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Green Cleaning Tactics for Senior Living Communities

Grace Flack
  • Mar 20, 2018
  • 5 minute read

Get green cleaning tactics for your community

A tactic is “an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.”


The “end,” green cleaning, is effective, affordable cleaning to protect the health of people and the environment, especially when the people served are vulnerable, such as the elderly.


First, it’s important to understand the difference between conventional cleaning and green cleaning.


From Conventional to Green Cleaning

Conventional cleaning is the removal of unwanted matter and the ordering of indoor spaces, with a focus on appearance.

More reactive, than proactive, it includes:

  • Straightening and organizing
  • Removing visible soil
  • Applying fragrances to deodorize
  • Use of strong chemicals for cleaning and disinfecting

Conversely, green cleaning is proactive, preventative, holistic and science-based. It includes:

  • Preventing sources of soil or harmful substances
  • Removing unwanted matter from the indoor environment including dust, grit, grime, biological agents and harmful chemicals
  • A systems focus with “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” thinking
  • Measurement science for outcome tracking

Green cleaning tactics focus both on what is seen and unseen, especially as it impacts the health of the environment, indoors or out.

Think of it as the cleaning equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors to “do no harm.”

Approach green cleaning from a complete prevention or removal paradigm – the goal is to prevent or remove what does not belong indoors.


Preventing Sources

It’s important to list sources of pollution in your senior living space, and work to control or eliminate them one-by-one. This also saves money.

Start at entrances. Apply two stages of commercial matting:

  • Bi-level matting that aggressively removes gross soil and provides a recessed area where the clumps of soil fall and are kept below the walking surface.
  • Carpet-type nylon matting to wipe and dry shoe soles.

The more steps on matting, the more contaminants are removed, so be generous in buying, restoring and replacing matting. It will save you many hours of cleaning while preventing indoor exposures.

What is not tracked indoors does not need to be removed later, or become inhaled, ingested or touched by residents. Dust from roads, parking lots, outdoor herbicide and pesticide applications, heavy metals, and other sources are trapped by entry mats.

Vacuum them daily with a well-filtered vacuum, and wash mats at least monthly. Consider rental services that handle care and replacement, so you don’t have to.

Look at dusting tools: wipes and vacuums. A water-dampened microfiber cloth works well especially if you fold it into quarters to create eight cleaning surfaces. Flipping to a fresh surface after wiping each area helps remove more dust and other surface contaminants.

Vacuums should remove dust not blow it into the environment. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) has tested a number of vacuums for its Green Label Program based on three criteria: 1) Soil removal, 2) Dust retention and 3) Carpet Wear.

Clean or replace the vacuum bags or filters regularly. It’s cheap preventative maintenance and saves money in the long term. Vacuums with loaded filters do not clean, they pollute. If the filter bag is full, then the rotating beater brush just stirs up the dust as it beats the carpet. Airborne dust is inhaled or resettles, requiring removal through costly manual dusting.

Use color-coded cleaning cloths and assign certain colors to separate areas, such as green for kitchens and red for bathrooms. This helps prevent cross contamination between areas.


Removing Unwanted Matter

It’s been said that if you’re not cleaning, you’re polluting.

Reduce the use of chemicals, as these tend to pollute the environment with both active and fragrance ingredients, even in some so-called green products. Reducing chemicals also lowers costs.

Options include water-moistened microfiber, dry steam vapor systems that clean and disinfect using low-moisture steam from tap water, and other techniques such as spray-and-vac systems that apply water under pressure and extract it without leaving residue.

If you must use chemicals, use Green Seal (e.g., GS-37), UL Environment, EcoLogo, or GREENGUARD Certified products. EPA’s Safer Choice products are also worth considering.

Better disinfectants include fragrance-free, hydrogen-peroxide based formulas, electrochemically activated or electrolyzed water formulations that are EPA-registered, and other lower toxicity interventions.


System Focus

Cleaning is not an island. Part of your green cleaning program involves keeping the air clean within an ecosystem concept.

Your heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems affect how clean the air is, how much fresh air is introduced, and how much dust it contains.

We inhale about 30 lbs. of air a day versus ingesting several pounds of food and liquid. Air is the number one route of exposure to harmful contaminants, both particles and gases.

Your HVAC system should be checked and maintained monthly. Well-maintained HVAC filters are cheap insurance to protect the health of residents and staff. Also, check carbon monoxide monitors and smoke alarms regularly.


Measure for Mastery

Lastly, consider measuring the outcomes of your cleaning to check for organic soils that support microbial growth and the thoroughness of your cleaning process.

Measuring using an ATP meter is one method. ATP is adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecule of cells, found in organic soils that harbor or contain microbes such as germs. An ATP meter is a handheld device that samples surfaces using swabs to show before and after cleaning results. It can tell you if you are doing a good job of removing germ-containing or promoting soils.

Consider the use of invisible fluorescent marking to show which surfaces were wiped and which were not. For example, areas needing a regular wipe down for hygienic results are given a mark using a fluorescent pen with ink that only shows up under a black light inspection tool. Supervisors mark the surfaces, then after the cleaning shift check the marked spots to see if the marks were removed by cleaning. If the marks are still there, workers are retrained.


More than the Sum of the Parts

As shown above, Green Cleaning is a holistic, systemic approach that involves prevention, removal, and a process that is better both for residents and business. The Green Cleaning paradigm yields lower costs and better outcomes for people and the planet.

Allen Rathey is the principal of the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI), director of the Indoor Wellness Council (IWC), and author of articles about best practices in cleaning and indoor environmental management. Linked In:

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