Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Green Cleaning Alternatives

June 9, 2011

As environmental concerns continue to increase, cleaning standards are evolving and more companies are adapting their cleaning programs in order to take advantage of green opportunities.

Unfortunately, in terms of green cleaning, “green” and “clean” can often seem like mutually exclusive terms.

This leaves a choice of either an environmentally-friendly product that fails to kill harmful bacteria and leaves behind dirt or using harsh chemicals that neutralize microorganisms while providing a spotless floor but result in poor air quality or potential safety issues.

A genuine green cleaning alternative should provide thorough health and hygiene cleanliness while minimizing water, chemical and energy usage to reduce environmental and health impacts.

While there is no one-size-fits-all green cleaning solution, considering that various industries and flooring require distinctive cleaning procedures, green cleaning can be easily incorporated into any industry with the proper equipment, knowledge, water/chemical combinations and advanced technology designed to make cleaning more efficient, while creating sustainability.

Industry Cleaning Standards

Though it may not always appear so to the naked eye, there is a clear difference between a surface looking clean and actually being clean.

However, what qualifies as “clean” is not entirely uniform and differs depending on floor material and industry.

For example, a health care facility may have to adhere to higher standards of cleanliness due to sanitary issues than a manufacturing facility.

Understanding the standards and requirements allows facility owners to save time, energy and costs while achieving maximum results.

Standard definitions consist of three separate and distinct levels: Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting — each serving a particular purpose and requiring different procedures.

  • Cleaning is a process in which floors are scrubbed with water and detergent to eliminate visible dirt, debris and other soils

  • Sanitizing requires the addition of a chemical capable of reducing 99.9 percent of bacteria to a level considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — generally effective within 30 seconds or more

  • Disinfecting eliminates up to 99.9999 percent of pathogens and disease-causing microorganisms within 10 minutes.

Understanding and distinguishing between the separate cleaning levels is crucial when applying them to industry standards in varying cleaning applications.

This indicates the type of cleaner used, the amount of scrubbing required and techniques with which these methods are applied.

Offices And Retail Establishments

Business owners and retail managers understand the importance consumers place in appearances.

Clients and customers respond positively to glossy, shiny floors, but the heavy influx of patrons coming and going throughout the day restricts opportunities to clean floors and maintain the shine.

In addition to achieving a polished look, facility owners also want to limit chemical use to preserve the air quality inside the buildings, as continued exposure to poor air quality can aggravate existing, or lead to, respiratory conditions and even cause physical symptoms such as skin rashes and eye irritation.

However, relying on water-only cleaning solutions will not provide a consistently effective cleaning solution, as water''s surface tension prevents it from thoroughly cleaning textured floors — merely sitting on top of dirt rather than dissolving it.

Office managers and retail owners are challenged with finding an effective cleaning method that leaves floors polished without requiring intense daily scrubbing.

The less rigid sanitary standards of these facilities provide greater flexibility in cleaning options.

To provide that sophisticated, customer-appreciated look, cleaning for appearance offers a versatile, green cleaning technique for office managers and retail owners.

Cleaning for appearance involves interspersing water-only and detergent cleaning procedures, depending on the application at hand.

For example, a facility might require a deeper scrubbing weekly or monthly instead of daily; therefore, by intermixing deeper detergent cleans with water-only cleansing, the solution breaks the surface tension created by water, allowing it to penetrate cracks and pores where dirt can settle.

Alternatively, the water-only cleaning method effectively cleans visible grime — giving floors an overall polished look, while washing away any residual detergent and preventing unwanted buildup.

Combining these two methods helps facility owners reduce overall maintenance expenses and eliminate use of harmful chemicals, leading to environmental sustainability.

When routinely performing water-only cleaning, it is important that owners are aware of the water quality and floor type in the building.

Certain floor materials such as rubber can be damaged by repetitive water-only cleaning, making the floor coloring dull; mineral-laden water can lead to deposit buildup on the floors, deterring appearance rather than improving it.

Educational Facilities

Cleaning educational facilities presents unique challenges due to regular debris buildup in hallways and heavy soil accumulation in entryways, which can cause significant safety concerns.

