There is no question that facility managers want green cleaning from their building service contractors. Replacing traditional general-purpose, restroom and glass cleaners are typically the first places to start.

"Carrying, recommending and using safer chemicals for routine cleaning is a logical, easy and economical place to kick off a greener business and lifestyle," says Brent Crawford, president, Core Products Co., Canton, Texas.

Three distinct product categories are utilizing Earth's natural resources to provide an environmentally preferable alternative to butyl-based chemicals: oxygenated cleaners, biobased chemicals and handheld water systems. Each works in a different way and is best suited for specific cleaning tasks, so BSCs will need to investigate each product carefully before making a selection.

Oxygenated Cleaners

Oxygenated cleaners use one of three possible active ingredients: hydrogen peroxide, sodium percarbonate and sodium perborate. The latter two are powders, frequently used in laundry and dishwashing products, says Crawford. Hydrogen peroxide-based oxygen cleaners, however, can perform just about any cleaning task, from glass cleaning to carpet shampooing to multipurpose work.

In a concentration of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to 97 percent water, hydrogen peroxide can be used as a mouthwash to treat wounds. But increase it to 4 to 5 percent, and hydrogen peroxide forms the basis of many cleaning agents, explains Crawford.

When a natural degreasing solvent, such as orange oil or another degreasing surfactant, is added to hydrogen peroxide, the resulting product becomes a powerful cleaning agent that works by releasing oxygen on contact with soils to boost the surfactant's cleaning power. When finished, the product leaves behind only water.

The benefits surrounding these neutral-pH cleaners quickly add up. Their improved biodegradability and aquatic toxicity makes them kinder to the environment. And because they are available in dilutable concentrations they are suitable for many applications, including cleaning tile and grout, says Patrick Stewart, CEO, EnvirOx LLC, Danville, Ill.

Oxygenated products also perform well as light-duty cleaners, especially on floors and windows.

"Peroxide provides strong cleaning characteristics with very low chemical content," says Stewart. "You get the surface clean without leaving soap residue behind, so floors and glass are shinier and remain clean longer."

Because of their neutral pH, these products are also safer for janitors to handle. A hydrogen peroxide-based cleaner will not harm workers' eyes or skin, says Stewart.

Biobased Cleaners

Thanks to green cleaning, building owners and occupants are wanting to return to using more "natural" cleaning ingredients.

"[After World War I], companies began creating cleaning products with the goal of being 'powerful' without thinking about the long-term effects they had on people and the planet," says Luke Bobek, director of industrial and institutional sales for Addison, Ill.-based Earth Friendly Products. "Now after nearly 100 years, we've discovered the negative long-term effects these synthetic chemicals have and we are adjusting."

One "adjustment" is cleaning with biobased products comprised of renewable materials, such as soy, corn, coconut, parsley, citrus, lavender and a host of other plants.

"Plants are powerful," says Bobek. "Think of the effects alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and tobacco have on people — all are 100 percent plant-based. If plants can severely alter your mind and drastically affect people's behavior, you can bet we have plants that can effectively clean a surface."

Biobased products can be partially or wholly made from plant sources; the percentage of which is marked on the product — the higher the percentage, the greener the cleaner. To meet the mandatory U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) BioPreferred Program requirements, products should be as much as 80- to 100-percent biobased.

"But from a cost standpoint it's not always realistic to have a product that's 100-percent biopreferred," says Randy Frees, president of Soy Technologies in Nicholasville, Ky. "When you get into biobased surfactants, emulsifiers and solvents, it can exceed acceptable price points."

Probably the most common biobased product, citrus-based products are made with D-limonene, a neutral compound extracted from the rind of lemons, limes or oranges that can be used as a solvent or combined with a surfactant in a cleaning solution. These products carry excellent grease, tar, paint and oil removing capabilities, making them useful for degreasing cleaners, furniture polishes, toilet bowl cleaners and drain cleaners. They are also used in carpet cleaners and spot removers.

