Floor finishes and strippers are some of the most dangerous products janitors deal with on a routine basis. These products can cause skin and eye irritation as well as emit hazardous fumes.

However, there has been a recent push in the industry over the last few years to develop products that are safer for cleaning crews, building occupants and the environment. Building service contractors can now use green floor finishes and strippers to create a healthier work environment.

Green finishes and strippers are formulated with lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which result in less toxic fumes. Undiluted green floor-care products don’t contain carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins. They are not corrosive to the skin or eyes, nor are they a skin sensitizer.

Green finishes also lack heavy metals such as nickel, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, and most notably, zinc. Zinc is used as a crosslinking mechanism to provide the finish with durability, water resistance, and high speed burnishing response. However, zinc can be toxic to aquatic life. Through the Clean Water Act, zinc was placed on the list of 65 Toxic Pollutants and 126 Priority Pollutants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Waste-water treatment plants and sewer districts are required by law to monitor zinc levels discharged by industrial and institutional users. Products composed without heavy metals will especially be beneficial for contractors who clean facilities located in cites with metal discharge limits.

Even though green floor finishes do not use metal cross-linking, they still perform comparable to traditional floor-care products. However, they won’t hold up as well under heavy traffic — for instance in facilities such as retail stores — as finishes made with zinc. In facilities that receive light foot traffic, such as office buildings, green products will provide better than satisfactory results.

To ensure these new green products do perform as claimed, manufacturers have turned to third-party certifications. For example, Green Seal’s GS-40 standard is designed for floor finishes and strippers. Because Green Seal insists that products meet stringent standards of performance in order to be certified, BSCs know that when purchasing certified products, they are getting ones that work effectively, and are safe for the environment and their staff.

Even though these products are safer than traditional ones, it is important to remember that even green products, especially strippers, can still be hazardous to operator health at incorrect dilutions. Many strippers are packaged ready to be used in dilution control systems that lessen worker contact with the product through splashing or spilling. Dilution control also ensures a consistent and correct dilution every time.

Excerpted from the March 2006 issue of Contracting Profits.