For many years, custodial workers used harsh and sometimes toxic cleaning chemicals to get the job done. These chemicals were effective at cleaning restrooms, but also posed safety risks to workers and building occupants. Those cleaning managers looking for safer alternatives were often left guessing about products available on the market — questions arose regarding product effectiveness, cost, and the credibility of safety claims.

In response, the industry began analyzing the affects these chemicals had on health and the environment. Slowly but surely, there was a shift towards greener, less toxic, less hazardous and less environmentally impactful chemicals.

Then, roughly 10 years ago, third-party certification programs were introduced in an effort to simplify the process even further. The programs directly addressed the confusion regarding green cleaning, including what makes a product environmentally preferable and how to tell the difference between green and non-green offerings.

These third-party organizations have implemented green benchmarks and standards in order to build customer confidence, and have advanced green cleaning and eliminated much of the confusion that previously surrounded it.

What If No Green Certification Exists?

While green and green-certified alternatives are now available for almost all cleaning chemicals, some, such as disinfectants sold in the U.S., are still unavailable in green formulations. Further, while there have been significant improvements, certain green-certified floor finishes and other floor care products still do not match the performance or cost-point of their conventional counterparts. In these cases, the end-user, working with an astute distributor, will need to do some homework in order to select the more environmentally responsible product.

For instance, a disinfectant will be less corrosive and reduce the potential for burns to eyes and skin if it has a moderate pH (close to seven). Chemicals that have reduced VOCs (volatile organic compounds) will reduce the ultimate VOC emission to the environment, and minimize respiratory irritation and the potential to trigger asthma in workers and building occupants. Greener options will be butyl-free or hydrogen-peroxide based.

Similarly, some greener floor care products have fewer VOCs, less or no zinc and other heavy metals, reduced odor, etc.

Facility managers are encouraged to work with their distributor or ask questions of manufacturers in an effort to identify products that contribute to healthier and more environmentally friendly operations. Products do exist, they just might require some additional legwork to find.

Water Issues

In addition to green products, departments can't overlook the impact of water when greening restroom operations. In most facilities, more water is used in the restroom than in any other area of the facility.

Working with facility executives, custodial managers must encourage the use of more water-efficient toilets, urinals and faucets. Newer technologies are evolving and can significantly reduce water consumption, lowering costs for the facility, while contributing to environmental initiatives.

For example, there are toilets that perform the same, but use less water than the government-mandated 1.6 gallons per flush. Further, properly maintained no-water urinal systems are meeting customer needs and saving millions of gallons of water every year.

The cleaning department can also reduce consumption through less obvious changes. In-house operations can do their part by reassessing procedures or equipment that require the use of hot water, or by purchasing chemical concentrates and diluting properly using proportioning equipment.

Twenty or more years ago, many cleaning experts were unsure about how to make cleaning — especially restroom cleaning — greener and healthier. But as more technologies, procedures, methods and products have evolved, we now know that there are many ways to achieve a healthier and more environmentally preferable cleaning operation.  


For additional information about cleaning processes for green restrooms, click here.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC, and coauthor of "The Business of Green Cleaning" and "Green Cleaning for Dummies."