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.
There are numerous product categories that you’ll have to consider when building a green cleaning program. In many categories there are independent third party-certifications such as Green Seal, Environmental Choice and Greenguard that makes product selection easy.

It is important to understand that the above programs do not make a product green, but rather, are tools that make it easier to validate green products. This is particularly true of cleaning chemicals because there are numerous health and environmental attributes that should be considered.

In the case of disinfectants, there are no green standards because the EPA forbids the use of such certifications, as they have their own process for identifying the hazard levels of this specific category of products.

But, this does not mean that disinfectants should not be part of a green cleaning program, as they play an important role in protecting health. So in lieu of third-party certifications you must apply the basic definition of green.

Executive Order 13101 defines green as a product that reduces the health and environmental impact compared to similar products. So, consider various attributes of your current products in an effort to reduce the negative impact associated with them. These include:
  • The active ingredient. Some disinfectants use chlorine or phenolic compounds. While enormously effective, they have greater health and environmental risks compared to quaternary ammonium compounds (quats) and hydrogen peroxide. The greener alternative would be switching to the latter products.
  • pH. Some disinfectants have a pH at the extreme ends of the scale (closer to zero or 14) which makes them corrosive. A greener option would be one with a more neutral pH (closer to 7).
  • Fragrance. Many disinfectants have strong fragrances that can cause respiratory irritation. A greener alternative would be one with less fragrance.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some disinfectants include solvents that can result in high levels of VOCs, which can cause respiratory irritation and contribute to atmospheric smog. A greener alternative would contain no or lower VOCs.
  • Other ingredients. Some disinfectants use 2-butoxyethanol which is absorbed through the skin and is associated with a host of health problems. A greener option would not contain 2-butoxyethanol (butyl-free).
  • Packaging. Some disinfectants are purchased ready-to-use (RTU) and typically come in a new quart bottle with a trigger sprayer. A greener option would be a concentrated product which reduces packaging and transportation costs associated with shipping large quantities of water in the RTU product.

The final piece of the puzzle is necessitated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its Environmental Marketing Guidelines. The FTC simply requires you to document your claims. So make sure you are able to identify the above attributes that make your disinfectant green compared to the traditional product you are replacing.