Responsible Purchasing Network

Cleaners: Best Practices

The most successful green cleaning programs consist of more than just procuring better products. The following Best Practices help to structure and implement green cleaning programs that are flexible and designed for long-term success.

Best Practices: Form a Team, Establish a Baseline, Set Goals, Adopt a Policy, Evaluate Standards and Specifications, Cooperative Contracting, Improve Practices, Measure and Report Progress.

1. Form a Team

The first step in addressing the environmental and human health effects of cleaning products is to assemble a dedicated team to make improvements to your cleaning program. The team should include representative stakeholders,including procurement staff,managers, custodians and facility staff, building occupants, and others affected by the cleaning program. Together, the team will design and implement an overall cleaning program, including decisions regarding procurement, and the use and disposal of cleaningproducts, and will measure and report results over time.

2. Establish a Baseline

Inventory your consumption and measure your environmental
impact. Which cleaning products are currently used and in what uantities? Which hazardous chemicals do they contain? How
much packaging waste do they produce? Use the Green Cleaning
Pollution Prevention Calculator
to project environmental benefits of
improving practices and switching to Green Seal certified cleaners.

3. Set Goals

Critically examine the baseline data and identify areas for improvement. Set specific targets for cost reductions, the number and volume of cleaners used, and the human health and environmental consequences associated with the goals. Common goals include reducing employee absences due to health issues associated with cleaning chemicals, eliminating or limiting the use of specific hazardous chemicals, reducing packaging waste, improving indoor air quality, and lowering cleaning costs .

4. Adopt a Policy

Adopt a policy that formalizes the institution’s commitment to purchasing cleaning products that minimize effects on human health and the environment. The New York State Green Cleaning Law of 2005 requires the purchase of green cleaning and custodial products in all state agencies, departments, public benefit corporations and public authorities. See the Policies section for examples.

5. Evaluate Standards and Specifications

After establishing the baseline and setting goals, draft specifications that meet criteria intended to help achieve those goals. Rather than developing product qualifications from scratch, save time by referring to existing standards and specifications used by other institutional buyers. Requests for bids should require that products meet or exceed standards such as EcoLogo and Green Seal. See the Specifications section for examples of model specifications.

Save time and money

in preparing contracts with group purchasing.
Learn more.

6. Cooperative Contracting

Cooperative contracts decrease the administrative costs of contracting and attain lower prices by leveraging the buying power of a large group. One large group purchasing organization is U.S. Communities, a non-profit entity that provides a national purchasing forum for local and state government agencies, school districts, higher education and non-profits and pools the purchasing power of over 87,000 agencies. U.S. Communities administers a competitively bid contract for Green
Seal and EcoLogo certified cleaners from Zep Manufacturing. These products are all included in the database in the online version of this Guide, along with links to the U.S. Communities contract documents. See the Products section for a complete listing of products.

7. Improve Practices

There is more to green cleaning than just switching products. Training custodial staff and modifying cleaning protocols can make a big difference in the effectiveness of a green cleaning program. Here are a few guidelines for maximizing the benefits of green cleaners:

  • Streamline procurement processes so that only those cleaners necessary for
    established uses are purchased.
  • Improve employee training to ensure that custodial workers are using cleaning
    products properly. According to green cleaning expert Steve Ashkin, founder
    of the Ashkin Group LLC, 90 percent of cleaning costs are labor, while only 2-5 percent are chemical costs. If workers are misusing products (whether they
    are conventional or green), facilities might be spending more money than
    necessary and be missing the greatest opportunities to protect human health,
    the environment, and the value of built facilities.
  • Use better cleaning equipment. Place doormats at entryways to prevent dirt
    from entering buildings. Use microfiber mops and cloths to reduce the need for
    cleaning chemicals. Use high efficiency filtration vacuum cleaners to reduce the
    dust generated by older vacuum technologies. High Efficiency Particulate Air
    (HEPA) Filtration Systems are up to 99.97% efficient in removing particles as
    small as 0.3 microns.
  • Clean by need rather than schedule, especially for highly polluting cleaning
    activities. For example, some institutions are forgoing scheduled floor stripping
    in favor of flexible timelines that allow floors to be stripped only when needed.
    This strategy is encouraged by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in
    Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard for existing buildings.
    U.S. federal agencies and others using federal funds are required to buy recycled-content products, including custodial supplies such as paper towels, tissue products,
    and trash bags. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends recycled-content percentages for these and other products at in the Comprehensive Procurement
    Guidelines. See Policies section for details.
  • Choose third-party certified and biobased products. The easiest way to choose
    healthier cleaning products with lower environmental impacts is to look for thirdparty
    certification, such as Green Seal or EcoLogo (see Standards section below).
    In addition to certification, seek “bio-based” products containing material
    derived from soybeans, corn, wheat cotton and other agricultural products.
    Generally speaking, bio-based active ingredients have less of an impact on the
    environment because they are able to biodegrade quickly without the release of
    harmful chemical byproducts. Efforts to develop and stimulate the use of biobased
    products through federal legislation dates back to 1999. Executive Order
    13134 (1999) requires the federal procurement of biobased products. The 2002
    farm bill further developed this strategy by mandating that the U.S Department
    of Agriculture (USDA) establish a preferred procurement program for biobased
    products. Designated products and other information on the USDA program are
    available at See the Policies section for more details.

8. Measure and Report Progress 

Use the Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator to measure reductions in hazardous substances by switching to environmentally preferable cleaning practices and products. Schedule regular assessments to measure the program’s success, checking to see if predetermined benchmarks are being achieved. Reward or recognize the stakeholders responsible for achieving success. Identify and address any obstacles that may be limiting the program’s success.

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