Green Cleaning for Schools: It’s more than the chemicals


In any green cleaning program, the obvious place to begin is to replace toxic chemicals. So you’ve done that: Bravo! Now your campus is healthier—your students, teachers, staff, visitors, and custodians have benefited. What are the next steps?

This article focuses on best practices and examples in schools and universities, including janitorial procedures, equipment, and training. Some items are so simple and inexpensive, you’ll want to implement them right away.

Equipment and Products for Effective Green Cleaning
Miraculous microfiber.  Microfiber’s ability to attract dirt is almost magnet-like. The fabric has microscopic “hooks” that grip particles. Absorbing nearly eight times their weight in water, microfiber cloths, mops, and toilet brushes catch grime rather than just pushing it around. Microfiber is gentle on surfaces—it’s soft and lint free. It can reduce bacteria by 96%, according to research. It’s also washable and reusable.

Microfiber works so effectively that it is a big time saver, thus minimizing labor costs. Little to no paper towels and fewer chemicals can be used. Your custodians can also prevent cross contamination by designating different color microfiber for different areas – for example, one color cloth for toilets, another for counter tops. The mops used for classrooms, kitchens, and cafeterias should be different colors from mops used in restrooms.  

Entryway matting.  This is a simple way to focus on prevention, which minimizes harsh cleaning. Imagine the filth your students’ shoes bring inside! Most pollutants enter buildings that way. Using the proper entryway matting to remove and trap dirt keeps the rest of your school cleaner and healthier. Regularly cleaning the entrances and doormats is an important green cleaning process.

Carpet care.  Mold and other contaminants love to hide and grow in carpets, especially if there are moisture problems. With the right techniques for vacuuming (including frequent emptying of bags), extraction, rinsing and drying, problems are prevented. The Carpet & Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval-certified vacuums will enhance indoor air quality.

Paper products and dispensers. It’s important to follow the Green Seal “Sanitary Paper Products (GS-1)" and the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines.” Both spell out choices in janitorial paper products with the proper recycled content and those bleached without chlorine or its derivatives.

Relatively new on the scene are coreless paper and dispensers, which can cut storage by 50% and reduce the packaging waste of standard rolls by 95%. Because they use a plastic spindle (reusable), coreless systems have less maintenance and product waste—with cored rolls, custodians pull the cores when the paper gets thin. The new system needs fewer refills because the rolls hold more paper.

Touchless water and soap dispensers.  Automated systems require a greater investment and proper maintenance, but they minimize the transfer of germs and reduce water use—when working correctly. Your custodial company will need to know how to prevent hand soap or water from pouring out mysteriously and toilets from flushing repeatedly.

Practices that Get an A+
All the green cleaning in the world won’t help your school much if custodians aren’t well trained. Here are examples where proper training affects the success of a program:

Supply preparation. Green chemicals are often concentrated (less packaging produces less waste and saves on shipping/fuel), meaning custodians must know the proper dilution with water. 

Cleaning techniques. Disinfectants need sufficient dwell times (usually ten minutes) to work effectively. Custodians also need to know how to clean bathroom fixtures in the proper order and with a color-coded system (see microfiber above)—vital procedures for stopping the transfer of contaminants from toilets and floors to sinks, counters and doors. There are even rules for the proper wearing and removal of gloves.

The New Water
If you’ve switched to safer cleaning chemicals, you might consider taking another step: With an investment that can pay for itself, you can produce your own with an onsite electrolyzed water (EW) system. It uses electricity, minerals, and water to make cost-effective, non-toxic acidic and alkaline solutions. These handle virtually all of a school’s cleaning needs: carpets, finished floors, glass, painted walls, plastics, metals, stone, and wood laminate furniture. The hypochlorous acid kills the most common bacteria, viruses, and fungi within seconds. University of Georgia research showed that it eliminated Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. Coli (Journal of Food Protection, 62:857-860). Joellen Feirtag, a Minnesota food scientist, found that the acid water was gentle enough to calm her children’s sunburn, yet it killed pathogens. ("Simple elixir called a 'miracle liquid'," Marla Dickerson, LA Times) These systems have been implemented successfully by smart, green savvy schools such as Northeastern University.

Stay on Top of an Evolving Art
When you consider the proven economic and health benefits, sustainability programs can be cost neutral in the long run. Reductions in absenteeism, as well as improvements in student performance have been documented. For private schools and universities, being a “green” campus can become a recruiting tool in attracting the best students.

By outsourcing to a custodial company specializing in green cleaning, you’ll benefit from their years of expertise and dedication to staying abreast of new developments. You’ll save time, money, and headaches. Often, a provider will offer jobs to your existing custodian staff, and the right company will become your partner, able to blend into your campus culture. With green cleaning in expert hands, you can focus on running a top-rated school. 

Case Study: How Cherry Creek Schools in Colorado Saved $3 Million
The district has 43 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and seven high schools, totaling 6.7 million square feet. They implemented their green cleaning program in 2009 to meet quality and budget requirements. The program includes the use of Green Seal chemicals; microfiber cloths and mops; and high efficiency, HEPA filter vacuums. 

By outsourcing the function, the district had an overall annual savings of $3,000,000 to the maintenance department compared to inhouse costs. According to Bob Hawbaker, Cherry Creek’s Facilities Operation Manager, the green cleaning program “has contributed to lower absenteeism rates” and helped achieve their goal for “a clean and healthy environment.”

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