The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established little by way of guidelines for what constitutes green cleaning solutions or practices. So – into the void – has flown a steady stream of misinformation and bogus so-called ‘green’ cleaning solutions. Here are four common green-cleaning myths and explanations for why they don’t hold water:
Myth No. 1: Cleaning with water alone is a safe and effective way to clean and protect surfaces. Dirt is complicated – a mix of particles, dead bugs, skin cells, germs, and oils, to name just a few. Since water and oil don’t mix, oily solids get left behind, darkening and scratching surfaces and making them appear dull. The water itself can also leave mineral deposits, increasing complexity of the dirt and making it even tougher to clean over time.
Myth No. 2: You need a mop and large bucket of soapy water to get a floor really clean. Well designed cleaners use solvents (to loosen and dissolve oily soils), builders (to bond with minerals in the water) and surfactants (to bond with oily soils and suspend them in the water). While a high-quality cleaner can suspend massive amounts of dirt in just millimeters of water, poorly designed cleaners do not keep dirt suspended, so it falls back onto the floor where the mop just pushes it around. Your mop is crucial too. If you want a floor to be truly clean, you need a highly absorbent mop to remove dirty water.
Myth No. 3: Cleaning with water and vinegar is an effective and environmentally friendly cleaner. Vinegar is just a mild acid. There are no surfactants, solvents, builders or oxidizing agents needed to remove complex soils. The result is not that much different from cleaning with water alone and it can make your surface a breeding ground for germs, which is definitely not green and potentially dangerous for your family.
Myth No. 4: Green cleaners are less likely than household or commercial cleaners to leave harmful residues on surfaces. A poorly formulated cleaner purported to be ‘green’ may not have the correct surfactancy or cleaning chemistry, which means both its chemicals and germ-containing soils can fall out of solution and onto the surfaces you are cleaning. A well-formulated cleaner will keep its chemicals in solution and soils in suspension, leaving less residue and unhealthy soils on the surfaces of your home.
The EPA defines green cleaners as those made with environmentally-friendly ingredients to preserve human health and environmental quality. There is also Design for the Environment (DfE), an EPA partner program that screens product ingredients and awards them a DfE logo if they pose “the least concern among chemicals in their class.” If you care about green cleaning, your best courses of action are to: Look for products with the DfE logo that are also effective – meaning you can use less to get better results. Also, look for manufacturers that: ship in concentrates to reduce fuel use, reduce packaging, cut water use and pollution, and select renewable/sustainable ingredient sources whenever possible.
Finally, you can use cleaning companies (such as MaidPro) that do the following: group clients geographically to cut fuel use; use reusable bottles, buckets and bags; use phone/email versus paper; use efficient washing machines and washable, reusable microfiber rags that capture dirt, dust and allergens; use CRI Green label vacuums to protect indoor air quality; buy supplies in concentrated forms; pick environmentally friendly suppliers; train employees to use the correct amounts of cleaning chemicals and make responsible use of disinfectants on critical surfaces to protect client health.
Remember, if it’s not clean, it’s not green!