By Stephen Ashkin

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a nationally renowned consulting firm helping both contractors and building owners “green” the cleaning process.
Over the past several months MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has frequently been in the news. However, this article is not about what a cleaning contractor needs to know about the appropriate cleaning or prevention of MRSA.

Rather, this article answers the question of whether it is possible to use disinfectants in a green cleaning program and does the need to protect public health in light of MRSA and other serious threats negate or supersede the demand for green cleaning.

To begin, I think it is important to stress that the whole purpose of green cleaning (or for that matter, traditional cleaning) is to protect public health. There can be no compromises. What makes green cleaning different, however, is that it additionally strives to reduce the environmental impacts associated with cleaning products and processes.

Herein lies the key: green cleaning requires effective cleaning. Additionally, it reduces the environmental issues associated with the entire cleaning process. Thus, it does not prohibit the use of disinfectants and in situations where MRSA is of concern, the appropriate U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered disinfectant and cleaning protocols should be followed.

However, where green cleaning comes into play is to ensure that consideration is being given on how to identify the appropriate EPA-registered disinfectant for your needs and to ensure that the proper protocols such as dilution, application and contact time are followed. Finding the right product is relatively easy. The EPA provides a list of EPA-registered products effective against MRSA.

The next part of the equation is more complicated. As with using any product, especially disinfectants and pesticides, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions for use, product dilution, dwell times, need for precleaning surfaces, etc.

But what will make an effective green cleaning program different from a traditional one is to consider how cleaning and sanitation can be achieved while reducing impacts on health and the environment. For example, a green cleaning program might select a more concentrated product for use against MRSA, which would reduce impacts from packaging and product transportation. Another example would be to select a product that has a pH closer to neutral (pH 7) or to select a product with lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to reduce exposures to product users and building occupants.

Other green cleaning strategies could include using a more aggressive, traditional disinfectant registered to be effective against MRSA but limiting its use only to high-risk areas such as restrooms or locker rooms and use a more general disinfectant or general purpose cleaner in low-risk areas.

In the end, a green cleaning program can be very effective at fighting MRSA and can be an excellent strategy to also reduce potentially negative impacts on health and the environment.