What Is Green Cleaning?

The pH of Green:
One of the most common complaints about Green chemicals is their inability to handle cleaning tasks in the same manner, or with similar efficiency, as their less than Green counterparts. In some situations, this may be true. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the science and process behind Green before the accused is sentenced to a lifetime of collecting dust at the very back of an unreachable shelf.
Green is often associated with terms like “safe” or “environmentally friendly” or even “natural.” These definitions are misleading. Natural can mean many things. Mold, for instance, is natural. Germs and bacteria are the result of a natural process. Safe infers the product is appropriate for any age group, regardless of a person’s level of expertise or general intellect level. But any chemical, even a Green chemical, has the potential to harm people, places, and things if it is used in an unintended manner. That doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly. In order for a chemical to be environmentally friendly it must be used, stored, and disposed of in the prescribed manner, otherwise it is not safe.

Indeed, there is much more complexity to Green cleaning than buzz worthy terms and (mostly green colored) logos would suggest. Consider the pH of Green. Most Green chemicals, whether newly marketed or fully certified, will fall within a range of 6-8 on the pH scale. This means they are as close to water neutral as any chemical has a right to claim. If they are not “getting the job done,” therefore, it is more likely a soil problem than a product problem. The Green cleaner is simply not strong enough to counteract the pH level of the soil in question.

Transfer and Neutralize:

Becky is a sophomore in high school. She eats her lunch in the school cafeteria each day at 12:45PM and usually sits with her friend Nakita. Their conversation ranges from giggles to gripes and boys to shoes, all while eating a healthy selection of greens, natural sugars, and unsaturated fats.[1] Becky enjoys the taste of soda, however, and always has a can of Coke with her meal. Unfortunately, Becky is accident prone and spills her soft drink on a regular basis. Nakita knows this about her friend, so she always has a few extra napkins available to soak up the spill. They then throw the napkins into a nearby trash container and head down the hallway to the next scheduled class.

Was Nakita being Green? No chemicals were involved – check. The soil did not have enough dwell time to become a stain – check. Unfortunately, Nakita used disposable napkins which she proceeded to throw away. She also transferred the soil, which has a pH level of 2.5,[2] without ever neutralizing the soil. The acidic soft drink will now move through the trash disposal process. She also failed to clean the surface of the table, so a sticky residue will soon form. This is not Green.

Now let’s see how a Green cleaning program would affect the above scenario. Instead of using a disposable napkin, Nakita asks a nearby custodian for one of the white cleaning cloths she carries on her janitor cart. Nakita then uses the cloth to transfer the soda through absorption, and places the now soiled cloth inside a collection bucket the custodian carries on her cart. She grabs another cloth and a general purpose cleaner to wipe the table. The custodian thanks both Nakita and Becky for helping her keep the facility clean then proceeds to go about her routine tasks. She completes her day by dropping the collection bucket into a washing machine, adds laundry detergent up to the fill line, closes the lid, and starts the machine.

Was Nakita being Green? There were two chemicals involved, both a general purpose cleaner and the laundry detergent. The general purpose cleaner helped transfer any remaining soil from the table top onto the cleaning cloth. This prevents sticky residue from forming which means the table is clean – check. The laundry detergent is an alkali, so it is able to counteract the acidic nature of the absorbed soil. This means the soil is neutralized when the water is drained, making it environmentally friendly – check. In this scenario, there were no wasted resources because the cloths were reused. This is, therefore, an example of a Green cleaning program.

Green Process:

The concept of Green has led to more environmentally friendly products. Advances in both science and in the manufacturing process have resulted in lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). But there is more to Green cleaning than a simple exchange of one product for another. Green cleaning requires a strong focus on the process of cleaning. It is a science-based program that creates a more sustainable world.[3] How is soil removed? When is it removed? What steps are taken? Documenting the answers to these questions is the first step in establishing a Green cleaning program.

[1] Web M.D.,The Skinny on Fat: Good Fats vs. Bad Fats. Zelman, Kathleen M., MPH, RD, LD. Reviewed by Chang, Louise, MD. <http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/skinny-fat-good-fats-bad-fats>

[2] National Center for Biotechnology Information. TW Chin, M Loeb, and IW Fong. “Effects of an acidic beverage (Coca-Cola) on absorption of ketoconazole.” Aug. 1995. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162805/>

[3] Green Seal. <http://www.greenseal.org/Home.aspx>

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