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Excerpt from Green Cleaning Curriculum

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Among other writing projects, Frēda has ghost-authored an entire curriculum designed to teach green cleaning processes to janitorial staff. Here's an excerpt:

Green practices are essential to a truly professional company. Green Cleaning requires that we change to alternate cleaning products and adopt new methods. There is no honest shortcut to a Green program.

When we turn our attention to the reasons for Green Cleaning beyond the cleaning of the facility, our effectiveness is measured in two areas of health impact:

1. Immediate impact of the cleaning process: What are the hazards to those who apply the cleaning chemicals and perform the cleaning tasks? During the process are there dangers to the health of those doing the work and in proximity to the cleaning?

2. Residual impact of the cleaning process: What are the long term hazards to those who enter the facility after the cleaning process? Are there residual fumes, chemicals, equipment, and disposal issues from the cleaning process?

These measurements are the most simplistic requirements of whether a cleaning program is a Green Cleaning program. As a Green Cleaning Technician, you need a basic understanding of the principles to make the Green program happen. To determine if your program is using Green products and practices, you need to ask these critical questions for every aspect of what your firm does.

You will soon learn to read the MSDS for the warnings that you find there. As a way to determine the reality of your Green program, start with the janitorial supply closet, the MSDS, and these two questions to see if your firm is Green or only claiming to be Green. You see, it is not about a product or a brand of products. Neither is Green simply using Green Seal or EcoLogoM certified products. Green is about the health impact of your service in this new era of Green awareness.

Example 1:

Traditional glass cleaner-made of alcohol and ammonia, which are solvents typically applied by using a trigger spray.

These sprays create a fine mist. Once in the form of mist, the spread of the chemicals can extend to various parts of the building. Vapors created by this product and process have the following effects:

A. Vapors can enter the breathing zone of cleaning personnel, causing respiratory irritation and triggering asthmatic attacks and other breathing disorders (especially when used repeatedly and over time). Because they can remain in the restroom, vapors can affect building occupants using the restroom.

B. Vapors are circulated throughout the building by the ventilation system and can affect building occupants. When the vapors are exhausted to the outdoors, they can contribute to atmospheric smog and air pollution.

Green cleaning alternatives can include:

· Replacing the traditional glass cleaner with one that has no solvents such as a detergent, or soap-based cleaner that produces fewer vapors.

· Applying the product in a stream rather than a mist to reduce the vapors.

· Applying the spray to a wiping cloth, rather than directly onto the glass, to reduce the vapors.

Example 2:

The need for wholesale employee participation.

If occupants eat in their individual offices, they are likely to produce crumbs, which could attract pests. This might require more frequent pesticide or rodenticide applications (not a good thing because these add to the contamination of the building environment) than if all eating were centralized in a lunchroom or conference room.

In addition, employees could clean up coffee or beverage spills at the time of a spill, rather than wait for the cleaning crew to do it (especially when it involves carpets or other fabrics). Janitors can use fewer, and less toxic, cleaning products than if spills were allowed to dry or seep into carpet over a period of time.

Hence, green cleaning requires some involvement by building occupants. Strategically, it is important to replace available cleaning products with safe substances, and to keep more powerful products in secure places. Another strategy is to have a janitor active during the day to handle the demands of a heavily-used office. If the janitorial crew is only brought in at night, it may be wise to divide the workforce placing a person on the day shift to stay ahead of cleaning demands of the building residents. Strategy, then, is how to maintain the facility on an ongoing basis, rather than clean it at night.

Floors are another example of maintenance strategies. Grit that stays on the floor during the day will mar the finish. A daytime employee could sweep or mop the floors more often so that the floors need stripping and finishing less often. In the big picture, this will lead to fewer chemicals introduced to the office.

Example 3:

Phosphates are now banned in certain cities. Phosphates are used in detergents and soaps. Once released into the water supply, they inhibit normal plant and fish life and cause excess algae in the waterways. One might think that the use of a phosphate-based product is of minimal concern, but the fact is that these products are being used by thousands of people every day. The cumulative effect is that phosphates are a major concern of the pollution control agencies.

Bio-safe products break down into inert or environment safe compounds once released into the environment. We might think that all things are neutralized as we push them out the waste system, but that is a big mistake. You can dilute them, spread them around, and discount them, but many products impact the world for a very long time.

As a technician, you may not be critically involved in such decisions, but it helps to understand the reasons for a maintenance plan versus a response plan. Getting ahead of the curve is part of the overall philosophy of Green practices.

If you are going on to take the manager certification, consider how you schedule people for a job assignment. You can put two or more people into the evening crew to maintain the building, but in heavy-use buildings, it may be a good suggestion to consider a day person who could handle some of the duties and keep the immediate needs handled.

Vacuums that have HEPA filters

You should know that the Indoor Air Quality is affected by everything brought into that facility and what we put into the air. The air is constantly recycled by the HVAC system, though it may be filtered. Vacuums using paper and cloth bags drive a lot of air through the systems attempting to pick up the dirt and dust. If you have ever vacuumed and seen the outside light illuminating the particles in the air after you vacuum, you see evidence of harmful air pollution. Vacuums can pick up and stir pollen, allergens, and other unwanted particles that are unfriendly to the residents.

HEPA vacuums use a better system to exhaust clean air back into the room. The HEPA filter is actually a second filter that cuts the recycling of dust and dirt back into the air. A Green janitorial service will transition to HEPA vacuums as old vacuums are retired.

HEPA vacuums have been criticized for inadequate suction power due to the filtering process. This is being addressed already, and most HEPA vacuums do a more than adequate job. Pay attention to the faithful emptying of the vacuum dirt and cleaning/replacement of the HEPA filter for best results.

Fragrances and Color

This is likely the hardest transition of all. Green products not only replace the harsh chemicals like phenols, chlorine, and ammonia, but they are removing fragrance and color from the product because these are additives that can add to VOCs and bother sensitive people. We have been trained through decades of advertising that fragrance, attractive colors, and foaming action indicate a clean surface. Fragrances, pigments, and chemical reactions (foaming) are generally non-Green elements that we want to retrain ourselves to avoid.

Green products are often the consistency of water, have a better pH, do not have fragrance, and may be colorless. This does not mean that they do not work as well as the standard cleaners. It is often the “perception of clean” that we take from a citrus smell, a colored liquid, and foaming action. Green products will clean just as well, but may require a brief time on the surface to have maximum affect.

Here’s a new and important term: “Dwell Time,” meaning that the product needs to stay on the surface for a short period of time to work correctly. Many new Green products require a brief Dwell Time before being wiped away.

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