop smells, 40% fermented bathroom "air freshener."

  • Never mind actually going into the bathroom after one of the old dudes has taken actually taken a full shit.

  • Something like a diffuser that could quietly sit in the corner and counter the foulness would be great. If it just countered the smell rather than putting out smells, that would be fantastic. I am happy to pay out of my own pocket if it means I don't have to go to the office manager and explain that I'm grossed out by old dude poop.

  • Why do I care? It's the only private bathroom in the office, and nobody wants to hear me pregnancy vomiting like I'm trying to manifest an Elder God from my upper GI. Also, [insert pregnancy details.]

  • But it's not just me and some kind of weird pregnancy nose. I have been doing discreet polling among people in my office who are not pregnant, and the consensus is that it is disgusting. But nobody else is willing to do anything about it/believes that anything can be done about it/believes that office management will do anything about it for a combination of budgetary and cultural reasons. (See comment about old dudes high up in the hierarchy taking shits.)

  • posted by joyceanmachine to Work & Money (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
    Is there a floor drain in the bathroom? When was the last time water was poured down there to keep the trap sealed off?
    posted by JoeZydeco at 5:12 PM on December 14, 2015 [16 favorites]

    Anecdotally from a bar in Philly, if the grout isn't sealed correctly urine and other fluids can permeate in and conspire to smell just rank. Solution was to rip it out and replace :(
    So it might not just be venting or poop.
    Not helpful answer however.
    posted by TheAdamist at 5:13 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

    Usually in situations like this the culprit is that the little used floor drain is bringing up stank smell from the pipes. This can happen on connected drains all the time. My parents don't ever use their shower (they're bath people) so that drain goes unused, and several years ago a horrible poo stank sewer smell wham just came out of nowhere, emanating from that drain. All it took was a teensy bit of backflow of toilet flushing on a shared pipe system, and nothing going down that one drain to keep it moving along, and suddenly the whole master suite smelled like ass. I would assume it would only be worse on a high use public toilet pipe system.

    Talk with the maintenance staff about flushing that drain with some nuclear grade disinfectant and see if that helps.
    posted by phunniemee at 5:14 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

    You can buy a small electric air purifier/hepa filter. Look for one with an ozone button. It will clean the air and circulate it a little. It will also add some white noise to an environment that usually needs some white noise.
    posted by myselfasme at 5:14 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

    If there is a place where you can surreptitiously stash used coffee grounds (obtainable from Starbucks, Peets, etc) it will likely go a long way toward ameliorating the situation. To put it in perspective, I had an outbuilding with an unrecoverable dead possum in it and it made the space workable until the animal was pretty much desiccated.
    posted by jcworth at 5:15 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

    Don't use an air "freshener" (those usually just try to cover the scent up, and as you've discovered are gross). Try something that's actually a deodorizer. The Bad Air Sponge works great.
    posted by radioamy at 5:21 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

    Grab the toilet seat and try to shake the toilet. Can you move it at all? Does it feel loose?

    If so, it's possible that a pipe seal -- in a home setting, a wax ring between the toilet and outflow pipe -- is broken, and the smell is actually sewer gas. This is bad for all sorts of reasons, not just the smell.
    posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:28 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

    Talk with the maintenance staff about flushing that drain with some nuclear grade disinfectant and see if that helps.

    Or just a small bottle of diluted bleach.
    posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:29 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

    I also think it's a drain/sewer issue, but if it turns out that's really not it, can you do something to make use of that bathroom less pleasant? I don't know what that would be exactly...pipe in annoying music? An "air freshener" so strong that it's intolerable for more than a couple of minutes?
    posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:32 PM on December 14, 2015

    can you do something to make use of that bathroom less pleasant?

    Given the demographics of the worst offenders, a small shelf very conspicuously full of large boxes of tampons and maxi pads could be quite effective.
    posted by phunniemee at 5:37 PM on December 14, 2015 [34 favorites]

    I too suspect the floor drain, so do some stuff with that. Then, as back up, try some Ozium. This stuff is the SHIT (couldn't resist.)

    This gel thingy can sit behind the commode and suck up the stank. We have a friend who managed facilities in an office building and this is his personal recommendation. Bonus, it doesn't really have its own smell.
    posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:46 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

    You want this for the air problem. It's a GREAT counter-top hepa air filter. You can get the filters sent via subscription by Amazon (machine is only $34, filters are $12) and you will rejoice.
    posted by jbenben at 5:47 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

    I grew up lighting a match and throwing it into the toilet bowl to get rid of poop/fart smells.
    posted by brujita at 6:02 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

    I hate air fresheners, so even the "unscented/absorber" ones drive me nuts as I can still smell them. I'd go straight for an air purifier that you can just leave on in there. If you have a plug and don't mind paying the $25-$35 for the one jbenben linked to or this one, I'd pick that option in a heartbeat. I'd also make a label for it that says that it absolutely must not be removed from the bathroom in question.
    posted by quince at 6:15 PM on December 14, 2015

    No need to do anything more than pour water down the floor drain, shouldn't take more than a litre or so (might be worth giving it a good flush out though). If the water trap is full, the smells stay on the sewer side. Trying to fix the smells on the sewer side of the trap is a fools errand.

    If that works, a word in maintenance's ear about the cleaners keeping it topped up as they clean the floor might be all that is necessary. However, if the cleaners are doing their job, I would expect that enough water would be going down there to stop it drying out ... maybe the cleaners aren't doing their job, at least not properly?
    posted by GeeEmm at 6:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Maybe some of the older employees you're shaming actually have intestinal issues. Shit happens when you get older. And if they have intestinal issues, they probably don't want to use the shared bathroom for those reasons.

