What I Learned Cleaning Restrooms in NYC

Looie
4 min readJul 6, 2015
Looie’s new pictograms standing proudly at a Tribeca Cafe.

The thing about having a crazy vision is that it can make you do things you thought you’d never do. Things like scrubbing toilets, changing the trash or disinfecting the floors of a New York City restroom.

When we decided to bite the bullet and start the Looie experiment I knew it would involve getting my hands dirty. There was no way to answer all the questions I had without actually doing things myself. How many toilet paper rolls per day, how many uses before it gets visibly gross, how long do people take in the bathroom, etc. Lots of questions and only one way to figure them out.

The tally of all my cleaning shifts at Mulberry & Vine to date amount to a grand total of 72 hours (!). That’s actual time spent in the bathroom cleaning it. Here’s what I learned from cleaning bathrooms in New York City.

SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE

First, if you want to clean bathrooms you’ll have to swallow your pride. There’s absolutely no room for it. The first day on bathroom duty was like putting on Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. People looked blankly through me, I scared people who said things like “ Oh dear! You popped out of nowhere!” and shocked others when they realized I could speak. It felt pretty shitty at first but the staff at the restaurant more than made up for it. For them, I was coming in to do something they absolutely dreaded and they were awesome about it.

My little bucket of cleaning essentials on Day 1 at Mulberry & Vine.

But that shitty feeling didn’t last too long as people started to notice the difference in the bathrooms. Obscurity turned into curiosity and things started to get interesting. My data was showing an improvement in the facility’s hygiene score (a number from 0–10 to describe the condition I find the bathroom in). That meant that users were responding to clean bathrooms by keeping them cleaner. It made my job easier, but that much more important. I also decided that my new profession as a bathroom cleaner needed a new name so I called myself a “hygienist”.

BIG PROBLEMS DON’T HAVE EASY FIXES

I made a commitment not just to keep the restrooms clean, but to make them amazing. I had no idea how difficult it would be. Businesses in this city have had to absorb the massive demand for public restrooms and it isn’t pretty. I started to sympathize with staff at Starbucks and their mutiny against bathroom duty. Maintaining the cleanliness of restrooms is time consuming, expensive and hard. By taking the job off their hands I was allowing them to focus on what they do best and I put all my attention towards perfecting the restroom experience.

There were other things that I realized about the nature of the work. I get exposed to cleaning chemicals for long periods of time so it’s crucial to use the safest natural products out there. Also, a thorough cleaner needs to reach all the tight spots which requires serious acrobatics. That’s why I wear running shorts on the job — gotta stretch those legs!

KEEP THE VISION IN FOCUS

Finally, there’s a huge difference between doing things because you have to and doing things because you want to. I wanted to clean bathrooms because it was the first step towards realizing a crazy vision I have of how incredible this city could be if there were clean restrooms for everyone. I spent months counting bathroom lines, snapping photos of “Customers Only” signs, tripping over big bottles of urine on the sidewalks, hearing about moms changing their newborns on bathroom floors, exploring dilapidated park and subway restrooms — this is a serious issue and it affects everyone.

Dilapidated NYC park restrooms courtesy of @newyshua (Instagram)

Behind Looie is a vision for a more livable New York City. A city where you don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission to let you in or settle for a filthy restroom out of necessity. A city where you can stay out longer, move around freer and have amazing spaces to rest and refresh.

We’re psyched to be rolling out that vision in Tribeca later this month. What we learn here will help us bring Looie to neighborhoods across the city.

If you’d like to see a Looie near you, let us know!

The Looie Crew

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Looie

Looie is an app that unlocks “heavenly” serviced restrooms around you.