By Rona Fried, Ph.D.

Rona Fried is founder of, an Internet community that provides services and information to companies that integrate triple bottom-line concerns — social, environmental and economic — into their core strategies.
It’s common knowledge that dust swirling around in the air is a major contributor to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) — a factor in allergies, asthma and other respiratory ailments. Dust carries dust mites, pollens, skin cells, food crumbs, bacteria and more. But what might not be as well-known is that improving IAQ is at the core of a green cleaning program.

Traditionally, a custodian “cleans” floors with a dust mop, shakes it and then sweeps the remainder into a dustpan. Not only does this throw the dust into the air, but it also leaves dirt behind, especially in hard-to-reach areas like light fixtures, high vents and under registers.

Because of these shortcomings, many contractors also use autoscrubbers to clean the floors. Left-over dirt and dust often gets trapped in the pad though, grinding the floor finish and dulling it prematurely. Worse, the grit from grinding joins the dust as it, too, is thrown into the air. Then, to restore the shine, contractors often use a burnisher — which also removes the top layer of floor finish, sending it into the air.

A much easier solution is to prevent dirt from getting into a building in the first place. Placing industrial-strength outdoor and indoor walk-off mats at every entryway is so important to overall cleanliness and IAQ that proper matting qualifies for one point toward the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. In fact, trapping and removing contaminants at entryways cuts subsequent dusting and vacuuming in half.

Instead of using a feather duster, use a Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label-approved HEPA vacuum with a dust brush attachment to capture and remove remaining dust (an inefficient vacuum also throws dust). Vacuuming removes up to 80 percent of the dirt on carpeted surfaces; wide floor attachments work well on non-carpeted surfaces. It’s important to dispose of HEPA filters and empty vacuum cleaner bags when they are half-full.

A regular maintenance schedule closes the loop — daily vacuuming for heavy traffic areas such as entrances, corridors, break areas and work areas; and frequent vacuuming for light traffic areas including conference rooms, auditoriums and media centers.

Other major tools in the dusting arsenal are electrostatically charged microfiber cleaning cloths. They capture dust, debris and even water while green cleaning — microfiber reduces the need for chemical spray cleaners, cleaning solutions and water. Mops with removable/cleanable microfiber collection heads can often substitute for vacuums. Used mop heads should be replaced at the end of each shift and laundered prior to being reused.

A successful green dusting program will improve the building’s IAQ, reduce the need for chemicals and better the health of staff and building occupants.