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Indoor Environmental Quality

General Guidance for Building Cleaning Programs

By Charlie Reid, Member Hamilton County General Health District Board of Directors 1995- Present, Independent Consultant 1983—Present.

Outdoor Air Intakes & Building Pressurization

The outside air intakes for positively pressurized buildings have a history of poor location. Many public buildings with utility or service entrances and loading docks have the outside air intake louvers near pollution sources that allow exhaust fumes from trucks to be drawn into the building. Some high-rise office buildings place air intakes in the path of drift from cooling towers on roofs, where contaminants such as bacteria that have caused Legionnaires’ disease can enter the ventilation system. Air intakes of other rooftop installations have entrained roof sealants that are emitted into the air. Still others have entrained emissions from plumbing vent stacks resulting in sewer gas entrainment. Roosting birds can also be a source of contaminants that are entrained in outdoor air supply streams.

Outdoor air intakes are often poorly maintained and the areas are dirty. Getting good intake air - either by shielding or relocating intakes or by fine particle filtration eliminates the many contaminants from outside, as well as avoiding the added burden to cleaning inside. Mechanical rooms and nearby areas may also be the location for chemical storage and janitors’ closets for many buildings. Mixing chemicals there sends vapors into the ventilation systems of the building. These are cleaning issues that affect indoor air quality. Since most positively pressurized buildings do not provide for door or window ventilation, all cleaning activities create polluted air until gases and particles are diluted and removed by outside air supply and exhaust. Some older buildings, where the outdoor air supply rates are grandfathered into the energy saving criteria established in the era of President Carter and the 1970’s oil embargo, have special problems with indoor air quality. They generally have lower levels of outside air ventilation and, thus, lower levels of dilution.

First Reduce Soil and Dirt

Put emphasis on entryways. Reduce tracking in of outside soils and other particulate matter to make inside areas less difficult to clean. Mats, entryway grids, and special ventilation of vestibules reduces intake of soil and dust.

Evaluate high traffic patterns for use of removable matting that can be cleaned away from personnel in order to reduce the overall general cleaning required for carpet.

Limit eating to designated areas that can be cleaned by wiping and light mopping.

Quickly identify and clean spills and stains to eliminate the need for harsher treatments later.

Increase the light wipe and cleaning of hard floors to lessen the required stripping and finishing required. Much of this can be done with water or very light dilutions of an all-purpose cleaner. Caution on use of the wrong mop is important because residual chemicals on an unrinsed mop can start stripping the finish from the floor, which then requires more frequent refinishing.

Employ better vacuums. Use HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Attenuation) filtered vacuums with continuous suction. Higher suction not only reduces the amount of soil in buildings, it substantially reduces both hard floor and carpet cleaning. The removal rate makes the cost of high quality equipment worth the investment. The machines are larger, harder to manipulate, and because they have more suction, do not move as fast across the floor. Using a HEPA vacuum following a typical upright vacuum can make a visible difference in the brighter color of a carpet as the floor wand passes over a surface. Ground-in dirt is substantially reduced as is the need to clean the carpet.

Building occupants should be prohibited from having and using cleaning chemicals.

Selection of cleaning methods/general rules

Chemicals are used to make water work better in cleaning. Chemicals add surface wetting agents, soil reduction and rinsing agents, evaporative qualities, and at times mild coating to prevent re-deposition of soils or the re-appearance of soils. The lower the soil level, the less water needs help to clean. Higher temperature water dissolves better, cuts greasy soils, and requires less agitation. Increased agitation requires less chemical action to cut into soils.

Wiping and general rinsing after cleaning eliminate the need for many rinsing additives. Most all-purpose cleaners, window cleaners, and other hard surface cleaners have an alternative available in vegetable-based surfactant chemistry. Using many of the alternative products can eliminate alcohol, which lingers in the air long after use. Many of these products can be used in higher dilutions and thus less product is required.

