The Green Janitorial Closet Makeover

Green Cleaning starts in the janitorial closet and for this reason, many facilities must begin their Green Cleaning journey with a janitorial closet makeover.

First, we remove all cleaning solutions, tools, products, and equipment from the closet. With them out in the open, our next steps are as follows:

  • Remove and properly dispose of any cleaning solutions that have not been used for a year or longer. Most cleaning chemicals do have a shelf life and while it can vary, after one year the chemical ingredients may start to decompose, which means the product will begin to lose its effectiveness.
  • Determine what to do with the old, conventional cleaning products. In some cases, a distributor or manufacturer will offer a “take back” program if the chemicals are exchanged for Green equivalents. If not, and if the quantity of cleaning solutions is large, the most cost effective thing to do may be to use the products and then switch to Green cleaning solutions once that is completed.

With everything removed, we want to thoroughly clean the closet, and examine the interior walls and ceiling. Check that vents are working properly and clean as necessary; check that drains are clear. Make sure that lighting is installed—that it is adequate and, preferably, that it turns on as soon as the door is opened. Now is a perfect time to paint the closet—a light colored paint is advised because it lifts the user’s spirits, is easier to keep clean, and makes finding product quicker?

Additionally, the shelving should be inspected. Shelving for a Green janitorial closet should be affixed to the wall, which helps the shelves securely hold the chemicals and products. Having sturdy, grill- or rack-type shelving is preferable because it helps improve air circulation and ventilation, plus it allows spills to fall to the floor, making clean-up easier.

Organize, Prioritize, Code

Organization of the closet as it is being re-stocked is very important and different aspects require attention. First, we want to store no more chemicals in the closet than can be used in about a week’s time. Gallon and larger containers should be stored separately from the daily-use janitorial closet. This improves safety and helps prevent fumes from being released in the closet.

Next, items should be organized based on how they are used. For instance, all restroom products would be on one shelf, separated from floor care products. Related to this, it is often recommended that some sort of color-coding system be developed as part of the product organization. For many cleaning workers in the U.S. English is a second language and in many cases they may not speak or understand English at all. For safety reasons, to speed up the cleaning process, and to ensure that the right chemical is selected for each cleaning task, some facilities will place a red-colored label on the shelf and on all products used for cleaning restrooms, as an example. A blue label can apply to all products used to clean food service areas, etc.

Additionally, it is often helpful to prioritize certain cleaning solutions. We can have one shelf area where only products used on a frequent or daily basis are stored. This helps eliminate errors and speeds up the cleaning process – the cleaning worker does not have to search for cleaning products used frequently.


Off the Floor

Finally, when organizing the janitorial closet, it is important to keep all cleaning-related products off the floor as much as possible. This should also apply to equipment such as vacuum cleaners. It is very important to keep the floor of the closet as clean as possible and this is facilitated by keeping everything off the floor.

Now, with our Green janitorial closet makeover complete, what is most important is to keep it that way. What is often recommended is to have the janitorial closet included in regular facility inspections. In fact, it should be the first thing inspected because as we mentioned earlier, the appearance of the closet often sets the stage for how well the facility is being maintained. Clean and organized…expect the rest of the facility to follow suit.


Sidebar: LEED-EB (existing buildings) and Green Janitorial Closets

Until recently, facilities seeking LEED-EB certification could earn one credit for having and maintaining a Green janitorial closet. In order to get this credit, the closet had to be:

  • Structurally sealed (or isolated from the rest of the facility)
  • Include an independent ventilation system, separate from the facility’s ventilation
  • Be equipped with hot and cold water and plumbed for proper disposal of liquid waste
  • Be organized in such a way that it minimizes the cleaning staff’s exposure to cleaning chemicals
  • Have adequate lighting
  • Have readily accessible Safety Data Sheets, formerly known as MSDS
  • Be properly maintained, cleaned, and organized on an ongoing basis


Is Asthma on the Decline? And If So, Why?

I did a quick search on asthma on a “research” engine—a Website that searches for articles, news stories, reference works, scientific data, etc. Interestingly, the bulk of the research engine’s results dated back to the early and mid-2000s. By about 2009, apparently, the number of articles that address asthma and more specifically, the health risks and problems associated with asthma, begin to trail off.

