Consider Cleaning And Maintenance Instructions Prior To Purchasing

Hand wash only. Machine wash gentle cycle. Wash with like colors. Lay flat to dry. As the primary launderer at my house, I’m a keen observer of fabric care labels. And with the exception of that one incident where a dress dropped one size by the end of the dry cycle — and that was a long time ago — we’ve been accident free.

My family has gotten used to my asking to see the garment care tag before they make a clothing purchase. From my perspectives — chief washer of clothes and environmental engineer — I want to consider in advance the cleaning process and products recommended by the manufacturer. For example, the “lay flat to dry” space in the laundry room is already tight, and the travel time and expense for dry cleaning are additional dollar costs beyond the price of the garment (plus the solvent use).

If you’re not already doing so, it’s time to incorporate this type of thinking and consider the cleaning and maintenance instructions for new flooring, fixtures and furnishings in advance of purchasing. If you dive into assembling an IKEA bookshelf pre-instructions and have to backtrack, it’s mainly just your time that suffers. Realizing that hundreds of chairs or thousands of square feet of flooring have to be specially cleaned after the fact is more problematic than installing a shelf upside down.

Choosing materials based on how, and with what, they need to be cleaned can have several benefits. First and foremost, it makes it more likely that they will be cleaned properly. Second, you can favor those items that are compatible with your current green cleaning program and products. Materials that require a special or proprietary cleaning product can add to your maintenance expenses and may not easily fit on the current cleaning carts.

Sometimes we fall into the convenience trap of replacing items with the exact same thing. For example, installing new VCT to replace the worn VCT may seem like the fastest or simplest option, especially if it’s the path of least resistance to get purchasing approval. But it is important that managers take a step back. You actually need to replace the flooring in that area of your facility, and the best option may or may not end up being VCT.

Every purchase is an opportunity to examine a wider range of options viewed through the lens of more sustainable purchasing. Perhaps there is a material that requires less cleaning product to be used or can go longer between cleanings. There are a lot of innovations in aftermarket surface treatments, factory-applied material coatings, and new substrates that can influence cleaning techniques and frequency.

It is also important to ask careful questions about the potential human health and environmental impacts of products with claims of stain repellency, wrinkle resistance or microbe elimination. Some of the ingredients used to impart those properties are the subject of ongoing attention and research.

As cleaning professionals, who else is better to ask the question up front, “but how do we clean it?” 

MARK PETRUZZI is Green Seal’s former Senior Vice President of Outreach and Strategic Relations. He’s in his third decade of striving for more sustainable purchasing and operations by using his engineering powers for good. He can be reached at