Furthermore, educational facilities are tasked with the challenge of accommodating multiple cleaning jobs in a single building, which can result in extensive labor and maintenance costs.

For example, high-traffic areas require labor-intensive double or even triple scrubs, while moderately soiled areas can be cleaned with water only or light detergent.

If the proper solution is not used, these cleaning applications can lead to excess usage and dumping of large quantities of expensive sanitizers.

Advancements in green cleaning solutions have produced machines that enable options to dispense less detergent or employ varying flow rates to effectively match detergent requirements to soil level.

Further, machine advancements also feature equipment with “bursts” of scrubbing power to attack tough soils, eliminating multiple scrubs and dumping product solution, while maintaining sustainability by limiting high-pressure scrubbing.

Utilizing machines with multiple cleaning capabilities can eliminate the need for extra equipment and significantly reduce labor.

This results in overall cost reduction — not only in equipment purchases, but also in labor expenses and chemical costs.

Additionally, with the ability to mandate water and chemical usage based on cleaning needs, owners can increase facility sustainability and lessen environmental impact.

Health Care And Food Processing Facilities

Industries such as health care and food processing are held to the highest cleaning standards as a result of the valid concerns regarding the spread of disease and potential contamination risks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mandates that high-risk areas — areas most vulnerable to pathogens — such as patient rooms, restrooms and all areas where food preparation or packaging is completed require deep scrubbing with harsh disinfectants to eliminate disease-causing microorganisms.

However, not all sections of a hospital or processing plant are high risk; areas such as hospital gift shops, private offices, break rooms or entryways do not require repeated scrubbing using disinfectants.

Generally, these low-risk areas can be cleaned using light detergent or water-only cleaning methods.

Cleaning applications that require multiple cleaning processes and chemical potencies can quickly become time-consuming, expensive and raise safety issues.

For example, cleaning an entire facility with disinfectants can lead to repeated exposure, causing potential skin, eye and respiratory irritation.

Alternatively, continually switching between cleaning equipment or solution can also result in dumping costly chemicals during switch-outs or buying multiple machines to tackle diverse cleaning requirements.

To combat these cleaning obstacles, facilities can benefit from innovative technology that provides floor cleaning machines equipped with multiple and separate liquid cartridges.

The cartridges can house water and cleaners of differing strengths, preserving them during nonuse and preventing dumping expensive solutions during chemical switchovers.

Additionally, these cartridges can be changed in a matter of seconds, effortlessly switching between products.

This technology allows operators to achieve industry standards by applying disinfectants to high-risk contamination areas and utilizing a less intense cleanser for low-risk sectors.

Advancements In Cleaning

Technological advancements in the cleaning industry have adapted floor cleaning machines for unparalleled versatility in cleaning, resulting in environmental solutions that deliver green cleaning performance.

A single machine now offers a variety of cleaning options to effectively manage multiple cleaning challenges without requiring additional pieces of equipment or cleansers — offering facility owners a cost effective, green cleaning solution.

Advanced cleaning equipment can be programmed to coincide with the degree of soil on the floor, increasing scrubbing pressure and detergent as needed to reduce waste, water consumption and rework.

Cleaning requirements can vary within the same building, as not all areas require the maximum detergent concentration to produce quality results.

The standard cleaning ratio is 128 parts water for every one part detergent, offering an extreme dilution ratio for low to moderately soiled floors.

Machines now include advanced features that enable selecting from pre-set detergent ratio options that allow personnel to distribute an appropriate dilution for particular cleaning needs.

This technology allows machines to operate on an ultra-low detergent settling with a ratio as low as 400:1, saving at least 50 percent detergent, while adhering to the necessary cleaning standards.

As the health concerns and environmental impacts of traditional cleaning methods continue to become an increasing concern across a wide variety of industries, green cleaning techniques have evolved to provide cost effective alternative methods that combine superior cleaning results, reduced environmental and health impacts and facility sustainability.


Brian Simmons is a product manager for Nilfisk-Advance Inc., a position he has held since 2003. During this time, Simmons has focused his efforts on all automatic scrubbers in the commercial cleaning markets. For more information, visit www.nilfisk-advance.com.