Environmental Health

Clean Green - Take Some Action

Deciding to clean green may seem less daunting if you start by just trying a few alternatives. Many of the less toxic, green products that are healthier for the environment and for you actually work well! Go ahead and see for yourself.

If you are ready to try some green-certified manufactured products (click to go there now), we’ll give you some guidance below so that you can make an educated purchasing decision. If you’re an exceptionally small school who doesn’t order everything from one big distributor, or if you’re just not yet willing to try a manufactured green product, then consider some of the home-made alternatives below. Seeing how well a home-made alternative works may convince you that the dangerous chemicals in conventional cleaning products may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

Before you test alternative products, get organized by using this Health Effects Form available from the Janitorial Product Pollution Prevention Project. To fill out the form you can use the chemical databases in Upload Knowledge to document the dangerous effects of the current products you use, and make a clear list of alternatives you want to try. Then, as you test the products, use the Evaluation Form so that the janitors, students, or whoever is experimenting can give you feedback on how well each alternative works!

Manufactured Products

The biggest myth about green cleaning products is that they are not as effective as the super chemicals on the market. We talked to a successful Lead Custodian who has a different opinion. Keith Giles has been Supervisor with Environmental Services at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and now leads the custodian crew at Unity College in Maine. He has been responsible for the health of many patients, students, and staff, and takes his job seriously because he knows his crew is the first line of defense against sickness and disease. In an effort to make Unity Colleges cleaning techniques less toxic and healthier for the environment, he has switched to green-certified cleaning products. A number of prominent companies certify green cleaning products, but the certification label he trusts on the products he buys is Green Seal, and he argues that Green Seal products work as well and sometimes better than conventional cleaning products. Another myth about green-cleaning products is that they are always more expensive. Giles has found out first hand that cleaning green can actually save you money, especially in the long-run. In order to really save money, however, he recommends a comprehensive approach to cleaning green that involves more than just less-toxic cleaning products. If you are ready for Giles' guidance on a long-term solution, see Go the Extra Mile.

Before you look for environmentally safe and less-toxic products, be aware that many companies use words like green, natural, or non-toxic loosely, and may not be as safe as they seem according to New American Dream. The only way you will know for sure whether a product is environmentally safe and less-toxic is if each specific ingredient is safe. To quickly check the ingredients in products you're interested in, read Upload Knowledge and utilize the chemical databases. Another way to know which products to trust is by seeing if the product is certified by one of the respected green certification organizations. Organizations to trust are Green Seal (logo of a blue glove with a green check), Scientific Certification Systems (logo of a blue earth with a green cross), and Eco Logo (logo of a green-outlined maple leaf with Eco Logo written in big letters at the bottom).

When you're ready to try some green products, explore the links and search engines offered by these certification organizations. If you'd like to try one of Giles personal favorites, check out Sustainable Earth 65 General Purpose Cleaner, a multi-purpose cleaner and degreaser. Also, check with your current distributor to see if they offer any environmentally-friendly products. Getting products straight from your distributor will save in carbon dioxide emissions from eliminating a special delivery from another company. However, make sure the ingredients are safe and environmentally friendly or that the product has one of the trusted certifications. If you have trouble finding what you need, check out this list of green cleaning product websites compiled by Debra Lynn Dadd, a consumer advocate hailed as The Queen of Green by the New York Times. As you test the products, don't forget to use the Health Effects Form and the Evaluation Form from JP4 to guide you through the process.

Homemade Alternatives

All Purpose
Counter & Desk Tops
  • Keep an open box of baking soda to absorb smells in the fridge (W.A. Toxics Coalition)
  • Sprinkle baking soda over the top layer of your trash ( W.A. Toxics Coalition)
  • For toilets, use straight vinegar in a spray bottle and spray around the ring, the top of the rim, and in back of the seat, and let it evaporate (Green Living)
  • Pour a boiling kettle of water down the drain, careful not to hit porcelain surfaces. If its a tough clog, try putting equal amounts of baking soda first, then vinegar down the drain and letting it bubble before pouring the boiling water ( W.A. Toxics Coalition)
Metal & Steel
Oven Cleaner
Windows & Glass
Wood Furniture Polish
  • Mix 1 cup olive oil with cup lemon juice, and apply a small amount to one side of a cleaning cloth. Clean with the damp side and polish with the dry side (Organizedhome.com)