Wiping needs to replace spraying. Many companies have gone to dispensing systems that fill spray bottles. Spraying not only diffuses a solution into the air as well as on the surface, it generally wastes product by over-wetting a surface - thus the need for adding evaporative alcohol to the product. By wetting a wipe lightly and applying to a surface, the excess from spraying does not require the additional labor to work off the hard surface, which saves labor.

Water can be used in general dusting of non-wood surfaces, as can lint-free wipes for most surfaces. Spray devices can be used to dispense into a wipe and this is the most efficient application method.

There is no cleaning need for fragrances and they all need to be eliminated.

There are products on the market which are advertised as deodorizers/re-odorizers that have four times the level of quaternary ammonia as a disinfectant. They are not listed as a disinfectant because they are purportedly for cleaning and reodorizing. This is not uncommon in the labeling of janitorial products.

Fragrances are leading culprits in accessibility problems related to indoor air quality.

Detergent with warm or hot water disinfects as well as disinfectant cleaners most of the time. For quality assurance, use of an ultraviolet light detects bacterial growth and areas which are evading cleaning. In problem areas that are frequently not reached—as behind toilets, around urinals, and beneath the nozzle of soap dispensers—personnel need to be trained and instructed to thoroughly clean the affected area.

Peroxides (as stabilized additives) are capable of disinfecting in more critical areas. Bathrooms, food service areas, and dining areas all follow this general guideline.

Dispensers are most often provided by the companies that sell chemicals. They install the dispensers and set the dilutions. Use of dispensers when building ownership or management is in control of the dispensers is appropriate. Supervisory control over dilutions is essential.

Carpet cleaning often results in off-gassing of toxic solvents for days and even weeks. Use of steam, non-petroleum based cleaners—even in some cases peroxides—and fast drying has proven essential to reducing the impact of cleaning.

Carpets are typically treated with numerous products, including insecticides, sealants, and optical brighteners. No matter what method is used to clean it, e.g., washing, dry-cleaning, or steam cleaning, all cause the release of the built-in chemistry of the carpet.

While it is a general rule to dry carpet in less than 24 hours to reduce the chance for mold growth, optimal drying time is less than 4 hours. This may require selecting less humid days to do the work. It may require increased airflow in the building. It may require blowers and heating to the affected area. It may require higher, more efficient extraction after chemical application. Faster drying shortens the time for the air to recover from the cleaning.

Hard floor finishing is often a process that results in off-gassing for weeks. It is recommended that the work be completed during unoccupied or low occupancy times for the building, using higher air flows for drying, and maintaining maximum dilution with outside air until off-gassing is complete.

Frequent inspections of floors and refinishing only the areas necessary reduces chemical usage and impact. Scheduled finishing may not be the best practice. Using an “inspect and finish as necessary” program allows for limited work to preserve the floors while reducing labor requirements and chemical usage.

Some gel strippers may have lower off-gassing levels and should be evaluated for potential usage. Experiment with strippers to find the lowest effective concentration to achieve the work. Refinishing material as well as strippers should be managed carefully by dispensing in proper amounts to ensure proper usage and to avoid over-usage.

Carpet de-spotting can be accomplished by using mild detergent and baking soda. This old remedy can remove many stains, particularly when fresh. Using the mixture in hot water (120 degrees) and rubbing inward from the outside of the stain can remove many without the use of strong chemicals.

Bathroom fixtures, urinal, and toilets are subject to staining. Where possible, peroxide-based cleaners are preferable. Baking soda provides a mild cleaner-abrasive capability. Use of acids in difficult circumstances may be necessary. When this is done, the bathroom should be completely ventilated before reopening it for use.

A continuous audit of building practices, education of building personnel, and control of chemical usages by occupants will go a long way in reducing the adverse chemical impacts associated with cleaning. Safer alternative products exist for almost all cleaning needs. Cleaning protocols do not need to change much and can be phased into a building’s existing program. While one may look for one practice to save the day, there is no magic bullet. Only one change in cleaning will leave others to create problems. A comprehensive approach is necessary and can be implemented step by step.

