general green

General Cleaning Best Practices


  • Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for using cleaning equipment.
  • Use power cleaning equipment ergonomically designed to minimize vibration, noise, and user fatigue (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7).
  • Use high-performance cleaning equipment with low environmental impact. High-performance equipment is an important component of green cleaning because these tools such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration vacuum cleaners, microfiber mops and cloths, multilevel walk-off mats, and two-chamber mop buckets are designed to trap and remove dirt and soil more effectively than traditional products, thus reducing the amount of additional chemicals required for cleaning.  (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
  • Purchase cleaning equipment based on durability, energy efficiency, effectiveness, and quietness, not cost.
  • Establish an equipment maintenance program to ensure equipment operates at peak performance. The program should have an equipment inventory system to track equipment, condition, and maintenance, as well as other pertinent information. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)  For help in setting up an inventory system, visit the Customizable Templates and Documents section.
  • Equipment powered by batteries should be fitted with environmentally friendly gel batteries. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
  • Start a program that evaluates and investigates new cleaning technologies.
Vacuum Equipment
  • Vacuums should have high airflow or suction along with HEPA filtration capable of capturing 96% of particulates 0.3 microns in size. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
  • Vacuums should operate at less than 70dBA.  (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
  • Vacuum beater bars are inadvisable because most institutional carpets have a short pile and the beating action may cause particles to become airborne.
  • Vacuums should have the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Green Label or Seal of Approval/Green Label certification.  (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)  The CRI Green Label Testing Program introduced in 2000 will officially be phased out in 2010 at which time a new joint program the CRI Seal of Approval/Green Label Testing Program will be the standard/testing protocol.  For more information on CRI, visit their website at
  • For help choosing the right vacuum for your facility, consult the list of OGS-approved vacuum cleaners on the OGS Green Cleaning Product List.

Maintain vacuum cleaners and filters regularly.

Vacuums are a very effective tool in the cleaning of schools.  However, it is essential that both the vacuum and the filters are maintained on a regular basis.  A vacuum will not clean if the filter is clogged or the bag is full.  Follow the manufacturer recommendations carefully.  Only use the approved filter and bag for the vacuum and make sure that they are properly installed in the equipment.  If the filter and bag are not seated properly, particulates will bypass the filter and bag and contribute to poor air quality in the school.

 Flooring Equipment
  • Electrical and propane power equipment should operate at less than 70 dBA and 90 dBA, respectively. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
  • Floor cleaning and finishing machines should be equipped with vacuums, guards, and other devices to capture fine particulate before becoming airborne. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
  • Use brushes rather than pads for scrubbing and stripping floors. If pads are used, follow the manufacturers' recommended grade floor polishing pads and floor stripping pads to reduce the release of particles.
  • Use extraction equipment that removes enough moisture to allow carpets to dry in less than 24 hours.  This is vital in preventing the growth of mold in carpets.  (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
  • Auto-scrubbing machines should be equipped with variable-speed feed pumps to optimize the use of cleaning fluids. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
    Propane equipment should utilize high-efficiency, low-emission engines and be operated during periods of low building occupancy. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.7)
    Purchase mechanical equipment designed for multiple tasks.
Microfiber Cleaning Products
  • Use microfiber cloths and mops, which are statically charged. The static electricity attracts dirt, pet hairs, dust, and micro particles, and reduces chemical and water use.  They also clean more effectively and are less work-intensive than conventional mops, virtually eliminating cross-contamination during janitorial tasks. 
  • With proper use, microfiber cloths and mops can be laundered and reused more than 100 times.
  • Use color-coded microfiber cloths for different tasks to reduce cross-contamination.
  • Dust or damp mop with microfiber mops instead of sweeping.
Matting Systems
  • Establish outdoor and indoor walk-off mats at all facility entrances. The indoor mat(s) should be 12 to 15 feet in length to reduce dirt brought into the building. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.8)  The matting should be a combination of grit mats, which trap gritty and sandy dirt particles, and barrier mats, which trap moisture.  The Carpet and Rug Institute states that nearly 80% of the soil brought into a building can be trapped within the first 12 to 15 feet after stepping onto a carpeted surface.
  • Rotate out mats once every other week, or twice a week, depending on weather conditions when entrances are subjected to high moisture and heavy traffic. 
  • Mats not rotated out should be vacuumed daily.
  • Establish a routine cleaning and maintenance program for entrances and other carpeted areas. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.8)
Other Cleaning Equipment/Aids
  • Utilize advanced technology mop pails such as two chamber cleaning buckets.
  • Change microfiber mop heads and sponges daily.
  • Provide glide pads on chair and desk legs to protect flooring and make moving furniture easy while cleaning.
  • Investigate professional hard surface floor restoration services.  It is certainly within a school?s authority to investigate such a process and if they feel the costs and benefits are justified then they should certainly pursue such an option.  It is recommended that they interview a number of prospective vendors who perform this process.  It is also not clear to us, at the conclusion of such a process, whether or not it still makes sense to protect the floors from constant wear and tear with some type of finish.  If so, then schools would still be required to use a floor finish from the OGS list of approved products.  In addition, it should be remembered that this process removes a portion of the floor and, besides the cost, it is important to consider the condition and thickness of the floor.
  • Consider using "No Touch" cleaning systems for deep cleaning of restroom and other heavily soiled areas.
  • Properly label spray bottles used for cleaners.
  • Set spray bottle nozzles to stream a course spray of liquid, rather that a fine mist; this reduces inhalation of the cleaning solution. 


