ICS Magazine

Green" is a Process, Not Just a Cleaning Solution

June 5, 2007
Green cleaning is a process, not just a matter of switching chemicals


I love gadgets that facilitate a better cleaning job and help us in our work. And once in a while I address the application of one of our most important gadget facilitators: chemicals.

As we consider the importance of cleaning for health, indoor air quality, protecting the outdoor and indoor environment, and protecting the health of the technician, the word “green” is thrown into just about every conversation. I will not attempt to define “green,” nor will I attempt to talk you into using, or discourage you from using, “green” chemicals. What I will encourage is a common sense, balanced approach to the question: what chemical solutions should I use in what situation?

We are confronted with myriad soil conditions and types of carpet. We may have a commercial hallway carpet leading from the warehouse and feeding a dozen offices, carpet in the high-traffic entryway of a Chinese restaurant or the fine, cream-colored, deep-pile Saxony in a high-end home. The soil type and level will be drastically different in these carpets. And while it is certainly possible to have carpets both clean and “cleaned green,” serious environmental mistakes can be made by assuming “green” is the answer to all cleaning.

Essentially, proper cleaning itself is a green process. Clean and green are complementary concepts. In a recent interview with our company, Dr. Michael Berry, a research scientist long involved with the cleaning industry, reminded us of this fact: “Clean is a condition free of unwanted matter. Unwanted matter is any substance that gets in the way of human activity. When we are managing unwanted matter, we are being green.”

Dr. Berry described the purpose of chemicals in the cleaning process: “Chemicals are used as an aid in the cleaning process. They assist in separating or dissolving unwanted matter for proper removal from the environment,” he said. One of the fundamental flaws of uniformly switching to “green chemistry” is that if it is less effective at removing unwanted matter (soil) from the environment being cleaned (in our case, carpeting), it is anything but green because it is not properly cleaning the environment. The second fundamental flaw is the assumption that “green” chemicals are automatically “safer.”

“Any chemical mismanaged can cause harm in the physical environment. The lack of greenness in a chemical solution is tied more to its misuse or mismanagement than its chemical structure,” Dr. Berry said.

He also warned of circumstances where a rush to switch to so-called “green cleaning chemicals,” without any scientific evidence or proof that the cleaning solutions actually worked, had created a crisis of its own. In some cases, overuse of green cleaning chemicals occurred because they were not effectively cleaning the heavily soiled surface they were being used on, but the cleaning technicians kept following the “more is better” idea.

Green is a process, not just a cleaning solution. “Green cleaning must be a systems-based approach. It must be scientifically tested for effectiveness. It should recognize the connectivity of the total environment and process,” Dr. Berry said.

Green cleaning must include a commitment on the part of your company to recognize this systematic approach to green cleaning. Here’s a checklist you can use to see if your company is operating with a systems-based, scientific approach to green cleaning.
  1. Choose green cleaning products that have been scientifically tested, measured, and demonstrated to be effective. The CRI Seal of Approval testing program is one such program that scientifically measures soil removal from carpeting. The answer to a carpet-cleaning job with significant soiling is not to continuously apply more chemical to get the job done. Make sure the sanitizers and disinfectants you are using are EPA registered and have demonstrated effectiveness on the soiling conditions you are trying to control and the surface you are trying to control them on.
  2. Your company or facility should committed to best practices to minimize waste, maximize recycling and the conservation of natural resources, and leaving no harmful environmental footprint as a result of the carpet cleaning process and the daily operations of your company or organization.
  3. Your company or facility should recognizes the product life cycle of carpet from fiber production to manufacturing, to installation, to maintenance and cleaning, to recycling after the useful life of the carpet has been reached.
  4. Your company or facility should make a commitment to clean carpeting in accordance with the best practices of the industry and industry cleaning standards.
  5. Your company or facility should be committed to the technical education of the cleaning technicians as to what these best cleaning and operation practices are, as well as a proper understanding of the construction of carpet, and the nature of the soiling to be cleaned and extracted from the carpeting.
  6. Your company or facility should make a commitment to the proper operation and maintenance of its cleaning equipment, tools, and vehicle fleet.
  7. Your company or facility, if it operates truck-mounted carpet-cleaning equipment, should make a commitment to be sure that exhaust from the cleaning equipment or vehicle is directed away from the building being cleaned, and properly exhausted to the outdoor environment.
  8. Your company should be committed to educating the carpet consumer about the importance of cleaning in accordance with cleaning frequencies recommended by the carpet manufacturer, and as outlined in cleaning industry standards developed with the input of representatives from the EPA. It should recognize that a proper commitment to green balance requires that the carpet not be allowed to deteriorate to the point that green cleaning products cannot adequately remove and extract the build-up of soil and pollutants from the carpet.


This is an example of green being a process, not just switching chemical solutions. When all is said and done, it will be up to you, the professional, to use your experience and knowledge. Choose “green” products when they meet your criteria for protecting yourself, the environment, and can leave the carpet in a clean, sanitary state. Dr. Berry concluded that “green cleaning must be the rational thing to do rather than just the right thing to do.” Choose other responsibly formulated products when tackling difficult soil composition and heavy loads that will only respond to active, proven chemical technology. A clean, healthy environment for your customer to live and work in should always be your desired result.