Checklist Guidance

Building managers can use the following list of questions as a guide to assess their office building cleaning efforts and to determine where to start transitioning cleaning activities. The checklist does not actually tell a building manager how to set up a cleaning program, but it serves as a starting point for educating everyone involved in a safer air cleaning program—managers, occupants, and janitors—about what they need to do to make it a successful program.

Building Considerations

  • How are various areas within the building used? Determine which require the most cleaning, and why (e.g., public restrooms, kitchen areas). What are the hours of use and are there preferred times to clean when personnel are not present?
  • Where do people eat (e.g., individual offices throughout the building, designated areas)?
  • Are there any special considerations related to the building itself (e.g., is it an historical building that has special preservation requirements or security issues)?
  • Do any office furnishings have special cleaning requirements (e.g., thick carpets, antique furniture)?
  • Are there any known at-risk populations who may be more adversely affected by the use of some chemicals (e.g., children, people with asthma, allergies or chemical sensitivities, and pregnant women)?
  • Does the building have an adequate ventilation system to circulate air throughout the building?
  • Does the building have any plumbing or moisture problems?
  • Is there a method in place to keep dirt from entering the building (e.g., mats at the front door, double-door entryways)?

Cleaning Checklist

Procedure Frequency Product Brand (indicate whether it is purchased in concentrate or ready-to-use form) Monthly Product Useage Cleaning Procedure
Clean furniture        
Clean walls        
Clean bathrooms        
Clean washroom fixtures        
Carpet spot removal        
Carpet cleaning        
Gum removal        
Concrete cleaning        
Graffiti removal        
Glass cleaning        
Metal cleaning        
Hard floor—routine cleaning        
Floor stripping        
Floor refinishing        
Other all purpose cleaning        

Adequacy of Current Cleaning Program

  • What are issues of concern to management, cleaning personnel, and building occupants? Conduct interviews with all stakeholders rather than on a representative basis.
  • Review the log of tenant complaints over the last year. What are the items that come up consistently?
  • How is the quality of cleaning currently being evaluated/measured? How often are inspections performed? Are there trends in the problems that are identified?

Cleaning Materials Usage

  • List the janitorial products that are currently in use for each of the following categories and identify how often the cleaning task is performed and how much of the product is used per month.
  • Are there any reasons to change the procedure or frequency for these cleaning applications? In what manner can chemicals be eliminated or reduced? Seek methods to eliminate usage, reduce usage, and change products to those better for air quality.

Selecting Chemicals

In selecting chemicals for cleaning, there can be considerable confusion. “Green,” “environmentally safe” and various other claims as to the safety of cleaning products do not provide adequate guidance for determining which products do not adversely affect air quality. Below is a list of some terms with which a buyer of chemical products needs to become familiar. The list also includes comments and discussion of alternatives to potentially hazardous chemicals.

Bio-Degradable: The product will break down in the environment over time into supposedly harmless materials. This does not mean the product is safe for the environment, including soil, water, or air.

Chlorine-free: Contains no chlorine, a toxic chemical responsible for substantial problems in air quality as well as more poisonings each year than any other chemical. Oxygen bleaches, the chlorine-free alternatives for bleaching action, are less stable than chlorine bleaches, but much has been done to stabilize oxygen bleaches in the past few years. Do not use concentrated hydrogen peroxide in pure form for disinfection because its application to a flammable surface can cause it to ignite. For scouring, use of baking soda, borax and scrub pads provides additional cleaning capacity. Using a compound containing stabilized peroxide is useful for bleaching.

Natural: Implies the product does not contain synthetic ingredients. Since the use of this term is unregulated and the claim can only be verified by checking with the manufacturer, do not rely upon it for any selection criteria. And since naturally-occurring substances can also be harmful, this term does not have meaning with respect to air quality.