    I'd put a bottle of something like poo-pouri in there and see if people come to use it. Like, put a bottle in the stall, print out instructions, don't shame, and perhaps the people who are just maybe using this bathroom to be considerate will be grateful.
    posted by zippy at 6:21 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

    Grapefruit essential oil mixed with water, sprayed liberally everywhere. I use it to detox litterboxes.
    posted by Hermione Granger at 6:28 PM on December 14, 2015

    get one of those little plug in ozone things

    or maybe burn a candle
    posted by Jacqueline at 6:54 PM on December 14, 2015

    When I was in high school, the boys locker room smelled horrendous. Not just unwashed football uniforms, and BO, but also strong smell of old urine and sewer. There was always a puddle under the urinals. The maintenance staff and gym teachers all blamed the students. I don't know what made them figure it out, but there ended up being a broken drain pipe, and it was leaking behind the wall. I'd definitely get the maintenance people to check it out. Also ask if they can add an exhaust fan.

    Another (gross) possibility, depending on the personality of these guys: they are doing this on purpose, maybe as a contest.
    posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:58 PM on December 14, 2015

    posted by mcbeth at 7:19 PM on December 14, 2015

    "Episode 48: Franklin's Kite and Flatulence Myths" -- Matches burns up the smell of farts: busted

    Would you be able to put a fan in there?
    posted by kmennie at 7:22 PM on December 14, 2015

    ArgentCorvid, a middle school teacher friend caught her male students having pee races with wads of paper on the floor of the boys' room.
    posted by brujita at 9:48 PM on December 14, 2015

    I used to be a Facilities Manager in a professional building. A badged building. On more than one occaision it was reported to me that someone had taken a dump on the floor of the men's room. In the stall. Right NEXT to the toilet. And then just left it there for someone else to come along and clean up (the dayporter, a guy I felt sorry for on a regular basis). People are disgusting. You would think it would be unlikely that this would be some sort of "contest", but I'll believe anything now.

    Back on topic, I would probably do the air purifying machine, but really this is an HR issue. Not to report the users of the space, but to report that the space is unusable for the reasonable, pregnant (read: protected class disability) person.
    posted by vignettist at 10:41 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

    The trap seems to be a possibility but in old, nasty urine caked and stained porcelain fixtures multiple cleanings with Lysol type cleaners with dilute hydrochloric acid ingredients, that blue stuff, followed by multiple pet enzyme product solutions applied per instructions should do the trick. Will take time.

    You have to rinse the cleaners fully before applying the enzyme treatments.

    Some men's urinals get that fine caking of layer after layer around the edges that will stink to high heaven. You have to clean the caking, then apply the pet enzyme product repeatedly. Hey, humans are animals too and the pet products work for all types of organic odors.

    Also, that restroom should be vented in some way per code unless it's ancient construction.

    Good luck.
    posted by WinstonJulia at 2:44 AM on December 15, 2015

    I would consider vomiting in the ladies room - women are going to be understanding about it. However, I'm not sure what your other "pregnancy details" are, so you may not consider it to be an option.

    But HR should still deal with the issue in the private bathroom, because it sounds like the smell that's wafting out whenever someone opens the door is a biohazard.
    posted by MexicanYenta at 3:43 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

    brujita: "ArgentCorvid, a middle school teacher friend caught her male students having pee races with wads of paper on the floor of the boys' room."

    I don't doubt it. The plausibility of it being due to deliberate action by the students is probably why it went unfixed for at least two of the years I was there.
    posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:33 AM on December 15, 2015

    This is not normal and is not caused by lack of fans or air fresheners. You are smelling sewer gas, and you need a plumber to fix it. The floor drain others mentioned is a possibility, but its more likely to be something like a broken seal.
    posted by mikek at 8:06 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

    There is no floor drain that I can see, and there aren't any urinals, either.

    The toilet seems like it's firmly seated -- I went in there this morning and threw my weight against either side side of the toilet, and it didn't seem to move.

    I've smelled sewer gas before, and this does not appear to be the same kind of funk, although maybe there are different flavors? Things could also be off because there is a "cinnamon scented" freshener right now adding a very special flavor of gross.

    There is also an electrical outlet in there, though, so the fan linked above is a possibility. My first stop is going to be the Bad Air Sponge and Ozium, just because anything remotely nice has a tendency to go wandering, even if there is a sign saying to leave 'em in place. If the Bad Air Sponge and the Ozium don't work, I'm going to go to the office manager and just ask if there is anything that can be done. (There probably isn't.)

    Thanks for the answers, folks.
    posted by joyceanmachine at 12:05 PM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

    You might want to drop the attitude about who is pooping, how and why and even why they are using the accessibility toilet. My shit stinks (doesn't everybodies?) and I used to use the accessibility toilet at work because my arthritic knees were particularly bad for a while and made it difficult for me to fit in a regular stall. close the door and then get back up when done. Nobody has a clue I have arthritic knees unless I tell them.

    You might things less unpleasant if you drop the belief that it is malevolence.
    posted by srboisvert at 5:43 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

    No floor waste?! That surprises me, I would have expected the building code to require one. I have no other remedial suggestions, other than that if this is as bad as you suggest, there must be others who would back a campaign to management to fix it.
    posted by GeeEmm at 6:56 PM on December 17, 2015

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