I think this is actually quite revealing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a significant increase in the number of Americans, especially children, diagnosed with asthma from 2001 to 2009. And if we look further, the number of people diagnosed with asthma or suffering from asthma attacks has increased dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s.

Although it is too early to call it a trend, more recent articles on asthma seem to indicate this very serious respiratory problem may actually be on the decline in certain parts of North America and around the world. Assuming this could be true, it is fair to ask why. Some of the conclusions I have reached are the following:

  • We are more aware of what causes asthma and what can trigger an asthma attack
  • New medications and therapies have been introduced in the past decade that help treat asthma and minimize the severity of the disease
  • Employers and employees have become much more aware of issues, such as asthma, that can impact workplace safety
  • Many more products that previously released high amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – from paints and upholstery to cleaning chemicals and carpets – have been reengineered so that the number of VOCs released into the indoor environment have been reduced significantly
  • The growth of Green Cleaning.

I am sure there may be other reasons that asthma could be on the decline in many parts of the world; however, the growth of Green Cleaning in schools, offices, healthcare facilities, and many other facilities is undeniably one of the key reasons. This is most noticeable because of the complete turnabout we witnessed in the 2000s when it comes to Green Cleaning.

The decade began with few facilities implementing a Green Cleaning strategy. After a couple of years—as environmentally preferable cleaning products improved, became more cost effective, and we all began to realize that some of the ingredients used to make traditional cleaning products could result in asthma attacks and other health problems—more end-customers started to embrace Green Cleaning products.

By about 2009, we can proudly say that not only do most facilities now select Green Cleaning products, but invariably it is their first choice when selecting a cleaning product. In fact, most facilities will only select a traditional cleaning product if an alternative is not available or there are cost and performance issues, which are becoming less of a concern today.

If this is true and asthma might be on the decline in North America and in some parts of the world, we must then continue in this healthier direction. Facility managers should continue to select Green Cleaning products as well as institute policies, procedures, and practices that protect building users from the agents and allergens that trigger asthma.

Cleaning workers specifically must take steps to protect their own health when it comes to using cleaning chemicals—Green or traditional—by using these products as instructed and properly diluted, stored, and handled. This is one reason ISSA, the Healthy Schools Campaign, and The Ashkin Group have joined together to make custodial training our commitment and focus for this year’s Green Apple Day of Service.

And we must all pat ourselves on the back. Because so many manufacturers, managers, distributors, and cleaning workers, as well as many others, have worked to minimize or eliminate asthma-causing agents in buildings, we have managed to help millions of people stay healthy.

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Father of Green Cleaning Inducted into The International Green Industry Hall of Fame

Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group and frequently referred to as “the father of Green Cleaning,” was inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF) at a recent ceremony held at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

This is the fifth year the IGIHOF has held this annual event. The organization asks the general public to nominate individuals and organizations that have embraced Green technologies, have reduced waste, have promoted sustainability, or are actively working to promote Green and sustainability issues, either in their own operations or for people and organizations around the world.

The IGIHOF considers these nominees and inductees to be “creators of excellence and visionaries” who have made significant contributions to ensure a healthier and more sustainable planet. Past nominees have included Google, Seventh Generation, Toyota Motor Corporation, and the San Francisco Giants.

A review board examines the credentials of the nominees from which it selects the inductees. Along with Ashkin, this year’s inductees include the following:

  • David Gottfried, founder of the U.S. Green Building Council
  • Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute
  • Honda Motor Company
  • Meryl Streep, actress

“The lineup of people and organizations inducted this year is as diverse as it is impressive,” says Ashkin. “It’s an honor to be among them and an even greater honor to be inducted into this fine organization.”

Sam Geil, Executive Director of the IGIHOF, shared the following thoughts and feelings about why Ashkin was nominated and inducted: “It’s no wonder Steve is considered ‘the father of Green Cleaning.’ He inspired me and many others to get on the Green bandwagon more than a decade ago. His contribution to Green and sustainable issues has encouraged thousands of people and scores of industries to Go Green.”


About the International Green Industry Hall of Fame Founded in 2010, the International Green Industry Hall of Fame is an international organization that recognizes individuals and organizations committed to creating a better environment through Green practices. Each year IGIHOF recognizes industries that have contributed to reducing the environmental effects of industrial production, have embraced Green technology, or have developed products aimed at boosting energy efficiency, trimming waste, and reducing or eliminating the production of harmful substances. Visit for more information.

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