Neutral pH: The product is neither alkaline, nor acidic. These are most useful for products that require handling or mixing or are intended for application to bare skin. Even if a product has a neutral pH, it may have been refined from petroleum and other hydrocarbons and emit volatile fumes. For better air quality, it is often preferable to use a non-petroleum alkaline product rather than a solvent or petroleum-based neutral product. Very acidic or alkaline products that become airborne can cause irritation and even severe damage to skin, eyes, and lungs.

Non-Toxic: Supposedly only a very large amount will cause damage. Since this term is unregulated in its use, is has little meaning. Fewer than 5% of all cleaning compounds have been tested for safety. A few manufacturers test for skin irritation or ingestion effects. Since a product can impact air quality and affect people with a large range of sensitivities, a product claiming to be non-toxic may still cause adverse health effects.

Oxygenated: Helps whiten and brighten by releasing oxygen which breaks up stains, and eliminates mildew and mold. See Chlorine above. Oxygenated products, such as those containing hydrogen peroxide, can be as effective as chlorine when used in proper doses and according to safety instructions.

Phosphate-free: Generally meaningless term. Phosphates are allowed by law only in certain automatic dish detergents. Not a criterion for most purchases.

Surfactant: This is the active ingredient in most detergent cleaners, such as all- purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, dish detergents, fabric softeners, and hard surface cleaners. Most often they are created from petroleum and are neutral in pH. Surfactants are used to alter the surface properties of the surface being cleaned. This can make the surface more penetrable, easier to rinse, and less able to be adhered to and more repellant of dirt. Numerous surfactants have been used as reducing agents to dissolve heavy greases and soils. Surfactants are now available in non-petroleum-based (vegetable) forms and the newer surfactants offer interesting new chemistry for air quality. In general they have higher flash points. The vegetable-based surfactants rarely have alcohol or other solvents. They can easily be wiped on and off and do not require evaporative assistance, such as adding alcohol and ether to most window cleaners.

Deodorizer/Re-odorizer: This group of products may contain higher concentrations of quaternary ammonia than disinfectants. They also frequently contain strong fragrances and/or masking agents that diminish the sense of smell. Paradichlorobenzene and naphthalene are common ingredients in fragrance-emitting devices. Deodorizer products are often used in public bathrooms found in restaurants, motels, theaters, subways, trains, airports, airplanes, and other public facilities. The use of deodorizer/re-odorizer products can be avoided by increasing ventilation/air flow and thoroughly cleaning with mildly alkaline non-surfactant detergents followed by the use of disinfectants, preferably peroxide-based ones. Inspection by ultraviolet light is recommended after all intensive cleaning to verify that surfaces have been adequately cleaned.

Fragrance: This is an air pollutant that is intended to give the false impression that air is clean. Truly clean air has no smell. Fragrance formulas can contain benzene, toluene, styrene, and formaldehyde, along with other ingredients. Fragrance chemicals can enter the body through the lungs, skin, and nasal passageways. They can affect the brain and nervous system in a matter of seconds, either by their presence in the brain or via stimulation of olfactory nerves. Avoid all products that list fragrance as an ingredient or have a fragrant odor. Be aware that even if “fragrance” is not listed as an ingredient, fragrance chemicals may have been added to a product for another purpose, or claimed to be added for another purpose – such as an anti-microbial stabilizer, blending agent, or enhancer.

Solvent: Water is a solvent. Using alcohol, petroleum, and coal tar-based solvents for floor refinishing, metal cleaning, stain removal, and graffiti control is commonplace. To preserve air quality, use water as a solvent whenever possible. Use petroleum-based solvents only as a last resort. Non-water-based solvents should be used in controlled programs, with substantial increased ventilation, pre-notification of building occupants, use during low building occupancy, and retesting of air to make sure it is clear before a space is re-occupied. The use of many solvent products, such as spot stain-removers, can be eliminated by promptly cleaning stains, using mild detergent and baking soda with a gentle rubbing action and working in from the outside perimeter of the stain.