  • Use cleaning products approved for use by OGS and listed on the OGS Green Cleaning Product List.
  • Purchase universal mounting dispersing/proportioning systems.  This type of system allows for the testing of various green cleaning products without the expense of purchasing proprietary systems for each one.  OGS recommends that facilities purchase only cleaning products with generic tops because universal dispensing/proportioning system only accepts such containers.
  • Consider using cold water cleaning solutions. The products listed on the OGS Green Cleaning Product List and certified under Green Seal, Inc. are designed to work with cold water.  Benefits to using cold water instead of hot water cleaning solutions are:
    • Hot water melts oils and greases, and spreads soils not dissolvable in water.  This could result in soil or chemical residue if not properly rinsed.
    • Hot water requires the use of a heat source, which wastes energy resources.
    • Hot water can cause severe burns.
  • Undertake a pilot program to test the effectiveness of approved green cleaning products under various conditions, including cold/hot water cleaning.  This will help determine the pros and cons of the products before committing to one.
  • Minimize the amount of product used by following the manufacturer's recommended dilutions.  This can eliminate product waste and reduce residual cleaner on surfaces.  Oftentimes, user dissatisfaction of cleaning products is a direct result of improper dilution.
  • Use products that leave no residue and do not require a rinsing step when properly diluted.
  • Minimize, to the extent possible, chemical products that leave a scent.  Some chemicals used in fragrance formulations can be irritating to the eyes and airways.  Some people with hyper-responsive airways or skin allergies experience asthma symptoms in response to inhalation or eye exposure to fragrances and related chemicals or to the perception of odor.  Therefore, to the extent feasible, reduce the use of cleaning products that leave a scent in the room.  One way to accomplish this is to avoid using products that have a fragrance added to create a scent. 
  • The OGS Green Cleaning Product List identifies which products contain and do not contain fragrances.  If odors persist after cleaning, make adjustments to the cleaning frequency and methodology. An assessment may determine a physical problem with the area experiencing the odor, such as blocked trap drains or dry drain traps.
  • Purchase quality floor finishes. A quality floor finish must handle wear and tear, require minimal burnishing, not powder easily and last without stripping for at least 3 years.  Floors in some schools have reached 5-10 or more years without needing to be stripped. A quality floor finish results in the easier removal of soil by dust mopping, followed by use of a quality cleaner on a daily basis to remove any remaining soil without leaving left behind soil or chemical residue. This minimizes the proliferation of dust, dirt, germs, molds, and other particulate matter that gets caught in poor quality flooring.  Eventually, this type of residue often circulates throughout a school heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, causing potential asthmatic and other health concerns for children.  Mopping detergents must be cold water formulated, free-rinsing, and leave virtually no soil or chemical residual after use.  The use of a quality floor finish used properly in unison with a quality detergent, produces a clean surface generally free of potentially airborne soils and germs.
  • Create a chemical inventory system to track the types and quantities of chemicals in the building.  This inventory should record storage locations, purchase dates, costs, material safety data sheets (MSDS), product expiration dates, and usage of each chemical.  An inventory system reduces chemical waste by rotating chemicals based on expiration, and aids in managing inventory.  A chemical inventory system is also helpful in documenting the purchase of sustainable cleaning products under the LEED-EB IEQ.  For help in setting up an inventory system, visit the Customizable Templates and Documents section.  
  • Use the correct cleaning product for the job.  Different types of soils require different cleaners for removal. For example, acid soil conditions oil from skin and greasy floors require alkaline cleaners, and alkaline soil conditions lime deposits and urinals require acid cleaners.
  • Purchase concentrated cleaning products.  Dilute the concentrate using an automated dilution system to the recommended manufacturers' concentrations for cleaning (LEED-EB IEQ 3.1).  Purchasing and diluting concentrated cleaners saves transportation costs and makes the product more cost competitive with traditional cleaners.
  • Provide faculty and/or administrative staff with voluntary access to labeled spray bottles that contain the school's general green cleaning products.  This will help prevent potential problems that can develop when cleaning products are brought from home and/or used in combination with other school cleaning products. Bringing cleaning products from home without authorization is against federal and state right-to-know laws.  The mixing of unauthorized products and chemicals can lead to unsafe and unhealthy environments. The school should offer prerequisite training to faculty and/or administrative staff on the proper use and handling of green cleaning products before allowing their use.