Soy-based products, also common, rely on methyl soyate, a petrochemical replacement derived from soybean oil, to clean. These products work well in general cleaning applications, and like corn-based cleaners, also can effectively remove graffiti.

"Soy-based products are best suited for hard surface cleaning, metal polishing and graffiti removal," says Frees. "But they are not as good for floor stripping, window cleaning or bowl cleaning."

Similar to oxygen-based chemicals, biobased products are safer for workers because they do not irritate skin or eyes or emit high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

"Workers may not be able to tell the difference in VOCs, unless their former products emitted heavy fumes," Frees says. "But they will see a reduction in toxicity through reduced skin irritation and surface damage."

There is still a lot of confusion surrounding biobased cleaners and it can be easy to greenwash beneficial claims, says Frees. It's recommended that BSCs look for third-party certifications such as Green Seal or EcoLogo or check the USDA website biopreferred product listing to ensure cleaners actually meet biobased requirements.

Using Water to Clean

If building service contractors don't want to use any chemicals in their cleaning operations, believe it or not, they can simply use plain tap water. Two common methods available turn water into either liquid ozone or ionized water.

Devices using ozone electrically infuse regular tap water with an extra oxygen atom. Air passes through electricity and splits oxygen molecules into atoms. When a third oxygen atom is added, oxygen becomes ozone, which is a very unstable oxidant. However, by infusing it into water to create liquid ozone, it becomes a safe and effective cleaner, says Steve Hengsperger, CEO, Tersano Inc., Oldcastle, Ontario, Canada.

"From a cleaning standpoint, it reacts with proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of all organic matter. They consist of strings of amino acids, held together by peptide bonds," says Hengsperger. "The ozone reacts with the peptide bonds and breaks apart the proteins, leaving behind base amino acids. This then starts a chain reaction that doesn't just break up a stain but lifts it free, which makes it easier to wipe away."

The extra oxygen atom also kills bacteria, viruses, mold, mildew and fungus.

Traditional cleaners also use oxidation processes but rely on chemical oxidation rather than natural oxidation to do the job, says Hengsperger.

Plain tap water can also be turned into ionized water, which takes advantage of the small electrical properties of water and dirt. Water electrolysis creates nanobubbles of gas in the water.

"These electrically-charged bubbles attach themselves to dirt particles causing the particles in turn to become charged and repel from surfaces, enabling soils to be suspended in water and wiped away," states Robert W. Powitz Ph.D., contract instructor with NSF International in the white paper, "How Activated Water Products Work."

The activated water is powerful enough to kill bacteria, viruses and other germs.

In both cases, once the ionized or liquefied ozone has done its job, it reverts back to ordinary tap water and can be quickly and easily wiped away along with dirt and germs.

These devices offer simplicity, safety and cost savings along with the inherent advantages of green cleaning.

"The simplicity of having a device you fill with regular tap water that works as good as or better than traditional cleaners and also kills germs means you can eliminate up to 10 cleaners," says Todd Schaeffer, vice president and general manager at Activeion Cleaning Solutions, Rogers, Minn. "When you do that, you simplify your training, chemical management, inventory processes and more."

However, these devices do not solve all cleaning problems. They are best suited for use as general-purpose cleaners and sanitizers, but are not applicable for heavy degreasing applications or as hospital-grade disinfectants, says Schaeffer.

Using water to clean is also safer workers and building occupants. Janitors no longer need to wear personal protective equipment such as eye goggles or gloves when cleaning. The devices are safe to use around building occupants, which gives BSCs added flexibility when carrying out their duties.

"It can touch your skin or get in your eyes, it's not going to harm you," says Hengsperger. "If you happen to swallow some, there are no emergency procedures to follow."

The choices are many, but ultimately it's up to BSCs to determine which products make the most sense for their green operations. Knowing how these products operate and the applications where they work best are the first steps in the green process.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

next page of this article:
Selling the Benefits of Hand Dryers