Vinegar: An acidic fluid usable for basic surface cleaning, window cleaning, and bathroom fixture wiping. The mild acidic properties provide the ability to remove hard water spots and cut soap films. Note that while vinegar is considered a less-toxic cleaner, some chemically sensitive individuals may react adversely to it.

Getting Started

Eliminating fragranced products is perhaps the quickest and easiest step to improving air quality.

Eliminate air fresheners and fragrance-emitting devices. Do not use urinal or toilet deodorizer blocks which contain paradichlorobenzene, naphthalene, solvents or fragrances. Substitute vegetable-based surfactants combined with microbe-based urea reducing properties. Choose non-fragranced cleaners, hand soaps, and lotions. Choose basic paper items that do not contain fragrances. Do not use cleaner/disinfectant combination products. Disinfectants should be used after a surface is clean for optimal deep cleaning, which should be done on an as needed basis. Inspect cleaned areas using ultraviolet light to verify that the surface has been adequately cleaned. Concentrate heaviest cleaning on essential areas. This will control odor.

Find and remove room deodorizers and dispensing devices. Establish a policy restricting occupant usage of fragrance-emitting plug-ins.

Inventory all current products. Discontinue any product that has fragrance as an ingredient or has a strong odor—such as cleaners containing pine, tea tree oil, orange, lemon, or citrus.

Using Above Chart on Cleaning Materials Usage

Select products used most frequently. This is most often an all-purpose cleaner, a window cleaner, and disinfectant cleaner or straight disinfectant.

Most of these products are overused. In addition, suitable substitutes can almost always be found that have less impact on air quality.

Experiment with dosages to find the minimum amount of cleaning product that will accomplish the job. This is best done after selecting a new vegetable surfactant-based all-purpose cleaner, window cleaner, or oxygen-based disinfectant for bathrooms. Control dispensers to make sure that the minimum dosages necessary are dispensed.

Make increased use of mechanical/physical methods of cleaning to reduce chemical usage.

Vacuuming: Vacuuming extracts soil at a rate of barely 60% when done with typical upright vacuum systems found today. Carpets tend to absorb particles from the air as well as tracked-in grease and other contaminants. Using a stronger vacuum system with continuous suction (non-pumping action) combined with a slower motion increases the extraction rate to above 85%. Keeping vacuumed dirt and fumes from escaping from the vacuum and re-contaminating a room requires strong filtration. HEPA systems work well to remove particulate matter, but care needs to be taken to insure there are no air leaks around the filter. An activated charcoal impregnated membrane will absorb and trap gasses.

A strong vacuuming program that includes daily and thorough vacuuming is the first guard against the need for frequent carpet cleaning. Secondly, evaluate traffic patterns and use throw rugs and entry mats to protect carpeting in heavily trafficked areas that quickly become dirty. Only clean spots or small areas of carpet that require cleaning. Clean carpet on an “as-needed” basis rather than on a regular schedule.

For widespread carpet cleaning, employ extraction methods using steam; mild cleaners that do not contain fragrances or solvents; or peroxide-based cleaners and fast four hour drying to reduce impacts on air quality and chances of mold growth.

Dusting: Wipe surfaces for dusting with lint-free cloths or damp clean rags. This is usually as effective as using chemical dusting products.

Mopping & Buffing: Damp mop hard floors using soft water in high traffic areas. Wipe with a dry mop on return pattern. Frequent mopping protects the floors and reduces the need for buffing and refinishing. Buff floors during off hours using the minimum amount of product necessary to refinish the floor.

Floor Refinishing: Refinish floors based on need rather than a fixed schedule. Keep service records that include the date and area where floor was refinished and the products used. Mandate that only the minimum amount of product necessary to accomplish the job will be used. Provide personnel with information on tracking and the goal of chemical reduction. All stripping and refinishing needs to be done during non-occupancy periods with substantial increases in outside air flow.

