Green vs. Traditional Cleaning: The Similarities and Differences Explained

A clean building speaks volumes to all who enter. We’ve known for decades that clean environments increase employee morale, productivity, and reduce the number of sick days taken. 

Now, with the manufacturers of cleaning products committing to making these solutions as green as possible, we are able to protect our employees’ health even more.

Green Cleaning” has been a popular buzzword for a few years now. As concerns for the planet rise and more evidence emerges that proves the harmful effects of chemicals on people and the earth, there is a push for more eco-friendly cleaning alternatives. 

Let’s dive into what green cleaning is, how to confirm that the products you or your cleaning company use are green, and even how to create your own eco-friendly cleaning products.


What Is Green Cleaning?

The term “green cleaning” is used very loosely in the cleaning industry. At its core, it’s a marketing slogan. Despite a few organizations providing third-party evaluations, there are no technical regulations around what is considered “green cleaning.” Our definition of “green cleaning” in this post is “using chemicals and products that are not harmful to humans or the environment.”

Using green products protects both the environment and our health because green products don’t include VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are human-made chemicals emitted from gases and liquids. They are harmful ingredients in many household products like cleaning supplies, paint, or pesticides.

Green cleaning products use organic ingredients like lemon, baking soda, or vinegar, whereas traditional cleaning methods use harmful chemicals like phosphates, artificial colors, fragrances, chlorine, ammonia, and bleach.

green vs traditional cleaningGreen cleaning methods are not harmful to the environment. Environmentally-friendly cleaning products minimize or eliminate detrimental short-term or long-term effects on the environment.

Eco-friendly cleaning means using biodegradable or reusable products like washable cloths for cleaning as well as recycled materials for paper products.

Cleaning companies choose what products they use. Most of them will standardize which solutions they will use across the board. Management will dictate and provide the client safety data sheets (SDS) for all chemicals brought into a building. You can do a quick check on the toxicity of the chemicals a company uses by looking at the SDS sheets provided to you. The lower the number on the NFP Triangle, the better. 


How To Evaluate Green Cleaning Products

Knowing what products are green and which ones aren’t can be difficult because of greenwashing.

Greenwashing is essentially a marketing tactic that uses vague terms or ingredients to support their “green” effort when, in reality, they are not truthful. Many seemingly eco-friendly cleaning companies and products mislead their consumers and prospects with greenwashing.

If a product or company is truly eco-friendly, it should be part of the Green Business Program. This program is the industry standard used to verify a company’s eco-friendliness.

The Green Business Program has strict standards for a company to gain certification. To get this credit, a company must use cleaning products that have either a third-party certification (commonly found on institutional cleaning products) or a rating of 8.1 on GoodGuide (useful for consumer products).

A certified Green Business implements environmentally-friendly practices such as low-flow toilets, energy-efficient lighting, recycled paper products, and eco-friendly cleaning products.

The third-party certifications include:

  • Green Seal: used since 1989. This certification evaluates the entire life cycle of the product and meets independent, international standards.
  • Ecologo: issued by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that has over 100 years of experience developing safety standards.
  • Safer Choice: the EPA’s certification that guarantees the products “contain only the safest possible ingredients.”

When researching to see if a cleaning product is green, make sure you search using a reputable source to check out their certifications. Two of the most reputable sources to find this information are GoodGuide and Environmental Working Group (EWG). 

green cleaning

Do-It-Yourself Green Cleaning Solutions

To save on costs or ensure the products you clean with are indeed green, you can utilize DIY cleaning solutions.

As mentioned previously, many household products also function as eco-friendly cleaning products to fight against grease, grime, and dirt. Some of the most popular items to use are:

  • Baking soda. Commonly used to wash off produce safely, baking soda also works as an effective multi-surface cleaner. To use, sprinkle baking soda on the designated cleaning area and scrub with a cloth to remove dirt or grease. It also has odor-absorbing properties, making it ideal for placing in your refrigerator or sprinkling in dirty laundry to soak up stinky smells.
  • Washing soda. Washing soda is sodium carbonate and is used as a multi-purpose natural cleaner. It’s best used to fight grease. Washing soda can be found in the laundry section in most grocery stores.
  • Vinegar and water. As one of the stronger eco-friendly cleaners, a mixture of vinegar and water is used for an assortment of cleaning tasks but is best used as a stainless steel cleaner. Vinegar also has antibacterial properties to help fight germs in addition to cleaning.
  • Wool dryer balls. Using wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets is an eco-friendly way to get the same anti-static result. Wool dryer balls can be made from leftover pieces of wool sweaters, blankets, or socks. Wool absorbs moisture and helps fight wrinkles. You can also buy wool balls instead of making them yourself. 
  • Lemon. Lemons are acidic, which means they can kill bacteria and break through mineral deposits. Lemon juice can be mixed with salt, baking powder, or vinegar to clean extra-dirty places around your home like sinks, ovens, and pans.


The Future of Safe Cleaning

Cleaning companies are already choosing less toxic solutions to clean their buildings. As a result, cleaning solution manufacturers are also taking a lot of unnecessary ingredients out of their solutions. It is a delicate balance regarding which chemicals to use and which ones to not use. 

As we move toward safer cleaning products, there will be even more transparency into the ingredients used. Your cleaning company should have a set of SDS sheets in your building right now. These sheets contain everything you need to know about the chemicals being used to clean your building. If you have questions, ask them about it. They will be happy to talk with you about the choices they have made when cleaning your building.