Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Chemical-free Cleaning Guide: Part Two

February 18, 2011

This is a continuation of a column that appeared in the January 2011 issue of Cleaning & Maintenance Management magazine.

To review from last month, there are three sources of the health, safety and environmental risks we face from our new carpeting and furniture: Ingestion, inhalation and absorption.

  • Ingestion — Children are perhaps the largest at-risk population for the accidental ingestion of cleaning chemicals. This can occur in a commercial environment where child daycare is available.

  • Inhalation — Toxic indoor air quality is the primary inhalation risk. This is a gradual contamination, which occurs as people breathe in the residual vapors from toxic carpet and furniture off-gassing and cleaning chemicals. When toxic fumes are inhaled, they can enter the human bloodstream and quickly travel to organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys and liver. The immediate results may be headaches, drowsiness, sinus infections and muscle aches.

  • Absorption — This is created by the chemical residual left on floor and furniture surfaces and after the cleaning is done. Absorbing a chemical substance through your skin is often unsuspected. Many of the toxic chemicals used in carpet and furniture materials and cleaning fluids can penetrate through our skin when we touch a treated surface days or even weeks later.

A Chemical-free Cleaning Solution

So, what can you do?

You can take action to reduce your exposure to carpet and furniture toxins — without using more chemicals.

First, if you can, vacuum with a well-sealed, high-quality high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum cleaner that can do a much better job of cleaning your carpets than cheaper vacuum cleaners.

Low-quality vacuum cleaners are not sealed very well.

Even many of the so-called HEPA filtered versions often leak air through gaps in their cases, causing dirt and toxins to blow back into your indoor environment.

A good doormat will stop a lot of toxins right at the door.

If you are installing a new carpet, choose one made of naturally flame retardant fibers such as wool, and get a woven rug.

Also, get a quality HEPA air cleaner, air purifier or air washer that will remove dust and toxins free-floating in the air and that rise from the carpet or rug every time you step on it or vacuum.

You can also use chemical-absorbing indoor plants.

Every school child is taught early on that plants have the ability to "inhale" carbon dioxide and then "exhale" oxygen.

What is important to our indoor environment is that there are a number of common potted plants that can filter out a variety of toxic airborne chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and even arsenic.

Plants that top the clean air list include:

  • Peace lily
  • Bamboo palm
  • English ivy
  • Mums
  • Gerbera daisies.

All of these plants are both easy to find and easy to care for, so even if you don''t have a green thumb, you can still have a green home or office.

Breathe Easy

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), toxic chemicals commonly found in commercial buildings are three times more likely to be carcinogenic or cancer-causing than pollutants in outdoor air.

The National Cancer Institute''s database contains over 2,200 chemicals that are termed as "probable carcinogens."

Many of the chemicals on this list may be found in the carpets and furniture in our buildings and in the formulas for commercial, industrial and residential cleaning products — many of which are not tested or rated by any agency.

If you follow as many of these precautions as possible, you will certainly have a cleaner and healthier home or office.

Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland. For more information, visit He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice, performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.