Green Cleaning Program, Plans, Procedures, and Policies

Green Cleaning Program (LEED-EB IEQ 3.1)
  • Consider using the American Society for Testing and Materials' (ASTM) Standard Guide on Stewardship for Cleaning Commercial and Institutional Buildings for direction when starting a green cleaning program.  The ASTM guidelines can be found in the Additional Resources section of this website.
  • Develop a Green Cleaning Program that involves all stakeholder groups by building a team; performing a baseline facility assessment; producing a written program based on goals and objectives; implementing the program; and evaluating its effectiveness over time.  For additional information, see the 5 Steps to a Green Cleaning Program featured in this website.
  • Cultivate a philosophy of practice that uses less-toxic products and invests in high-performance cleaning equipment.
  • Set a goal to create high-performance green cleaning processes and systems.
  • Provide a procedure for keeping critical staff current on new methods, products and equipment.
  • Establish methods to assess the impact of the Green Cleaning Program by using quantifiable results such as measuring changes in absenteeism or nurse office visits; and qualitative results like satisfaction surveys from staff.
  • Provide a means for building occupants to report feedback on the Green Cleaning Program to the Green Cleaning Team.
  • Create a stewardship plan that codifies the schools' green cleaning goals, policies, and stakeholder roles and responsibilities.  For additional information, see the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard Guide on Stewardship for Cleaning Commercial and Institutional Buildings.
  • Create a green cleaning plan that sets cleaning frequency based on traffic level and impact areas. The plan should balance the workload by creating a maintenance schedule that meets the goals of the Green Cleaning Program. Frequent, thorough, and routinely scheduled maintenance is the most efficient and effective method for facility maintenance.
  • Include in the cleaning plan the following:
    • Assessment of the custodial staffing requirements needed to maintain acceptable custodial service levels. Custodial service levels can be determined using the Association of Physical Plant Administrators' Custodial Staffing Guidelines for Educational Facilities, 2nd edition.
    • A summary of cleaning tasks with chemical products used for each.
    • Cleaning procedures that provide step-by-step guidelines for each task, including estimated times for completion, required products, safe handling of chemicals and equipment, and training requirements.
    • Cleaning schedules that identify the frequency (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly) of each task, as well as a timetable for inspection.
  • Create a communication plan that establishes:
    • Approaches for introducing the Green Cleaning Program that stress improvements to air quality, set appropriate expectations for the program, and explain the changes required to reach program goals.
    • Protocols for communicating non-routine cleaning activities, such as stripping and finishing floors, that may impact occupant activities.
    • Procedures for notifying stakeholders of progress.
    • Processes of communication with outside vendors regarding the Green Cleaning Program.
    • Ways for building occupants and custodial staff to communicate feedback.
Procedures and Policies
  • Institute a school or district-wide policy for disinfectant use.
  • Establish handling procedures for chemicals and equipment used in the green cleaning process.
  • Develop cleaning procedures for each task that reduce cross-contamination between areas.
  • Consult manufacturers for recommendations on product use.   All products should be used following instructions or precautions provided by the manufacturer.  Carefully follow the instructions for diluting the product before use.  Using more product than recommended can result in damage to surfaces being cleaned and/or will produce a residue.  Germicides must be left on the surface for the time specified on the product label for it to be effective.  Carefully follow mixing precautions.  Some products can produce hazardous gases if they are mixed with other products.
  • Consider the impact and Life Cycle Costs (LCC) of maintenance in choosing floor products. Districts are encouraged to review Section 4.1.2 on the use of flooring, including carpeting, in the New York State High Performance Schools Guidelines through this web link 
  • Some of the High Performance Schools suggestions are:
    • The LCC of flooring materials is particularly important in schools as the total cost of floor maintenance can be significantly more than the initial or replacement cost of the flooring materials.

