Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Making Floor Care Greener

September 8, 2011

Recently, a major global trade publication for the professional cleaning industry featured an article on green cleaning and sustainability.

The article covered a number of topics, offering a variety of suggestions on how to make cleaning both greener and more sustainable.

For the most part, the author presented what any green cleaning advocate would consider good, solid information.

It was designed to help JanSan distributors and building service contactors (BSCs) better understand environmentally preferable cleaning and how closely tied it is to sustainability. It also offered ways to implement green cleaning strategies.

However, the author was not impressed with the performance of the green alternatives now available for floor care.

Because of this, and specifically regarding sustainability, he suggested that it might be better for BSCs to continue using more conventional floor care products, at least for now.

This conclusion is a concern for me because, as we now know, many conventional floor care products contain some of the most potentially harmful ingredients used in the professional cleaning industry.

Further, they are typically made from several nonrenewable natural resources, including petroleum.

The author came to his conclusion for two key reasons:

  1. Because the greener strippers — products that have a reduced impact on the environment but have not been green certified, are awaiting certification or do not meet the standards and criteria required for certification — now on the market are not as effective as conventional strippers, the process of removing finish and soils from a floor is more difficult, requiring more time as well as more electrical energy to power floor care equipment, more water and more chemical.
  2. Because the greener floor finishes on the market are also not as high performing as conventional finishes, the floor must be scrubbed more often with more finish added to the floor to maintain the shine and must be spray-buffed and refinished more frequently — resulting in more necessary time, labor, water and energy to maintain the floor.

Although this author''s conclusions appear reasonable at first glance, I believe he might have done a disservice to his readers regarding floor care.

Although some of the initial green floor care products did have performance issues, new technologies as well as more time and research in recent years have resulted in higher performing green floor care products.

Additionally, he did not offer his readers suggestions or strategies on ways to maintain floors using less chemical and finish — even if conventional products are used.

The results of such strategies would make floor care both greener and more sustainable.

Performance Issues

Without question, green floor care products must meet the durability and performance standards of conventional floor care products.

Several years ago, the facility manager in charge of several state government properties reported that he tested 23 different green finishes before he found two that met the performance standards of the conventional finish that had been used for several years.

I believe that if a similar comparison was made today, several more finishes would meet this manager''s standards.

However, other greener and more sustainable options are also possible.

For instance, some facilities that demand a high-gloss shine to their floors and prefer to use the conventional finishes they are accustomed to have found they can use the conventional finishes in certain areas but have a low-gloss shine or even no finish in other areas.

The overall result is that less finish is used, reducing cleaning''s impact on the environment and promoting sustainability by using fewer natural resources.

If a conventional floor care product must still be used, other environmentally preferable options include the following:

  • Select products with a neutral pH and reduced phosphorus concentrations
  • Choose products with a flash point — the lowest temperature at which the vapor of a combustible liquid can ignite — above 150 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Avoid products that contain carcinogens, heavy metals, 2-butoxy ethanol — which is common in many conventional strippers — or aqueous ammonia
  • Select products that have fewer volatile organic compounds (VOC) after dilution
  • Purchase from JanSan distributors and suppliers that are well-versed on floor care and green cleaning.

Additional strategies include installing more effective matting systems and performing more thorough and frequent floor cleaning along with more frequent buffing to extend the life of floor finish.

This reduces refinishing cycles, which means fewer chemicals, green or conventional, must be used.

By doing so, less water and energy are necessary and the packaging, transport and disposal of products can be reduced, all of which make floor care Greener and more sustainable.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group LLC, a leading green cleaning consulting organization, and Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC. Sustainability Dashboard Tools is a web-based system that allows cleaning professionals to measure the natural resources their businesses use and the greenhouse gas emissions they generate. Armed with this information, businesses can make commonsense changes that reduce their impact on the environment. Such changes save businesses money and make them more efficient and competitive while also benefiting their facilities, employees and local community as well as the environment.