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Reducing Toxic Cleaning Chemicals In Retail & Public Settings

Updated on March 20, 2011

Chemical solvents are usually effective in removing dirt and germs, however, they contain toxins and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are introduced into the environment during use. VOCs combine with dust and other particles and react with sunlight, heat and other elements to release even more particles into the air. Ultimately, these chemical particles are either inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

The Environmental Protection Agency is determined to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) in public settings. Poor IAQ can contribute to various health problems including triggering asthmatic reactions. While meticulous cleaning helps, the introduction of VOCs and chemicals actually degrades IAQ. How serious is IAQ and the concern over chemical usage around your staff and customers? Many states are considering legislation for improving IAQ in public areas, and many states already enforce regulations governing pesticide use.

VOCs and other toxins put customers and staff at risk. Young children are especially vulnerable due to their smaller body mass, faster breathing rate and body organs that are only partially developed and incapable of handling many toxins. The natural tendency of young children to touch surfaces and place their hands in their mouths results in increased skin absorption, ingestion and inhalation of cleaning chemicals, pesticides and other potential hazards.

Some individuals will not experience any noticeable symptoms while others may have headaches, mental fatigue, sleepiness, skin reactions, irritation of eyes, nose or throat, nausea and dizziness. Chronic effects include asthma, organ damage, respiratory disease, central nervous system impairment and heart disease.

To address this issue, stores and other public facilities should develop an environment-friendly cleaning approach that replaces chemical cleaners with nontoxic products whenever possible. Since chemicals are poisonous, flammable and hazardous, strict storage, handling and disposal guidelines must be followed. Environmentally friendly products, on the other hand, are typically nontoxic, nonflammable, biodegradable, safe to handle and easy to dispose. Nontoxic products reduce the amount of environmental pollutants that humans can absorb and lower the incidence of illness and staff absenteeism.

Safe, industrial-strength cleaning alternatives are readily available for most applications. These nontoxic solutions are typically as effective as conventional cleaners. In fact, some utilize advanced formulations to achieve superior results. These items are competitively priced so even businesses with tight budgets can promote a health-friendly environment. Nontoxic products that are available include all-purpose cleaner, floor cleaner, bathroom cleaner, degreaser, glass cleaner, floor wax, floor stripper, carpet stain remover and surface stain remover. Natural pesticides, herbicides and other safe agricultural products are available as well.

Consider the following when developing a health-friendly cleaning program:

  • Explore nontoxic, VOC-free alternatives to chemical-based cleaning agents and maintenance products. Identify and resolve other pollution sources.
  • Clean regularly and thoroughly with safe solutions. Dust and stains should be removed from surfaces. Floors should be swept and wet-mopped. Avoid cleaning when customers are in the area.
  • Use nontoxic, colloid-based cleaning formulations for surfaces, bathrooms and floors. Colloids attack dirt by separating, enclosing and immobilizing dirt and germs, preventing them from being redeposited back to the surface.
  • Most floor waxes and floor wax strippers are highly volatile and contain hazardous chemicals. Safer products that do not contain VOCs or harmful solvents are available and are actually more effective than similar chemical products.
  • Minimize the use of disinfectants. Colloid-based cleaners are effective in removing germs and bacteria. When disinfectants are necessary, restrict customers from treated areas for at least 10 hours.
  • Vacuum carpeted areas regularly. Remove stains from carpeting immediately with natural solvents.
  • Keep food service areas and refuse areas clean and sanitary. Nontoxic products are ideal for food service areas since food may touch surfaces prior to consumption.
  • Address mold immediately. Prevent mold from developing by cleaning thoroughly and improving ventilation.
  • Maintain heating, ventilation and cooling systems and keep ventilation ducts clean.
  • Eliminate the use of chemically based pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural products. Use safer alternatives.

It is anticipated state governments will intensify their efforts to minimize toxins in public and retail environments and continued use of hazardous chemicals may lead to legal action from customers and staff due to ailments arising from toxic exposure. The implementation of a health-friendly program is a proactive measure that can ease the difficulties of potential requirements and may minimize legal exposure. Health-friendly programs send a strong message to customers and the community that your small business recognizes the importance of health and safety and is committed to protect the future of its staff and customers.


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