Green Seal and EcoLogo, two respected third-party certifiers, ease the burden of time-strapped school purchasers in search of green cleaning products. They certify most types of products used for cleaning schools -- general surface, floor, window, and bathroom cleaners. Certification means products clean effectively, and unlike many conventional cleaners, the packaging is recyclable and the products are noncorrosive (corrosive products can cause burns to skin, eyes, and mucus membranes).
They also have zero or low VOCs associated with contaminating indoor air quality and causing eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; dizziness; and allergies. Certified cleaners typically come in concentrated form, which reduces their carbon footprint by lowering transportation and packaging-related emissions.
How to Choose:
In the competitive green cleaning industry, hundreds of certified cleaning products exist, costing the same or sometimes less than conventional cleaners. However, green cleaning entails more than picking from an array of certified cleaning products. It also requires implementing best practices, from instructing custodians on how to use these products correctly to negotiating with vendors to make sure that training happens.
When purchasing a certified product, make sure that it comes with an automatic portion and dilution system. Green Seal and EcoLogo-certified products are usually available with these features. This controlled process results in custodians using a product correctly by eliminating the possibility of using too little or too much cleaner, a tendency when it is simply poured from an open jug. Find a vendor who provides free on-site demonstrations and will train custodians on how to use the dilution equipment and the cleaner.
Run a pilot program: It's important to find out how products work in your own school setting. Ask your custodial staff to weigh in. Negotiate with your vendor to make training custodians a part of your contract.
While Green Seal and EcoLogo take the guesswork out of finding most types of cleaners needed for schools, one category they don't cover is disinfectants. The EPA does not allow products that kill the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses, for instance, to be certified green. Therefore, when selecting disinfectants, look for those with a hydrogen peroxide base instead of chlorine, which is a common respiratory irritant.
Choose equipment that works best with green products, such as lightweight micro-fiber mops as opposed to traditional mops with heavy cotton heads. The square heads of micro-fiber mops make it easier to clean corners, and because the product is applied either directly to the floor or the cloth, it eliminates the need to carry around a heavy bucket of water, cutting down on potential injuries and the process of re-dunking a mop in an increasingly dirty bucket of cleanser.
Keeping and maintaining a clean, healthy school environment isn't just the responsibility of well-trained janitors. For ways students and teachers can help, check out two free online resources: The Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning Schools, an initiative of the Healthy Schools Campaign's Green Clean Schools and the Cleaning for Healthy Schools Toolkit, an initiative of the National Collaborative Work Group on Green Cleaning and Chemical Policy Reform in Schools.
Alpha-HP, manufactured by JohnsonDiversey. This co-labeled product is certified by Green Seal when used as a general cleaning solution. The dispensing system allows for three dilution rates, making it possible to use the product for different purposes -- including as a general cleaner or a disinfectant.
Alpha-HP Oxivir Five 16 Concentrate, manufactured by JohnsonDiversey. When used in a higher concentration, Alpha-HP is considered a disinfectant (and consequently can't officially be certified as green). This bathroom disinfectant is formulated with hydrogen peroxide technology.
WAXIE-Green Floor Finish, made by WAXIE Sanitary Supply and certified by EcoLogo. The finish is nontoxic, solvent free, biodegradable, and noncorrosive and meets federal and state VOC requirements.
WAXIE-Green Floor Stripper, also made by WAXIE Sanitary Supply and EcoLogo certified. Designed to remove WAXIE's finish, this floor stripper also removes most conventional metal crosslinked floor finishes. It is biodegradable, VOC-compliant, and fragrance free and contains no hazardous or corrosive material. Both finish and stripper come in 100 percent recyclable plastic containers, and boxes for packaging are made of 100 percent recycled paper (60 percent postconsumer).
EcoSoft, manufactured by Bay West, 100 percent recycled paper towels and bathroom tissue. Reasonably priced.
Green Seal, EcoLogo.
Evantheia Schibsted is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Edutopia.