Green Floor Care
- By Mike Schaffer
- January 1st, 2008
advocates for green cleaning, especially those that have been encouraging the
use of more environmentally responsible cleaning products and tools for some
time, are almost awestruck at how the professional cleaning industry has
finally embraced the movement. Much of this enthusiasm is customer driven,
especially among schools and universities, which are transferring in record
numbers from conventional to environmentally preferable cleaning products.
adopting Green cleaning appears to be just one aspect of the movement they are
embracing, although it is a big part. More and more facilities want their
entire operations—not just the cleaning—to be Green and are seeking LEED
(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. In fact,
according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), in fewer than 10 years,
more than 800 projects have been certified under its LEED rating system, and
more than 4,600 projects are registered to pursue certification.
the goal for many of these facilities is to be “living buildings.” This means
virtually every component of the facility has an overall positive impact on our
planet, actually helping to enrich its surroundings and providing a net
accomplish this means facilities must look at green issues with a “systems”
approach. To understand a systems approach, picture the spokes on a wheel. If
one of those spokes is lost or broken, the entire wheel may collapse.
how we must view green cleaning. All the spokes must be sturdy and in place for
building occupants and the environment to benefit. Never is this truer than
with one of the most involved and labor-intensive cleaning tasks school and
university cleaning professionals must perform on a regular basis: hard-surface
The Green Floor Care System
estimated that there are more than 70B sq. ft. of commercial space (school,
office, medical, etc.) in the United
States. Most of these floors have to be
maintained on a regular basis, especially in school facilities, requiring the
use of millions of gallons of strippers, finishes, glosses, and detergents
along with a variety of floor machines.
floor care involves three key components: vacuuming, chemicals, and floor care
equipment. Each must do its part in contributing to the green floor care system and the protection of the
possible, custodial crews in an educational setting should vacuum hard-surface
floors instead of using push brooms or dust mops. Considerable amounts of dust
particulates are generated in the sweeping/dust mopping process, and as the
dust becomes airborne, it has the potential of harming the health of custodial
workers as well as building occupants.
and bacteria on the floor that become airborne can exacerbate indoor air
quality (IAQ) problems in health, education, and other facilities. To further
complicate matters, dust and contaminants can be drawn into a facility’s HVAC
system and spread throughout the building.
of sweeping, many cleaning professionals are finding the new generation of
backpack vacuums to be much more comfortable to use than earlier models because
they are smaller, lighter, and quieter and help protect IAQ as well. This is
because some backpacks are true-HEPA machines. The HEPA exhaust filter not only
traps more than 99.9 percent of contaminants, so they are not released into the
air, but the entire casing of the machine is airtight, preventing dust and
soils from escaping as well.
they have served us well for decades, we now know that many conventional floor
care chemicals are some of the most powerful and environmentally hazardous in
the professional cleaning industry. This is because many contain such metals as
zinc, considered to be a neurotoxin that can be harmful to aquatic life if not
properly removed by local water-treatment centers.
information about conventional floor care chemicals that can trigger health
concerns includes the following:
- Many have high amounts
of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can harm indoor air quality
and cause a variety of ailments from nose and eye irritation to asthma
attacks, especially in children.
- A chemical found in
many conventional floor strippers, 2-butoxy ethanol, is considered a
- EGME (ethylene glycol
methyl ether) and EGEE (ethylene glycol ethyl ether) are found primarily
in floor finishes. These compounds have been associated with eye, skin,
and ear infection, and even birth defects.
there are some green-certified floor care chemicals now available that perform
well. These are made from ingredients that are tested and proven safer than
those in the traditional products used for the same or similar purpose — and
even more are expected to enter the marketplace soon. Green floor care products
do not contain metals such as zinc, known carcinogens, or toxins; have a low VOC
concentration; and are even packaged in recyclable and refillable containers.
professionals can also select more environmentally responsible floor care
products by doing the following.
- Make sure all the
ingredients in the product are clearly listed.
- Select products that
do not contain zinc, toxins, or the other ingredients mentioned earlier.
- Make sure the VOC
concentration is under seven percent at “use” dilution.
- Purchase from jansan
distributors and suppliers that are well versed on floor care and green
cleaning and will provide hands-on training.
for health, safety, and to protect the environment, floor care chemicals should
always be properly diluted per manufacturer’s recommendations. And strippers
should be diluted with cold water because heat may speed the evaporation of the
chemical, rendering the product less effective and potentially requiring more
coats to complete the task.
Often the buffers and
burnishers used in floor care produce considerable amounts of dust when
cleaning tasks are being performed. This is because the top surface of the
floor is actually being “sanded” when buffed or burnished to remove soils,
contaminants, and heel marks.
To help minimize this, building managers and school administrators should
select machines that have built-in vacuum systems that help trap the dust
before it can become airborne. In some areas of the world, floor machines will
have separate motors for the vacuum system and the pad. However, in the United States most
machines have one motor doing double duty.
