Safer Stores Toolkit: How to use green cleaners for store cleaning and maintenance

Green cleaners aren’t just products to sell – you can also use them for routine maintenance to protect the health and safety of your employees and the environment.


What are green cleaners?

Green cleaners are specifically designed to protect human health and environmental quality. They are best understood in contrast to conventional cleaners, which are not designed with these considerations in mind. Green cleaners will perform the same task, but do so using chemicals that are less toxic than their conventional counterpart. Keep in mind – a green cleaner is still a cleaning product, and must still be handled with care.


How do you identify green cleaners?

You cannot identify a green cleaner by its marketing terminology, such as “safer,” “good for the environment,” and “green,” which does not guarantee that a product is any better than a conventional cleaner. Look for third party certification such as  EPA SaferChoice, GreenSeal, or UL Ecologo. These are the three main certifications that guarantee you are buying a product that is safer and performs as well as a conventional cleaner. You will find the logo on a certified product's container.


Why are they preferred to conventional cleaners?

The immediate side effects of conventional cleaners may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, rashes, burns, nose and throat irritation and asthma attack. Over time, certain cleaners are known to increase cancer risk, interfere with the nervous system, and impact reproductive health and cardiovascular functioning. Children are especially vulnerable because they are small and developing. In addition, pregnant women can pass on these dangerous chemicals to their unborn children.

In contrast, “green cleaners” are considered safer and preferable for employees that use cleaning products on a daily basis, as well as for customers visiting your store.


Will they work as well?

Products that are certified by EPA SaferChoice, GreenSeal, and UL Ecologo are guaranteed to work just as well, if not better. That said, if you are considering alternatives, ask your vendor for free samples and do a side-by-side comparison so you and your staff can be the judges of what works best.


It’s a balancing act!

Keep in mind that this is about improvement, not perfection. You may still use problematic products to meet your unique facility needs. For instance, “no-rinse sanitizers” may be necessary, although they are quite toxic.

Also, know that today's green cleaners are highly effective and there are new and better green cleaners available every day. After an initial assessment, you should revisit this topic at least once per year to see if there are newer and better products available. And you can pilot products and see what works for you.


Quick Tip: You may be able to use “green” products for some applications, but not for others. If you're uncertain about where to begin, a good place to start is using a green product for cleaning, but then using a more traditional chemical for disinfecting.


Personal Protective Equipment & Dilution

Remember that all cleaners - both conventional and green - are still chemicals. ALWAYS make sure you and your employees take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. This means reading the product label, and following the directions precisely.

Cleaners used in stores are often highly concentrated, and staff are particularly susceptible to chemical burns while diluting chemicals to prepare for cleaning. While there can be a temptation to “eye ball” chemical amounts or create a product that is more concentrated than what is recommended on the label, be aware that using overconcentrated products increases toxic exposure and wastes money. Stores can save money and safeguard health by helping employees prepare chemicals properly.

Quick Tip: To get the most bang for your buck, do your cleaning right after high use times. Clean prep areas at the end of the day. There is no value in cleaning first thing in the morning if you already tidied up the night before.


Let’s Get Started!


___ (1) Do a walk through of your store to find out what you are actually using: talk with staff and take notes about what you see people using. Although you may have certain protocols in place, it is most important to make sure you understand what is actually happening on a day to day basis.


___ (2) Identify the most toxic products: this is most likely oven cleaners, glass cleaners, floor care, or sanitizers. Look at the “Safety Data Sheet” and find out what products you find most concerning.


___ (3) Talk to your vendor: discuss your goals to reduce the toxicity of chemicals in the store. You can often do this at no cost increase. Your vendor should be aware of your legal requirements and be able to suggest alternative products.


___ (4) Consider a system that will automatically dilute chemicals: This is the best method to protect your workers from chemical burns and to save you money.


___ (5) Try new products: Third party certifications are an excellent starting point, however, to win over your staff, a quick side-by-side comparison can help. You can request “trial” products from your vendor.


___(6) Train and communicate regularly with staff: stay aware of what is actually happening in your store. If your staff are using “off the shelf” cleaners or not following protocols, find out why. This is a good way to identify what is not working and make adjustments that works for everyone.


___ (7) Promote your environmental stewardship to your community by including stories in newsletters, posting notices, adding signs, and erecting displays.