As the green movement continues to sweep the nation one facility at a time, more and more facilities are looking to their cleaning procedures as the first step in meeting environmental friendly goals.

And thanks to advancements in chemistry, jan/san distributors can now offer these customers green cleaning alternatives for nearly every chemical in their line. However, what still remains to be seen is the release of a certified green disinfectant cleaner.

Even though chemical manufacturers may tout their disinfectants as green products, those claims are far from the truth, says Teresa Farmer, green program specialist with Knoxville, Tenn.-based Kelsan Inc.

“Contrary to what manufacturers may claim, there’s really not a green disinfectant,” she says.

In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies disinfectants as pesticides, which are currently regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Thus, disinfectant cleaners distributed or sold in the U.S. must be registered with the EPA.

Manufacturers who submit disinfectants for registration are also required to include current efficacy data to prove their product “kills” all of the microorganisms listed on the product label. For instance, if the product claims to kill Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), then data must be submitted to the EPA to prove that the product, when diluted according to the product’s label directions, in fact kills the MRSA virus.

Upon approval, the EPA then assigns a registration number for each product, which must then be displayed on every container of the product. And, according to FIFRA’s specifications, certification can only be given to a product that “will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.”

Thus, third-party environmental groups are prohibited from placing their logo or seal of approval on disinfectant products.

Because there is no current green certification for disinfectants on the market, end users who wish to create or maintain an environmentally friendly facility are left asking how they can still be green while requiring a need for disinfection.

A ‘Safer’ Disinfectant?

Because all disinfectants have toxic properties, green cleaning in this area consists of appropriate and limited use of disinfectants on an as-needed basis. That’s because there is always a risk of side effects when using disinfectants.

For example, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is an effective treatment against bloodborne pathogens, but is also highly corrosive and a respiratory irritant, which makes it dangerous to cleaning personnel and building occupants, damaging to many surfaces, and toxic when released into the environment. Other types of disinfectants each have their own strengths and risks.

But while end users can’t always eliminate disinfection from their cleaning programs, distributors say a healthier alternative would be to limit disinfectant applications to the appropriate setting, amount and target organism.

Some disinfectants, while highly effective, may pose too much of a risk to be appropriate in certain settings. For example, phenolic-based disinfectants should be used sparingly and with extra caution in facilities where children are present because they cannot metabolize them.

However, chemical manufacturers are continuing to work on answering end users’ needs by providing them with a “safer” disinfectant that is more environmentally friendly.

Some manufacturers are now offering a broad line of disinfectants that are less corrosive (pH close to 7) to eyes and skin than their traditional counterparts, which have a pH closer to 0 or 14. These newer options also have little or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which cause respiratory irritation and adverse affects to not only the cleaning personnel but also building occupants.

Manufacturers have also formulated disinfectants that are butyl-free, pH-neutral quaternary and hydrogen-peroxide based, says Terry Mayhall, vice president of sales and marketing for Kleenmark, Madison, Wis.

“Most of the disinfectants used now are quaternary disinfectants, which still have a wide kill rate, but aren’t as harsh as the old phenolics,” he says.

For most end users that have implemented a green cleaning program, a disinfectant may be the only product they use on a daily basis that is not green certified. However, distributors say disinfecting is vital to their operations.

“Essentially, with disinfectants, you’re talking about people’s health,” says Farmer. “Of course with a green program, you’re trying to improve people’s health, but we still recommend that customers disinfect.”

Distributors continue to include disinfectant products with green cleaning lines because housekeeping personnel need to disinfect in limited areas such as patient rooms, restrooms and locker rooms.

Distributors also say end users must understand that it would be irresponsible and wasteful for them to use a disinfectant on all surfaces of a facility. Only touch-points or shared surfaces in a facility need to be treated with a disinfectant to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

“We always recommend to our customers that they disinfect the surfaces that are touched,” says Farmer. “So if they are cleaning a restroom, we recommend that they use a green glass cleaner and a green restroom cleaner, but before they leave, to wipe the surfaces of the toilet seats, the faucets, the door handles, things where germs can be transferred, with a disinfectant.”


Most distributors are helping their customers successfully incorporate green cleaning products into their facilities. However, since there are no green certified disinfectants, distributors are forced to point end users to healthier alternatives.

So, in lieu of a certification program for disinfectants, distributors need to compare attributes of the product itself for their customers. The trick, distributors say is to apply the definition of green — a product that reduces the impact on health and the environment — and compare the disinfectants to similar products.

“We try to find the greenest disinfectant that they can use and usually that’s one that’s neutral-based or with peroxide,” says Farmer. “Products that contain peroxide are usually the greenest.”

In the end, distributors say recommending disinfectants regulated by the EPA is the safest rout a facility can take to green their facility.

However, third-party environmental groups such as EcoLogo have guidelines for green disinfectants as well.

Recognizing the significant role disinfectants play in some facilities’ cleaning regimes, EcoLogo released its own environmentally preferable criteria category, CCD-166 for disinfectants in March 2007. However, under the current criteria, the products cannot display their logos or seal of approval.

But, as manufacturers continue to make strides towards developing green disinfectants, certification for this product category may come sooner than some expect.