Whether they use them or not, most carpet cleaning technicians have heard what green-certified cleaning solutions are all about.

Green certification indicates that these products have been proven to have a reduced impact on carpet cleaning technicians, homeowners, commercial building occupants and the environment.

But carpet cleaners may not be aware of just how big this “reduced impact” really can be.

Perhaps the following true story will help us understand this issue.

Reducing waste

A major cruise line needed to meet impending and much stricter compliance regulations regarding the dumping of pollutants into the ocean. Meeting the new regulations was a major concern because it is estimated that a 3,000-passenger cruise liner releases about 150,000 gallons of waste and sewage per week into the ocean. Altogether, the major ocean liners release approximately a billion gallons of sewage each year into the ocean.1

Roger McFadden, a senior scientist with Staples Advantage, was brought in to help this cruise company curb its waste and dumping of pollutants. His goal was to also help develop best practices that could further assist the company in meeting the new regulations. While the cruise line suspected that it would need to make several changes, just by switching the cleaning chemicals the company used to a line of environmentally friendly products, the cruise line “was able to go ‘beyond compliance’ to address [the] stricter regulations,” says McFadden.2

He adds that the company was also able to reduce the number of cleaning chemical products it used to maintain its ships and the number of chemical containers collected with each trip.

What can we learn from this? Not only was the company able to reduce the huge amount of pollutants it released into the ocean, but it was able to enhance its sustainability as well. Thus, reduced impact on the environment.

The green bandwagon

Stephen Ashkin, CEO of Sustainably Dashboard Tools, which helps organizations measure and monitor their use of natural resources, is often cited as the leading advocate for green cleaning in the professional cleaning industry.

His focus now is to get all segments of the professional cleaning industry, such as the carpet cleaning industry, to join the “green bandwagon” and also to operate their businesses more sustainably.

To help accomplish this, he advises carpet cleaning technicians to do the following:

Use cold water extractors

 “The reason for this is very simple. New cold water and green-certified detergents have been introduced that have proven very effective using cold water extractors,” Ashkin believes. The benefits of using cold water extraction are that fewer fumes are released when mixing chemicals with cold water, making this system safer, and the machine uses considerably less electricity and/or fuel, making it more sustainable. Additionally, cold water extractors tend to be less costly than hot water systems.

Use low-moisture extractors

Related to this, Ashkin encourages technicians to select low-moisture carpet extractors. “Originally, many of these systems were introduced to help carpet dry faster by simply using less water. But by using less water, they also use less detergent, and there is less chance of mold or mildew developing. Together, this helps protect the environment and promote sustainability.” Further, low moisture and very low moisture (VLM) systems produce less waste and use less chemical. They usually involve little or no heat and so also save energy.

Purchase products in bulk sizes

Green cleaning solutions tend to be highly concentrated and packaged in larger, five-gallon containers instead of the one-gallon containers often used for traditional cleaning solutions. The more highly concentrated the cleaning solution, the longer it typically lasts, which helps defray any additional initial costs for the product. “And purchasing in bulk sizes helps reduce the amount of fuel needed to transport and deliver the product, reducing greenhouse gases,” adds Ashkin. “And these bulk sizes also generate less waste, which often ends up in landfills.”

Become an advisor

Very often a request for proposal (RFP), which invites companies to bid on carpet cleaning services for a facility, will indicate that carpet is to be cleaned one to four times per year. But, according to Ashkin, what often happens is that the RFP indicates that carpet in executive offices are the ones to be cleaned most often.

“The problem is that these are frequently the least soiled carpeted areas in the facility. Attention is most needed on the first floors of a facility and carpet located near warehouse or industrial areas; these are the carpeted areas that tend to become the most soiled. To promote sustainability, technicians need to explain this to building managers. The primary consideration when scheduling carpet cleaning should be which carpeted areas become the most soiled and in which areas [of the building].”

Routing

In larger communities, carpet cleaning technicians already try to route cleaning jobs so that they all occur in the same general area. Most American cities are now so spread out, this should always be done to save time — which is money in carpet cleaning — and fuel.

Sustainable companies

So far, we have been discussing ways that carpet cleaning companies can green their carpet cleaning processes and promote sustainability. What we have considered is often called the “planet” component. But what about their own business operations? It is becoming much more common for large organizations that have incorporated sustainability initiatives into their business operations to now want their vendors — including carpet cleaners — to have similar sustainability programs in place in their own business operations.