Keep Track

Using a computer, create an ongoing tracking system on reductions in the amount and number of chemicals used, changes in chemicals used, and eliminations of chemicals. This overall program needs to be continuously evaluated and communicated to building owners, managers, and occupants.

Steps for Implementing a Scent-Free Policy in the Workplace

(Adapted from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety)

What steps should I take when implementing a scent-free policy in the workplace?

The situation may arise and create the need for a scent-free policy. As with most workplace policies, be sure to consider the following:

  • Conduct an assessment or survey of the employees to determine the extent of the problem. Collect opinions and suggestions at the same time to help you develop a policy appropriate to your workplace.
  • Designate one key person to oversee the project and its development. If you work at a large company, it may better to create a committee with members representing all groups (employees, unions, management).
  • Involve the health and safety committee, and get management commitment from the beginning.
  • Set and stick to deadlines for creating a draft policy, a review of the policy, and for implementation.
  • Be sure that all employees have been fully informed of the policy and that they know what they have to do before the policy becomes effective.
  • Educate the employees. You may choose to include brochures or flyers in payroll envelopes, publish articles in company newsletter, or give presentations. In any case, the goal is to inform all employees of the health concerns related to scents and why the policy is needed.
  • Address any concerns the employees raise openly and honestly. Reinforce the idea that this policy is being implemented as a result of medical concerns – not merely because of a dislike for a certain smell.
  • Make it clear that the policy applies to everyone (including visitors, patients, etc).
  • Search local legislation for any supporting documentation.
  • Do not limit the scent free policy to perfumes and colognes. Many cleaning and personal care products also have scents.
  • Post a list of “approved” unscented products and where they are available locally.
  • Review all MSDSs for the products currently used and for those you are considering using. Make sure that the ingredients are acceptable. Remember that some products which claim to be scent-free may be using additional chemicals to mask smells instead of truly being “unscented”.
  • Conduct trials in limited areas before purchasing large quantities of a product.
  • Post notices that waxing, shampooing, painting, or spraying (etc.) will be conducted one week beforehand so that affected personnel can make arrangements or have their duties modified during that time.
  • Put the policy statement notice on all appointment cards, stationery, room booking notices, employment postings, etc.
  • Decide on wording for ‘Scent Free’ signs and where the signs will be posted.
  • Let everyone know that the policy will be reviewed and can be changed because of experience or new knowledge.

What is an example of a policy?

Policies should be based on the health concerns of employees - especially those who have sought medical help. Keep the policy short, but specific. The policy must also apply uniformly throughout the company.

| Sample: Scent-Free Policy | | Policy:
Due to the health concerns arising from exposure to scented products, ABC Company Inc. has instituted this policy to provide a scent-free environment for all employees and visitors. | | Definitions:
The use of scented products will not be allowed within the building at any time. In addition, all materials used for cleaning will be scent-free (where ever possible).

A list of locally available scent-free products is available from the health and safety office.

| | Procedure:
Employees will be informed of this policy through signs posted in buildings, the policy manual, promotional materials and will receive orientation and training.

Visitors will be informed of this policy through signs and it will be explained to them by their host.

Any violations of this policy will be handled through standard disciplinary procedures.

This policy is effective on 01/01/01.

What should the ‘posted notice’ say?

Signs should be posted near the entrances to company building(s). In addition, statements on business cards, letter head or promotional materials may be helpful if you receive a lot of visitors.

Examples include:

Some people who work at ABC Company report sensitivities to various chemical-based or scented products. We ask for everyone’s cooperation in our efforts to accommodate their health concerns.

In response to health concerns, ABC Company has developed a Scent-Free Policy. Scented products such as hair spray, perfume, and deodorant can trigger reactions such as respiratory distress and headaches. Staff and visitors are asked to not use these products when reporting to this office.

ABC Company is a Scent-free environment. Please do not use scented products while at work.