Keeping It Clean by Going ‘Green’

Managers can address restroom cleanliness complaints and bottom-line challenges by specifying 'green' cleaning products

By Alan S. Bigger  

Year after year, despite efforts of housekeeping managers and their staffs, restroom cleanliness remains a problem area in facilities. Survey respondents indicate that the leading source of complaints in facilities continues to be the cleanliness of restrooms, followed closely by related concerns about inadequate restroom supplies.

Customers expect managers to keep restrooms clean, and yet the end result year after year is that managers are failing. The technology of restroom cleaning is changing, however, giving managers an opportunity to be environmentally friendly in selecting chemicals to support the evolving technology.

Housekeeping managers who can successfully combine the resources of entities such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Green Seal

Because of ongoing efforts by equipment manufacturers, the EPA and Green Seal, it is now possible for housekeeping managers to have the best of all worlds — to integrate highly productive equipment with environmentally friendly and cost-effective products to enhance the level of cleanliness in restrooms.

New Technologies

Today’s marketplace of custodial equipment affords housekeeping managers many advantages in cleaning restrooms, compared with the days of the traditional mop, bucket and wringer. The traditional method, though still in use, is increasingly falling behind the new technologies.

Some new systems are simple, while others are more complex, but most systems enhance the performance of cleaning chemicals – if, in fact, any chemicals are used at all – and all while enabling managers to minimize complaints by effectively cleaning restrooms. Examples of these advances include the following: can develop an arsenal of cleaning chemicals that are environmentally friendly — or “green” — priced right, and perform.

    Superheated steam or vapor cleaning. These restroom cleaning systems are becoming increasingly popular. The systems use no chemicals. Instead, they use a tank that superheats the water, and operators spray the resulting steam onto the dirty areas with a special wand that features an applicator to which cleaning towels might be attached. The operator wipes all surfaces with the superheated vapor, changing the cloth as it becomes soiled. The units also have special heads that allow for crevice cleaning.

    In addition to using these units for cleaning restrooms, cleaning crews also can use them for cleaning kitchens because the steam easily breaks down the grease. Also, when using the wand and towel attachment, the units might be effective in cleaning dirt off walls.

    Manufacturers of some of these systems claim that the units require no chemicals, but housekeeping managers should familiarize themselves with the claims and the infection-control needs of their facility. Also, operators need to be aware that the vapor is hot and that handles of some wands might become hot. As a result, they will need to wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

    Restroom cleaning kits. Several manufacturers now market restroom cleaning kits that might include a cleaning cart, a bucket and a series of extension handles with associated specialized mop heads and attachments. The cart has space for storing cleaning supplies and paper products. Increasingly, crews are replacing old cotton-string mops with microfiber flat mops that are easier to use, lighter and enable aggressive cleaning of the surface.

    The restroom cleaning kits give the person cleaning restrooms all of the necessary products they might need on the job site. Some advocates of microfiber cleaning cloths say that the cloths eliminate or mitigate the need for cleaning chemicals. Realistically, crews often can enhance their cleaning efforts in restrooms by applying the appropriate chemicals during the cleaning process.

    Powered cleaning equipment. Specialized power washers for cleaning restrooms have been available for several years now. Generally, the power washer is cart-mounted for carrying limited cleaning supplies and might come in various sizes. Basically, after the floor has been swept, the unit allows the operator to power-wash the restroom from ceiling to floor and to air dry the room before use.

    These units have specialized chemicals, applied through a solution pick-up hose, that afford deep cleaning and drying of surfaces without leaving spots, much like an effective dishwashing agent. More advanced units not only can allow an operator to power spray a room but can also pick up the residue solution after cleaning to minimize the time that a restroom is out of service.

    When using these units, operators need use all appropriate safety precautions. For example, crews should not spray chemicals into electrical outlets, and they should make sure that paper goods are adequately protected from solution overspray. When used correctly, these units really do deliver deep cleaning to restrooms.

A Checklist for Chemicals

Manufacturers have provided a new generation of equipment for housekeeping managers to specify to improve the level of restroom cleaning in their facilities. Several can help minimize the use of chemicals.

To complement this cleaning process, Green Seal has developed a “Checklist: What to Look for in a Superior Cleaner.” Green Seal defines a superior cleaning chemical as “one that lessens its environmental impacts at every stage of its life cycle, including its packaging.” Among the items on the checklist are the following:

  • Products should be both biodegradable and non-toxic.
  • Phosphates concentration should be 5 percent of weight or less, and those without are best.
  • Products should work in cold water and be concentrated.
  • Avoid products with chlorine bleach or sodium hypochlorite.
  • When diluted, concentrations of volatile organic chemicals should not exceed 10 percent of the weight.
  • Avoid ingredients that are derived from petroleum.
  • Choose surfactants derived from vegetable oil. Avoid those with nonylphenol ethoxylate.
  • Use products with a neutral pH.
  • Choose products that are packaged in recycled containers.

For more information, managers can visit Green Seal - Product Recommendations and select “general purpose cleaners.”

In addition to this information, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services. The database provides “useful sources of information on the environmental preferability of products and services.

Housekeeping managers who want to curtail complaints concerning their facilities' restrooms and minimize the impact of cleaning chemicals and processes on the environment have more options than ever today. They can achieve these goals by learning about those options.

Today’s environmentally friendly chemicals and equipment are increasingly cost competitive, have increased efficacy, limit damage to the environment and minimize costs to an organization for disposal of chemicals. In more cases than ever, it is a winning combination to clean restrooms with green chemicals and equipment that can solve restroom cleaning complaints and control costs at the same time.

‘Green’ Resources

A Web page pops up with the formula, E+P+P=EPP. This might mean little, until the viewer discovers what the letters stand for: E = environment, P = price, and P = performance. The Web page advocates a purchasing strategy that encourages the purchase of environmentally preferable products.

Executive Order 13101 defines environmentally preferable as “products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.” Based on that order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a program to assist housekeeping managers identify products that will enhance cleaning by using chemicals that perform, are cost effective and are environmentally friendly.

Using environmentally preferable products is increasingly critical, since according to the EPA, the “United

States consumes approximately 25 percent of the world’s resources with only 5 percent of the world’s population.”

Another source of good information on “green” products is Green Seal an independent non-profit organization that “strives to achieve a healthier environment by promoting products and services that cause less toxic pollution and waste, conserve resources and habitats, and minimize global warming and ozone depletion.”

Green Seal, in its “Choose Green Report” states, “Scrub, squirt, splash, scour. We could be winning the war against filth and grime, but at what cost to the environment? Cleaning products are among the most hazardous chemicals you will find in your home or office. These cleaners are part of our burgeoning hazardous waste stream.”

— Alan S. Bigger and Linda B. Bigger

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  posted on 6/1/2003   Article Use Policy

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