Green Behind the Scenes

Floor care chemicals such as cleaners, strippers, restorers and finishes are of particular concern to environmental advocates and hotel properties eager to transfer from conventional cleaning systems to those that are green. One of the key problems with many traditional chemicals is that they can release large amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can impair indoor air quality and trigger headaches, respiratory problems and other ailments among staff and guests

“The VOC level of a traditional floor-finish stripper typically is about 15 to 30 percent,” says Mike Sawchuk, vice president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions, a manufacturer of green cleaning products. “On the other hand, a green-certified floor-finish remover may have a VOC content of less than 6 percent.”

According to Sawchuk, some of the other ingredients of concern in conventional floor care products include 2-butoxy ethanol, which is often found in floor strippers and considered a possible carcinogen, and EGME (ethylene glycol methyl ether) and EGEE (ethylene glycol ethyl ether), which are found primarily in floor finishes and have been associated with eye, skin, and ear infections and even birth defects.


There are environmentally preferable floor care chemicals that have been certified by such reputable organizations as EcoLogo and GreenSeal that can be substituted for conventional floor care chemicals. Normally, as has been the case with so many other cleaning products, this would be a good option.

However, hotel housekeepers have given mixed reviews to some of these green floor care products, complaining of poor performance and higher costs. “Unfortunately, except for a few products from one or two manufacturers, most of these floor care chemicals simply do not perform as well as the conventional ones at this time,” says Sawchuk. “And because a floor's high-gloss appearance is so paramount in hotel properties, many housekeepers have tended to shy away from them.”

Sawchuk says the problem is that scientists have had only minimal luck replacing many of the powerful yet apparently necessary ingredients found in conventional floor care products, such as the heavy metals and other substances mentioned earlier, with greener alternatives. However, this is essentially what happened early on with other cleaning chemicals that now have effective green alternatives, so it is expected that more high-performing, environmentally preferable products that are safer for people and also cost-competitive will be available soon.

In the meantime, there are still ways hotel housekeepers can be more environmentally responsible when it comes to floor care. The following are some of Sawchuk's green floor care suggestions:

  • Select products with a pH no higher than 11.5 and total phosphorus concentrations of less than 0.5 percent;

  • Choose products with a flash point above 150 degrees F.;

  • Avoid products that contain carcinogens, heavy metals or aqueous ammonia;

  • Select products that have total VOCs less than seven percent after dilution;

  • Purchase from jansan distributors and suppliers that are well versed on floor care and green cleaning and will provide hands-on training as necessary.

“Much of the ingredient information on floor care products can be found just by reading the product's label or the MSDS (material safety data sheets),” says Sawchuk. “They're more complicated than reading the nutritional labels on food, but the full ingredient disclosure information should be there and I would question the use of any product that doesn't provide it.”


Another way for hotel operators to achieve green housekeeping is to install automatic dilution systems for mixing chemicals — not only for floor care but also for all cleaning. “The ‘free pour’ method has been the cause of many worker injuries,” says Sawchuk. “And very often workers pour too much chemical, which harms the environment and is not cost-effective.”

As for dilution, he also suggests that cleaning professionals use only cold water since warm water can cause vapors and fumes to rise, green or conventional, that can be potentially harmful if inhaled or enter HVAC systems. Also, with some floor care products, warm water can hasten evaporation, negatively affecting the performance of the product.

“As a final but very important thought, proper training is essential,” says Sawchuk. “Not only are the chemicals powerful and potentially hazardous, but hotel floor care is the most labor-intensive of all cleaning tasks. Proper training reduces injuries, cuts costs and improves worker productivity as well as the floor's appearance. Proper and ongoing training has pluses all around, particularly in the hotel business.”

A Green Sweep

In hotels, vacuum cleaners play a much greater role than many of us realize in maintaining indoor health and protecting the environment. This is largely because carpeting acts like a sponge; guestroom carpeting can absorb dust, dirt, textile fibers, pollen, hair, skin flakes, residue from cleaning chemicals, decaying organic matter, dust mites, bacteria, fungi, viruses and various other contaminants and soils.

Odors can develop and the health of the staff and guests are put into jeopardy if these contaminants and soils are not eventually removed. Green vacuum cleaners are probably the most effective means of removing this matter.

“Historically, the top considerations when selecting a hotel vacuum cleaner have been cost, durability and power,” says Mark Cuddy, director of sales, eastern region, with Tornado, a leading manufacturer of professional cleaning equipment. “However, in recent years, how ‘green’ the machine is, especially in hotel properties, is becoming a growing concern.”

What makes a vacuum cleaner green? The first consideration is filtration. A vacuum cleaner's filtration system can have a major impact on indoor air quality. “By far the most effective filtration systems on vacuum cleaners are HEPA filters,” says Cuddy. “The filters are composed of a mat of fibers that remove at least 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and other [potentially] airborne particles.”

However, HEPA filters are no longer enough. Cuddy suggests that hotel operators choose machines that are referred to as true-HEPA. This means that the entire casing of the machine and the connections are airtight. “This makes sure contaminants are kept inside the machine, which reduces human exposure and risk.”

Additionally, because the goal of green cleaning is to reduce cleaning's impact on the environment, this also applies to the housekeeping professional's well being. That is why a green vacuum cleaner is designed with ergonomics and “quiet” in mind.

“An ergonomically designed vacuum cleaner ensures safety and enhances worker productivity,” says Cuddy. “As all housekeepers know, vacuuming is a repetitive movement. Look for handles made of soft materials and angled for a comfortable grip. With backpacks, the machine must be lightweight and the harness that supports the unit designed for comfort. Also, the machine must be quiet, around 70 decibels [is] fine.”

As to backpack vacuum cleaners, Cuddy finds that many hotel administrators are giving these machines a second look now that a new generation of backpacks has recently been introduced.

A backpack's versatility has always been a major benefit, but many of the new machines are also exceptionally light, ergonomic comfortable to use — and green.

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