Keep it clean!

Now that you've taken on all of last month's tips and made your home or office environmentally friendly, make sure your maintenance practices are, too.

by Lynn M. Froeschle, AIA, copyright 1997

ne of the simplest ways to create a more environmental home or office is to maintain your living or working environment in a healthful and ecologically friendly manner. How we clean and maintain our built environment can either positively affect or adversely impact indoor air quality. We can improve the indoor air quality of the built environment by cleaning for human health. In addition, healthful cleaning methods tend to also be ecologically friendly.

Keep in mind that cleaning products often contain chemicals that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) along with hazardous ingredients that may also be toxic. Not only can cleaning products add to indoor air pollution, some cleaning products may also be detrimental to human health. In addition, petroleum-based masking fragrances are often added to cleaning products. These fragrances can also emit VOCs and odors that add to indoor air pollution.

Many manufacturers' are saying that their cleaning products are "environmentally friendly" or have all "natural" ingredients. Environmentally friendly may simply mean the product Is biodegradable or packaged in a recycled container. Keep in mind that hazardous ingredients can still be biodegradable. A product that contains "natural" ingredients does not necessarily mean that the product is healthful.

The following are 12 Criteria for Healthful Building Maintenance.

The author is the principal of Lynn Froeschle, AIA, Architects which specializes in sustainable architecture, environmental design, and ecological construction methods. Ms. Froeschle has also received a number of environmental design awards and has authored several published articles on sustainable architecture. For further information on sustainable and environmentally friendly architecture please contact Lynn Froeschle, AlA at (619)571-2858.

1. Clean for health

By cleaning and maintaining the built environment for human health, the desired appearance will generally follow. Healthful cleaning methods tend to be ecologically friendly cleaning methods.

2. Use natural cleaning methods

Try using natural and benign methods of cleaning such as a water-dampened cloth for dusting, vinegar for removing mold or cleaning glass and baking soda as a scrubbing compound prior to using low VOC cleaners.


3. Use non-toxic or least-toxic cleaners

Low-VOC cleaning products should be water-based and have minimal chemical emissions. Least-toxic cleaners should be low-odor and biodegradable, containing no petroleum solvents, formaldehyde, chlorine, dyes, fragrances, or other chemicals that are detrimental to human health and the environment.

4. Obtain Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

The MSDS lists all hazardous ingredients and should indicate toxicity as well. However, the MSDS may not list all the pertinent ingredients of the cleaner. Contact the manufacturer for more information.

5. Follow manufacturer's instructions

Use the minimal amount of cleaner needed to thoroughly clean an area and get the job done. The use of more cleaner than recommended is not necessarily better and will most likely leave a chemical residue. Use cleaning products correctly by following manufacturer's instructions and recommendations.


6. Avoid chemical residues

Thoroughly clean and remove chemical residues with water. Avoid using too much water or to leave standing water which can be a breeding ground for biological contaminants.

7. Thoroughly remove particulates

Frequently use cleaning methods that remove particulates and dust. Avoid cleaning methods that spread particulates or simply moves dust to another location. Vacuum with equipment that can be outfitted with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arrestance) filter which can filter out fine particulates.


8. Schedule routine maintenance

Have a maintenance schedule where cleaning occurs often enough to ensure occupant health and healthy indoor air quality. Bathrooms, kitchens, break rooms and high traffic areas will require more frequent cleaning.


9. Provide adequate ventilation for cleaning procedures.

Perform cleaning and maintenance in well ventilated areas, not only for the health. of the person doing the work, but to exhaust any possible cleaning fumes from the building.


10. Maintain building mechanical systems

Provide routine maintenance for your heating, ventilating and air conditioning system. Change air filters regularly and remove any standing water which can provide an unwanted habitat for mold, mildew or other biological irritants.


11. Avoid "air fresheners"

Deodorizers and air fresheners contain fragrances and chemicals that add to indoor air pollution. They are usually high in volatile organic compounds and simply mask the real problem. Do not use deodorizers. Instead, identify and address the actual problem.

12. Recycle packaging.

Recycle cleaning product containers and purchase products with recycled content in the packaging. Some products are available in concentrated form so that mixing containers and spray bottles can be reused.