Responsible Purchasing Network

Cleaners: Overview

Welcome to the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Cleaners. This Guide provides information and recommendations on responsible use and purchasing of office cleaning products.

Below we provide an overview of each section of the Guide: Social & Environmental Issues; Best Practices; Cost, Quality & Supply; Policies; Specifications; Standards; Products; Handy Facts; Definitions; and Credits & Endnotes.

Social & Environmental Issues

The social & environmental issues section discusses environmental and human health problems associated with conventional cleaning chemicals. The ingredients found in one out of three commercial cleaning products are potentially harmful to human health and the environment (JPPP, 1999). Custodial staff and others who spend time indoors, such as office workers, health employees
(such as doctors and nurses) and students, are particularly susceptible to the health risks posed by these products. Health problems associated with cleaning chemicals include reproductive disorders, major organ damage, permanent eye damage, asthma and other respiratory ailments, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue (Culver, 2002; EPA, 2007). These chemicals can also find their way into lakes, streams, and other water bodies (some of which may serve as drinking water sources), presenting
further health and environmental concerns.

Best Practices

The best practices section discusses how to structure and implement green cleaning programs. Effective green cleaning programs designate a dedicated team of stakeholders to address the issues and execute a plan. The team should measure baseline data, set goals, adopt a policy, review and adopt standards and specifications, test products, train staff, measure progress at pre-determined intervals, recognize the efforts of those involved, and revise plans as needed.

Save time and money

in preparing contracts with group purchasing. Learn more.

Cost, Quality & Supply

The cost, quality & supply section discusses price, performance, and availability of responsible cleaning products. Greener cleaners typically cost no more than conventional cleaners, but combining
green cleaning with improved practices can lower overall cleaning costs. Using effective door mats better prevents dirt from entering facilities, limiting the need for cleaning. Likewise, reducing the number of cleaning products used can eliminate excessive and unnecessary applications. Although environmentally preferable cleaners were once perceived as less effective, this is no longer the case. Institutional users now report that green cleaners are cost competitive, perform just as well as more toxic alternatives, and are widely available through conventional suppliers. Hundreds of cleaners certified by Green Seal and/or EcoLogo are readily available in the marketplace.


The policies section contains a listing of green cleaning policies passed by leading institutions. A green cleaning policy should reference third-party standards, such as Green Seal and EcoLogo; designate staff for managing the program; allocate any budgetary needs, and include benchmarks and reporting requirements. Ever since Massachusetts issued an approved products list for environmentally responsible cleaners in 2003, cities, states, schools and universities, hospitals, corporations and other institutions have been adopting policies establishing responsible purchasing programs for cleaners. For example, in 2005 the City of New York passed Initiative Number 552-A,
a law requiring the purchase of green cleaning and custodial products. There is also increasing interest in green cleaning as a component of green building certification. LEED for Existing Buildings – Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EB O&M) requires a green cleaning policy for certification, and awards up to eight additional points for green cleaning-related measures.


The specifications section provides sample contract language for responsible cleaning product procurement. This collection of contracts includes specifications for many of the best social and environmental criteria available.


The standards section describes and compares leading standards for responsible cleaning products. Green Seal and EcoLogo each manage environmental certification programs that define green cleaners, and include evaluation and verification procedures to identify products meeting their standards. These standards were developed through extensive, public, consensus-based processes consistent with the ISO 14020 and 14024 environmental label guidelines. Both programs conduct on-site audits at the manufacturing facilities and reference widely accessible test methods as part of
their certification process. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Formulator Initiative and NSF International provide programs designed to help manufacturers improve the environmental performance of their cleaning products and/or define protocols to help manufacturers evaluate and improve their products. The advantage of the Green Seal and EcoLogo programs is that they place more stringent requirements on product ingredients than DfE, which does not address certain categories of ingredients such as endocrinedisrupting chemicals.


The RPN products database includes over 1600 GreenSeal and/or EcoLogo certified products from 229 manufacturers, including over 40 products from Zep Manufacturing, whose certified products are available through a U.S. Communities administered group contract, which was competitively bid by the County of Dallas, Texas and is available for use by state and local government, and non-profit organizations including schools and universities. In the product database in the online edition of this Guide, click the U.S. Communities link in the contract column and view the contract documents and request that a representative contact you.

Handy Facts

The handy facts section provides a referenced set of facts and findings pertaining to industrial and institutional cleaning products.


The definitions section provides a glossary of terms used throughout the Guide.

Credits & Endnotes

The credits & endnotes section lists the people responsible for writing, reviewing, and editing this Guide along with a listing of sources referenced.

Creative Commons License This work by the Responsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Download this Guide

Feedback on this Guide

Please contact us with corrections, additions, policies, or questions.
Submit Feedback


Username (email):
Password (forgot?):

a project of
New American Dream Logo