Guide to Green Cleaning Products

Products are an integral part of any green cleaning program, and are just as important as the process of cleaning green. As the green cleaning movement has matured, consensus has developed around certain definitions of cleaning products that have a preferred environmental safety and health profile.

The sections below reflect the current state of the marketplace in defining green cleaning products and are largely based on the CIMS-GB criteria, Illinois Guidelines and Specifications for the Green Cleaning Schools Act, the 2009 edition of the USGBC LEED-EB standard, and other publicly available documents.

Cleaning Product Formulations

Janitorial Paper Products

Powered Cleaning Equipment

Other Cleaning Products

Cleaning Product Formulations

For the high-volume cleaning product categories (i.e., bathroom cleaners; carpet cleaners; general-purpose and hard-floor surface cleaners; glass, window, and mirror cleaners; and hand soaps), the trend in the marketplace is to qualify these products as green if they meet one of the following criteria:

● Recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Design for the Environment Formulator Program
● Certified by Green Seal
● Certified by the Environmental Choice EcoLogo Program
● Based on independent documentation, the product in question meets at least one of the appropriate Green Seal standards (GS-37 or GS-41), or EcoLogo standards (CCD-104, CCD-146, CCD-148).

Janitorial Paper Products
The concept of environmental preferability also extends to janitorial paper products, such as bathroom tissue, paper towels, industrial towels, and facial tissue. In general, paper products are considered green if they meet any one of the criteria below:

● The post-consumer recycled content recommendations set forth in the U.S. EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for Commercial and Industrial Sanitary Tissue
● Certified by Green Seal
● Certified by Environmental Choice EcoLogo Program
● Based on independent documentation, the product in question meets at least one of the appropriate Green Seal standards (GS-1 or GS-9) or EcoLogo standards (CCD-82, CCD-83, or CCD-86).

Powered Cleaning Equipment
At present, there are no environmental standards that specifically address powered commercial-cleaning equipment. However, the following criteria is representative of that which is most frequently cited in defining green within this product category:

● Vacuum cleaners should be certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Testing Program and operate at a sound level of 70dBA.
● Carpet extraction equipment used for restorative deep cleaning should be certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval Testing Program for deep-cleaning extractors.
● Powered floor maintenance equipment, including electric and battery-powered floor buffers and burnishers, should be equipped with vacuums, guards, and/or other devices for capturing fine particulates and operate with a sound level of less than 70dBA.
● Propane-powered floor equipment should have high-efficiency, low-emissions engines with catalytic converters and mufflers that meet the California Air Resources Board (CARB) or U.S. EPA standards for the specific engine size and operate with a sound level of less than 90dBA.
● Automated scrubbing machines should be equipped with variable-speed feed pumps and on-board chemical-metering devices to optimize the use of cleaning fluids. Alternatively, the scrubbing machines should use only tap water with no added cleaning products.
● Battery-powered equipment should be equipped with environmentally preferable gel batteries.
● Powered equipment should be ergonomically designed to minimize vibration, noise, and user fatigue.
● Equipment should be designed with safeguards, such as rollers or rubber bumpers, to reduce potential damage to building surfaces.

Other Cleaning Products
Of course, there are many more cleaning product categories for which guidance exists in regard to selecting and/or otherwise defining other green cleaning products. Please consider the following sources.

Illinois Guidelines and Specifications for the Green Cleaning Schools Act. In addition to the product categories referenced in the section above, the these guidelines do a fine job in setting forth criteria to consider in selecting a wide variety of green cleaning products such as disinfectants and sanitizers, floor finishes and strippers, graffiti removers, microfiber cloths and mops, plastic bags, and numerous other product categories.
Greening Your Purchase of Cleaning Products. The U.S. EPA Office of Environmentally Preferable Purchasing has published this comprehensive guidance document, which provides practical guidance to purchasers in selecting cleaning products with a preferred environmental and safety and health profile.

EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines. The Comprehensive Procurement Guideline (CPG) program is part of EPA's continuing effort to promote the use of materials recovered from solid waste. Buying recycled-content products ensures that the materials collected in recycling programs will be used again in the manufacture of new products. The CPG program addresses a number of product categories relevant to the cleaning industry including plastic trash bags, waste cans, bathroom and facial tissue, paper towels, and mats.