Known to cause skin and eye irritation, as well as emit hazardous fumes, floor-care products such as finishes and strippers are some of the most dangerous products janitors deal with on a routine basis. However, there has been a recent push in the industry over the last few years to develop safer and more environmentally-friendly products.

“Green is everywhere and seems to be the buzz word of the times,” says Frank Trevisani, Spartan Chemical Co., Inc., Maumee, Ohio. “Consumer market pressure for safer floor-care products has brought a response from the chemical industry to meet these demands.”

What Makes Them Green?
When used in proper dilutions, green floor-care products are safer for the user and create a healthier work environment. Green products are formulated with lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which result in less toxic fumes, says David Patterson, senior chemist and Steve Doyen, vice president marketing and sales services for Amrep Inc., Marietta, Ga.

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, says Rocky Massin, senior products manager, Hillyard Inc., St. Joseph, Mo.

These green products lack heavy metals such as nickel, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, and most notably, zinc.

“Zinc has been used as a crosslinking mechanism in these products for decades,” says Patterson, and Doyen. “It provides 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.

Proven Performance
Green floor finishes and strippers do offer performance comparable to traditional products, say manufacturers. However, in markets that receive heavy traffic day after day, such as retail stores, green floor finishes and polishes may not hold up as well as a finish with zinc.

“Metal cross-linking still is the best floor finish technology for ensuring durability in a floor finish,” says Todd Morrison, associate product manager-floor care, JohnsonDiversey-North America, Sturtevant, Wis.

However, in markets with less traffic such as office buildings, green products provide better than satisfactory results in regards to appearance along with the safety for workers and building occupants. Manufacturers are still continuing to improve product performance.

“We just improved [our floor-care products] to provide more gloss and durability,” says Lee Chen, vice president institutional chemical group, Rochester Midland, Rochester, N.Y.

“The reality in our industry is that people won’t use what doesn’t work. It is great that environmentally responsible products have evolved to where they are now good-performing products,” adds Morrison.

Years ago, green products, including floor-care products, did not perform as well as traditional ones and a lot of building service contractors are still skeptical. To ensure these new green products do perform as claimed, manufacturers have turned to third-party certifications. For instance, Green Seal recently unveiled their GS-40 standard designed for floor finishes and strippers.

“People know that if it has Green Seal certification on the product container, it has to be tested and performs as stated, says Trevisani. “It gives the product credibility.”

Green Seal’s GS-37 standard has proven successful for the accountability of green general cleaners; manufacturers trust GS-40 will do the same for floor-care products.

Third-party certification helps take the guesswork out of product selection for the end user, says Massin. BSCs know they are getting a product that works, is good for the environment and safe for workers.

Growing Demand
Building service contractors who use other green products have been the early adopter of green finishes and strippers, say manufacturers — and consumer interest continues to grow.

Geographically, facilities on the coasts are leading the way in green product usage, says Morrison. Facilities located in cities with metal discharge limits are especially interested in floor-care products without heavy metals, adds Chen.

Specific markets that have shown the most demand for these products include schools and universities, government facilities and healthcare facilities.

New government mandates have helped to drive demand for green products, says Morrison. Last month New Jersey passed statewide legislation requiring all state agencies to clean with environmentally friendly products. In New York, all schools must be green cleaned by September.

Safety Ratio
Though manufacturers have answered the call for safer products, it still is important to remember that even green products, especially strippers, can still be hazardous to operator health at incorrect dilutions. To add extra safety measures, manufacturers have improved product packaging.

“Dilution control lessens the contact workers have with the chemical products because of the closed packaging and controlled dispensing,” says Morrison. “Dispensing also brings...peace of mind knowing that the dilution of a stripper is being delivered consistently.”