We all know too much grease in our diet isn’t good for us, and the same holds true for grease in buildings. It can create slippery surfaces that lead to falls1,2, and if left untreated, can build up into grimy areas that harbor bacteria and odors (or even catch on fire!). Grease can get down drains and cause pipes to clog, back up, and break, which can lead to flooding and sewage contamination. And in machinery maintenance areas, oil and grease leaks can cause engines to come to a grinding halt and leave unprotected surfaces stained and unsightly. For these reasons and more, I will cover what cleaning managers and supervisors should know about grease and grime on surfaces, and what can be done to save you from potential headaches down the line.

What are grease & grime?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, grease is animal or vegetable fat that is soft after melting, or more generally, any thick oil-like substance.3 Grime, is even worse. It is what happens when oil or grease combines with other soils like dirt, soot and becomes hard. Over time, grime can become embedded and/or strongly stuck to a surface, making it difficult to remove. Imagine grease as the splatter on a stovetop immediately after frying and grime as what is on the top of a nearby ceiling fan weeks later.

What causes grease & grime?

Even when grease and grime aren’t causing major disruptions, they can still give rise to everyday inconveniences. For example, grease and grime can emit unpleasant odors, unsightly appearances, and provide a food source for germs. Beyond the large amounts of grease associated with cooking and food preparation activities, it’s interesting to consider the other sources of grease within a facility come from. Here are some less obvious origins that may catch you by surprise.

  • Fast Food: Approximately 37% or 50 million Americans consume fast food on any given day, including while they are at work.4
  • Our Skin: Our skin produces oil to help keep our skin soft and smooth and protect us from absorbing too much water when we get wet.5 This means that along with spreading germs, our fingers are also good at spreading oil and grease.
  • Tracked in on Shoes: Motor oil and grease can be tracked in from parking lots, where leaky cars drip oil, or in maintenance areas where machinery and devices are cleaned and repaired.
  • Backup Generators:  As the need for backup systems increases due to power outages or other emergencies, so does the need for oil in a facility, which is required for a generator to run.6
Less Obvious Origins of Grease & Grime in Buildings (Image Credit: The Noun Project)

Tackling grease & grime

Addressing both obvious and unexpected sources of grease and grime is important for maintaining a clean and hygienic indoor environment. To begin, identify where grease can show up in your facility. Look in places like kitchens, dining areas, floors near kitchen areas, and places people touch a lot like handrails, door handles, keyboards, light figures, and elevator buttons. Also don’t’ forget about maintenance areas. Once you know where it is, follow these other tips to keep it under control.

  • Clean Regularly: Tackle grease and grime on a daily or weekly basis. This will ensure they don’t build up and cause major issues.
  • Use Effective Products: Invest in a product that is formulated to remove grease and grime and kill odor-causing bacteria. Products that are specially formulated to address grease and grime can help cut down on the labor needed to do the work, potentially saving time, and reducing the amount of effort needed by frontline staff to get the job done. 
  • Promote Reduction: Encourage facilities to use less. Cutting back on the amount used will not only make cleaning easier, but when it comes to the food consumed, it will be better for human health too.
  • Protect the Pipes: Regularly maintain grease traps and use a disposable wipe or cloth. These steps will keep grease and grime from getting into the sewer system, where it can block pipes and cause backups.7,8 According to the EPA, restaurants can product and contribute between 800 to 17,000 pounds of grease waste to sewage treatment plants each year.9
  • Be Ready for Spills: Have a kit that contains PPE, disposable bags, absorbent material, and a product that is effective. Train staff to be able to effectively, safely, and efficiently clean up a oil or grease spill if one should occur.

It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent.

Ezra Taft Benson


Grease is commonly associated with cooking and something we all know to avoid as part of our regular diets (whether we do or not is a topic for another blog!). When combined with other soils and present on surfaces, however, it can cause major problems in buildings too. With a better understanding of what grease and grime are, where they come from, and best practices on how to tackle them, these issues can be avoided. In the wise words of Ezra Taft Benson, “It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent” and it applies to grease and grime as well.  Don’t let them slip you up!


1. Bitzas S, Ma S, Pesanelli K, Zaia AM. Risk factors and impacts of slips, trips, and falls in janitorial populations: A literature review. Appl Ergon. [Internet].2022;102. [cited 2023 Sept 25] Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35427905/
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Slip-resistant shoes reduce food services worker slip injuries [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sep 25]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/falls/pdfs/Kitchen-Fnl_508.pdf
3. Cambridge Dictionary. grease [Internet]. @CambridgeWords. 2023 [cited 2023 Sep 25]. Available from: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/grease
4. Fryar C, Hughes J, Herrick K, Ahluwalia N. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016. Products – Data Briefs – Number 320 – September 2018 [Internet]. CDC. 2018. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db322.htm
5. Cleveland Clinic. An Overview of Your Skin | Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10978-skin
6. Maintenance Tips for Your Facility’s Backup Power Generator [Internet]. Facilities Management Advisor. 2023 [cited 2023 Sep 25]. Available from: https://facilitiesmanagementadvisor.blr.com/emergency-preparedness/maintenance-tips-for-your-facilitys-backup-power-generator/
7. OSHA Hazard Bulletin. Grease Trap Hazards [Internet]. Available from: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3986.pdf
8. O’Shields SM.. F.O.G. (Fats, Oils, and Grease) Polluion [Internet].  Clemson Cooperative Extension. 2019 [cited 2023 Sept 25] Available from: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/f-o-g-fats-oils-and-grease-pollution/
9. EPA National Pretreatment Program. Controlling Fats, Oils, and Grease Discharges from Food Service Establishments 2012 [cited 2023 Sept 25] Available from: https://www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/pretreatment_foodservice_fs.pdf