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Selecting green cleaning products

September 19, 2010
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There is a lot of noise in the industry today surrounding green products. It is crucial to know what to look for when selecting green products. First, beware of VOC-free products. VOC-free refers to the volatile organic compound content in a product and not the VOC emissions. VOC content is the amount (by weight) of VOCs used in the formulation of the product.

VOC emissions are the chemicals that are released into the air during and after application. VOC content has traditionally been used to meet outdoor air regulations that limit the release of certain VOCs contributing to outdoor smog formation.
This approach served as a surrogate for estimating indoor emissions for many years. However, data shows that products, such as cleaners, with “low or zero” VOC content may still emit levels of VOCs found to be irritating and unacceptable to people indoors. Technologies are now available for measuring low-level chemical emissions and predicting their impact on the indoor air that building occupants breathe.

Also watch for words such as “natural” and “alternative.” Natural is not always good. For example, cleaners with lemon and orange scent can have VOC emission levels significantly higher than traditional water-based cleaners.

To find healthy, green products, look for VOC emissions versus VOC content and ask the following questions:
  • Has the product been tested using reproducible, scientific methods?
  • Is it third-party certified?
  • Is the product readily available?
  • Is the product competitively priced?
Cleaning is essential, but it is a delicate balance between achieving a clean environment and limiting exposure to allergens and toxins. It is important to select low-emitting cleaning products for the health and well-being of employees and building occupants. For a list of low-emitting cleaning products that are GREENGUARD certified, visit

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