These systems should have a deck shroud or “skirt” covering the base of the
machine. This helps collect and trap dust and particulates so that they can be
vacuumed up by the machine.
Additionally, cylindrical brush floor machines, a newer technology, are
increasingly viewed as a “greener” choice for floor care because they tend to
use less water and chemical than conventional machines. Whenever less chemical
is required, whether green or conventional, it is a positive component of green
cleaning because it helps reduce cleaning’s impact on the environment. Also,
because they use brushes instead of pads, cylindrical machines often can remove
more deeply embedded soils from porous floors and grout without requiring the
use of more or stronger chemicals, also improving worker productivity.
some of the advancements in floor care
equipment in general can be considered green because they result in less worker
error — which can negatively impact the environment. For instance, over the
past decade, many auto scrubbers have been fitted with solenoids to control
water flow. The use of solenoids avoids the old problem of water or cleaning
solution accidentally flowing if an operator leaves the valve open. Now, on
these machines, the water and solution will only flow when the machine is on,
helping to save water and chemical. Another noteworthy advancement in green floor care equipment includes extended
battery life and batteries that avoid the possibility of acid overflows.
The Hidden Green Component: Training
There are few cleaning tasks in a
facility that require as much skill and training as floor care. This is
especially true when implementing a green floor care program.
Cleaning workers should be well
educated on the proper use and dilution of all cleaning chemicals used in floor
care. As mentioned earlier, an important component of any green cleaning
program is to use only as much chemical as is necessary to produce satisfactory
cleaning results. When it comes to floor care, cleaning workers must properly
dilute strippers and detergents, using the least amount possible and never more
than the manufacturer recommends to avoid possible injury, waste, or harm to
Training on the use of equipment,
especially buffers and burnishers, is also imperative. Time and resources spent
on learning how to use floor care equipment most effectively and productively
can be quickly repaid and produce much more satisfactory — and healthier —
Finally, workers should be trained
on how to best maintain floors on a daily basis to minimize refinishing cycles.
This can include increasing the use and size of entryway mats and implementing
more frequent and thorough daily maintenance routines using backpack vacuums
and/or microfiber flat mops. Also, more durable finishes should be selected.
These help minimize refinishing cycles and reduce the overall amount of
chemicals necessary for floor care.
Mike Schaffer is president of
Tornado, a leading manufacturer of professional cleaning tools and equipment.
Greening Carpet Care
Environmental Protection Agency warns that cleaning chemicals and wet carpets
can contribute to indoor air pollution and negatively impact the environment.
This means that in order to “Green” carpet cleaning, the chemicals selected
must be more environmentally responsible and the machines used be more
effective at removing moisture from carpets after cleaning.
dating back more than 25 years have found a correlation between carpet cleaning
chemicals and respiratory outbreaks. Very often, these occur shortly after
carpet has been cleaned. In one report, children in a day-care center complained of respiratory
problems within a few hours after the carpets had been cleaned in nearby
these outbreaks are caused by the high concentration of VOCs released into the
air from some conventional carpet cleaning chemicals. High levels have the
potential of serious harm to indoor occupants, and even when occupants have
been exposed to low levels of VOCs, it has resulted in eye, nose, and throat
just as with floor care chemicals, many carpet cleaning solutions have been
replaced by chemicals that have fewer VOCs and other ingredients that can cause
potential health risks. Additionally, some have been certified by independent,
third-party organizations such as EcoLogo™ and GreenSeal®. Certification means
the products have been evaluated and proven to have less impact on the
environment while maintaining satisfactory cleaning effectiveness when compared
to conventional cleaning products.
are chemicals now being certified, but carpet extractors are as well. The
Carpet and Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval Program (SOA) awards Gold, Silver,
and Bronze certification to machines that pass strict criteria. One of the
items examined is how much moisture the extractor injects into carpets and how
effectively it removes the moisture along with cleaning solution and soils.
Some low-moisture extractors use a gallon of water or less per minute during
the extraction process. The more effectively it is removed from the carpet, the
less chance for mold or mildew to develop. Additionally, more thoroughly
removing carpet cleaning chemicals helps protect indoor air quality and helps
prevent rapid resoiling of the carpets.
aid in cleaning effectiveness and boost carpet cleaning performance, extractors
should heat the cleaning solution to more than 200º F. Heat improves the
effectiveness of cleaning chemicals, so less may be needed.
cleaning professionals and school administrators need to pay more attention to
the wand used for carpet extraction.
Historically, the only differences between wands were that some were
single, two, or even three jets.
However, new wand technologies have recently been introduced that remove
the “turbulence” of airflow traveling through the wand, making the wand—and the
Danna Adams is a technical support manager for
U.S. Products, manufacturers of professional carpet cleaning and restoration