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Chemicals / Chemical-free Cleaning / Sustainability / Maintenance
July 2013 Feature 5

A Guide To Environmental Cleaning

Purchasing environmentally-friendly cleaning products does not necessarily equate to a green policy, your staff needs to be properly trained as well.

July 03, 2013
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Traditional commercial cleaning products are very important for professional and domestic cleaners, allowing firms to complete jobs at a high standard and as cost effectively as possible.

Some cleaning agents are better for the environment than others, reducing the impact on local ecosystems and the health concerns of your staff.

A green cleaning policy can help your business reduce its environmental impact and allow your team to develop safer, more effective ways of working.

By reducing the number of toxic chemicals from your purchasing list, you can create a healthier environment, both internally and externally, reducing pollution and health risks for the staff.

However, buying environmentally-friendly cleaning products doesn’t necessarily equate to a green policy — you must also train your staff to carry out cleaning jobs effectively, minimizing wastage and misuse and ensuring that environmental benefits occur in the longer term.

The Benefits Of Using Green Products

Some conventional cleaning products can include volatile agents which may be damaging when released into the atmosphere or rinsed down the drain into water systems.

Less hazardous cleaning products have positive environmental attributes in terms of their biodegradability, toxicity, low volatile organic compound (VOC) content and packaging requirements.

This improves indoor air quality, reduces water and air pollution and ensures the effectiveness of cleaning in removing contaminants from the building’s interior.

Some cleaning ingredients can also cause skin and respiratory irritation or chemical burns if not handled with care.

By developing environmentally-friendly processes and purchasing strategies, you can ensure that the products you use are environmentally friendly and will not negatively impact the health of your staff.

Less Environmentally Friendly Ingredients

When buying cleaning products, check the bottle ingredients and try to reduce the use of the following compounds and use more environmentally-friendly alternatives, where possible:

  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are added to some laundry detergents, disinfectants and citrus cleaners/degreasers; these compounds can be difficult to break down and can harm the reproductive processes of fish and other water species.
  • “Danger,” “Poison” and “Corrosive” cleaners should be minimized as they are likely to be poor for the environment and can cause health problems if mismanaged.
  • Ozone-depleting compounds as listed in the Clean Air Act regulations or regulated hazardous materials.
  • Petroleum-based cleaning products can increase our dependence on imported oil. However, a non-toxic petroleum degreaser is better for the environment than a toxic and polluting phosphate detergent, for example.
  • Chlorine bleach and ammonia, or other corrosive or irritating substances typically found in drain cleaners, oven cleaners and acidic toilet bowl cleaners; these can be irritating to eyes, nose, throat and lungs and should not be used by people with asthma or lung or heart problems.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) may contribute to cancer or hormone disruption. Avoid any substances which could be human carcinogens or reproductive toxicants, or specified by the National Toxicology Program, the International Agency for Research on Cancer or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Natural Cleaning Products

Everyday cleaning jobs can be carried out successfully by using natural products.

These have the least impact on the environment and provide a really cost-effective method of cleaning.

Most cleaning jobs can be solved with water, liquid Castile soap, vinegar or baking soda.

Tougher jobs can also be helped by combining one cup of Borax with vinegar or lemon juice.

A decent amount of elbow grease and a strong scourer will remove the requirement for chemical cleaners.

Other Natural Cleaning Products

Salt is an abrasive solution and can be used to scrub surfaces or get rid of rust and mildew; it also helps polish copper and silver.

Castile soap has a wide variety of uses and can serve as an all-purpose cleaner or degreaser.

Identifying Greener Chemical Alternatives

Commercial cleaning agents are imperative for a number of particularly difficult cleaning jobs.

We recommend that you select environmentally friendly commercial cleaning products, where possible, ensuring that your portfolio of products effectively balances environmental concerns with overall business requirements.

You may need to trade-off desirable characteristics against others: While one product may be made with renewable resources, another product might have a lower VOC content.

Decide what is most appropriate while accounting for cost, performance, availability and regulatory requirements.

Use the following guide when choosing green commercial cleaning products:

  1. Many products may claim to be “ecologically-friendly” or “natural,” but without additional information you will be unable to understand their true value — look out for “solvent-free,” “phosphate-free” or equivalent.
  2. In terms of biodegradability, look out for products that provide additional information: “ready biodegradability” ensures that a material degrades relatively quickly.
  3. Choose products made with plant-based, rather than petroleum-based, ingredients where possible.
  4. Choose cleaning products in the largest container sizes available to avoid wasted packaging. Where possible select bottles made from recycled plastic.
  5. Choose concentrated formulas where appropriate, containing up to 20 percent water. These require less packaging and shipping fuel.
  6. Look out for accredited environmental cleaning labels: European products, for example, use the EU Ecolabel, championing products and services with reduced environmental impacts across their life cycle. Ensure that your dishwashers and clothes washers are certified ENERGY STAR too.
  7. Biodegradable bin bags and recycled toilet tissue provide additional benefits, with the latter reducing worldwide paper demand and deforestation.
  8. For windows you can source environmentally friendly glass cleaner made from high-purity water-soluble solvents; you can also buy green hard floor cleaner for polished and non-polished floors.

Changing Working Habits And Practices

Successfully implementing green cleaning requires more than merely altering your buying habits.

You must also ensure that members of your staff are properly trained in their use of products in order to maximize effectiveness and minimize wastage.

Although some cleaning agents may appear to be less beneficial for the environment, if used at the correct dosage, they will reduce overall resource requirements and could be a better product to use for the environment in the longer term.

By only using concentrated liquids, you can cut down on the packaging and transport costs involved, too.

By training staff in selecting the appropriate cleaning agent for particular cleaning jobs, you can avoid wastage and reduce the risk of damaging surfaces, which might then need replacing if not maintained correctly.

Marble, for example, should be on the whole cleaned with a neutral, nonabrasive cleaner in order to maintain its natural finish.

Rather than focusing solely on sourcing environmentally friendly cleaning products, it is therefore useful to look at the overall impact of your cleaning function — after all, an environmentally friendly oven cleaner which arrives diluted, heavily packaged and requires weekly replacement is likely to be less green in the longer term.

Persil’s “Small and Mighty” campaign emphasizes this approach well: By combining concentrated cleaning products with correct dosage and lower water and packaging requirements, you can improve the environmental impact of your resources.

Implementing Environmental Strategy Across Your Organization

Your environmental cleaning procurement needs to be central to your overall environmental strategy.

If your organization has a sustainability team, formulate relationships with cleaning stakeholders to identify suitable products and assess their on-going performance levels at regular intervals.

The EPA suggests five guiding principles when buying green cleaning products:

  • Include environmental factors alongside price and performance characteristics during the purchasing process
  • Emphasize pollution prevention early on
  • Examine all environmental factors throughout a product or service’s life cycle
  • Compare relative environmental impacts when choosing particular products and services
  • Base your purchasing decisions on accurate information regarding environmental performance.

Communicate with staff via newsletters or e-mail to raise awareness of environmental policy; demonstrate how your cleaning and waste management processes create a better working environment.

The more you educate staff the better they will be at understanding how an environmental policy can help your organization and the environment at large.


Scott Harris is the director of Click Cleaning, providers of cleaning supplies. Click Cleaning supplies a number of environmentally friendly cleaning products and a range of equipment for commercial and domestic use. Some of Click Cleaning’s most popular products include Jeyes Fluid and Numatic vacuum cleaners among environmental products such as Ecover. Please contact Click Cleaning at (845) 680-1955 or for more information.

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