So what does this mean for carpet cleaners?

According to Ashkin, following are two more areas of sustainability that companies must focus on:

People

Business practices that are fair, ethical and beneficial toward employees, the community, and the country are what the “people” component is all about. As to the employees, this means paying them fair living wages and meeting all employer-paid employee taxes and insurance requirements. Traditionally, the contract cleaning industry has often outsourced its cleaning work, and while it may be necessary to service accounts in other cities, for instance, in many cases this is done to avoid paying the aforementioned expenses, which is usually to the detriment of the worker. The people component also includes proper training and instruction so that workers perform their duties effectively and safely.

Profits

If you are in business to make money, then you are already meeting a key part of the “profits” component. “A business is in business to make money, to prosper and to grow,” says Ashkin. “However, businesses must do so by adhering to all rules, laws and regulations and by paying fair wages to workers. Also, their profits should help provide economic benefits to their communities.”

An ongoing journey

We’ve covered a lot of territory in this article, but we are not through yet. This is because green cleaning and sustainability are an ongoing process.

New technologies will continue to be introduced, helping to make carpet cleaning greener and more sustainable, and companies will continually find new ways to promote sustainability within their own business.

However, we should look forward to this journey. Not only are we finding new ways to protect the environment and improve the lives of our workers and our community, but invariably becoming more sustainable results in a cost savings as well.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning, carpet cleaning and building industries. He can be reached at [email protected]

1 Study conducted by Friends of the Earth, released December 2014.

2 “Green cleaning: It’s a small yet significant step in the road to healthier, more sustainable facilities,” by Roger McFadden, published in Sustainable Facility, January 2011.

Additional editorial for consideration…

Back to Basics

One of the ways carpet cleaning technicians can help make carpet cleaning greener and promote sustainability is to get back to basics.

For instance, simply taking the time to dilute carpet cleaning solutions properly ensures enough chemical is used to tackle the job while eliminating waste and protecting the customer’s carpet.

Another suggestion: Remember the preliminaries, the steps you should take before cleaning a carpet? One of the most important preliminary steps to take is to always vacuum the carpet before applying prespray and before extraction. Vacuuming removes dry soil.

If the carpet is presprayed without being vacuumed, odds are increased that wicking will result in a complaint. Call-backs, of course, result in another trip, more fuel consumption, more water consumption and more waste. Getting the carpet cleaned properly the first time also increases the amount of repeat business.

Finally, we must make sure we do not dispose of wastewater in storm drains. Remember, most storm drains lead directly to a river or lake. This illegal dumping still occurs, but most technicians know doing so can result in a serious fine in some localities. Stop doing it. Not just to avoid the fine, but to protect our waterways as well.

Mike Kerner is the senior scientist at Legend Brands.

Phosphates and Surfactants

Phosphates, found in many carpet-cleaning detergents, allow detergents to work better by binding metal ions in water while maintaining proper pH. Among other uses, phosphates promote clarity in liquid pre-sprays while working as an anticaking agent in powdered form.

But phosphates affect our environment in two major ways:

  1. They contribute to eutrophication (a form of water pollution) in local waterways when drained in an open environment.
  1. Removing phosphates from black water at water treatment facilities proves difficult, as it requires additional chemicals for proper treatment.

Eutrophication from phosphates hastens the growth of algae in waterways. The algae growth then depletes oxygen from the water, killing aquatic life while also creating the algal toxin microcystin. The high levels of phosphates found in water has led several states to ban phosphate-based laundry detergents altogether.

Other questionable ingredients that are common in many detergents are petroleum-based surfactants. Surfactants help remove oil-based soils from substrates as they join polar to nonpolar, essentially linking water to oil for easy removal. Many petroleum-based surfactants are not biodegradable, however, and come from a limited, nonrenewable source —  oil. Alternatively, plant-derived surfactants deliver comparable results, yet are both biodegradable and renewably sourced.

Pre-sprays and detergents that contain petroleum-based surfactants and phosphates are an environmental concern in an industry that deals with millions of gallons of wastewater each year. What is more concerning is whether the wastewater is being drained ethically to each municipality’s codes and standards. If using these products, it’s up to carpet cleaning technicians to follow proper procedures to safeguard our waterways.

Brandon Branco is the development manager at RAW Pre-Spray/EverClean, LLC