Green, sustainable cleaning products

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If you’re getting ready to clean your kitchen, you’re probably ready to break out the bottle of brightly covered liquid stored in the utility area.

Do you ever wonder exactly what’s in that bottle? If it’s an eco-friendly cleaner, the package, which usually has a bunch of logos on it and friendly looking bunnies and leaves, typically claims: “This cleaner is greener, safer for the environment, or is concentrated to use less packaging.” It’s an example of what is called “environmentally responsible chemistry,” but what does that mean anyway? A key source of confusion is that there is no real or widely accepted definition of the term “green”.

In the world of “green cleaners,” there are dozens of confusing environmental labels that may pair sustainability with safety. That’s why it’s important you do your homework and make sure the claims are accurate. With a little information, you can cut through the clutter and find the right cleaning products for your business.

Cleaners, sustainability and safety

Restaurants require a lot of cleaning. Ensuring your guests have a safe dining experience may be the most important thing a restaurateur does. To eliminate any potential bacteria and cut through grease, strong cleansers are often used. But some of them, especially if used improperly, may result in irritation or exposure concerns.

This is where “green” chemistry comes in; some companies are creating more environmentally friendly alternatives based on eco-standards that also consider performance requirements. They can even save you money.

How do you find the right product?

Though not directly applicable to commercial cleaners, there are currently 41 different labels for household cleaning products; according to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices website (data for commercial cleaners was not available at press time).

Still, it’s important that the buyers beware. Don’t trust just any old label; look for ones that are third-party verified. Some of those include:

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice Program, as certified by the EPA’s Safer Choice Program.
  • GreenSeal GS-34 standard for cleaning and degreasing agents (see product list here). This non-governmental organization also certifies cleaning services if you need those as well.
  • UL Ecologo and GreenGuard are also good options and you can find a list of cleaning products/systems here.

Ask your suppliers or distributors if they carry any of the certified items or cleaning systems. Also consider concentrates or solid products to minimize the number of bottles you need to reduce waste. In addition, many cities and states, such as Portland, Ore., and New York State, have “green cleaning programs” for their government buildings and schools, with approved cleansing products in use. See if there is one in your area and learn about what they’re doing and what products are deemed acceptable.

Are “green cleaners” more expensive?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there is a range of costs for environmentally preferable cleaners, with some being more and others less expensive than traditional ones. It is important to weigh all product and system attributes — durability, safety, efficiency, and environmental impacts — before making a decision about what cleaner to buy. Purchasing an ineffective product will require re-work resulting in increased labor, water and energy used, countering any sustainability benefits.

A good way to save money is to use the correct amount of cleaning liquid via an automatic dispensing unit for cleaning supplies. This is also sometimes called a dilution control system So how does this save you money? Many environmentally preferable cleaners arrive as super concentrated liquids that must be diluted with water before use. If your employees free pour them into water, they can often over-pour the amount needed. This doesn’t clean any better and it will cost you money. Get rid of the expensive guesswork by automating the process.

Importantly, the use of an automated dilution control system will also minimize human exposure to concentrated cleaning chemistries.

So what’s the takeaway?

Cleanliness is an absolute must for a restaurant to stay successful. But it is possible to select environmentally preferable products to keep your floors, counters and ware sparkling.

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