    • Over the lifespan of a floor, maintenance costs can exceed the initial installation costs by a factor of 2.5 to 25 times the initial cost of installation. 

    • Where ?softer? surfaces are desired for sound deadening, such as in classrooms, it may be desirable to use area rugs (which can be easily washed or replaced) and acoustic ceiling panels.  However, area rugs can be a trip hazard, and slips and falls may be more of a concern when they are present.  This concern should be addressed when using area rugs in schools.

    • The use of walk off mats, as noted above will also help with limiting dirt, dust and grime carried into the school and onto floor coverings, thereby helping with maintenance of all types of flooring.

  • Stress green cleaning before using disinfectants or germicides; use these only if necessary.
  • Incorporate the use of cold water instead of hot water for cleaning tasks. The products listed on the OGS Green Cleaning Product List and certified under Green Seal, Inc. are designed to work with cold water.
  • Identify key high-risk areas and address them separately from general cleaning procedures. High-risk areas include places regulated by the state or that collect moisture, and bathroom knobs, drinking fountains, and other touch-points.
  • Establish a policy for non-custodial staff regarding the use of personal cleaning products.  Prohibit the use of products brought from home and provide teachers and staff with the school's general green cleaning products.
  • Establish a policy for eating in offices and classrooms to reduce the frequency of spills or other instances of contamination.
    Establish a policy for reporting spills.  Early notification of spills results in better cleaning outcomes and reduces the need for more extreme cleaning measures.
  • OGS recognizes that certain circumstances (e.g., blood spills) and locations (e.g., kitchens, cafeterias, swimming pool, nurses offices, locker rooms, school-based health centers, and in-school child daycare centers) may require special cleaning practices that are prescribed by existing laws, regulations, or professional guidance. The Green Cleaning Law does not supersede or change existing health, labor, education, and environmental regulations and professional guidance related to cleaning and maintenance practices, and disposal of hazardous chemicals. For information on additional laws and guidelines, see the Other Policies and Laws section of this website.


  • Establish training requirements for custodial staff on the proper use and handling of chemicals, operation and maintenance of high-performance cleaning equipment, and all cleaning procedures and policies, including proper restroom cleaning and elimination of cross-contamination.
  • OGS developed a series of on-line green cleaning training courses. The purpose of this curriculum is to encourage learning about green cleaning. Therefore, while pretests and posttests have been included, and a Certificate of Completion can be printed, the main focus is on learning. As such, supervisors are encouraged to consider the best method to offer this training to their employees. It can be provided so that staff take each course individually and work through the material by themselves, or a supervisor could meet with staff as a group and review the slides and take the pretests and posttests together. You are in the best position to determine how to utilize this information to most effectively meet your needs.
  • Integrate the proper use of disinfectants, sanitizers, or other special cleaning products into the training as required by health, education, labor, and environmental regulations.
  • Provide step-by-step instructions from suppliers, manufacturers, and/or third parties for the proper dilution, use, and disposal of cleaning products and equipment.  Make available product-labeling systems to assist non-English speaking or illiterate personnel.
    Incorporate other sources of information into the training such as supplier/manufacturer videos, Web-based training sessions, or written texts.
  • Track and document all custodial staff training to ensure:
    • Compliance with state and federal regulations;
    • Staff is knowledgeable of all Green Cleaning Program policies and procedures; and
    • Staff is applying procedures and protocols correctly.
  • Provide follow-up/refresher training at set frequencies (e.g., annually).
  • Offer faculty and administrative staff training on the proper use of the school's general green cleaning products. 

Preventative Measures

  • Remove dirt/debris from the sidewalks and parking lots outside all entranceways. If unable to remove dirt or debris, redirect pedestrian traffic by roping off affected areas.
  • Place outdoor and indoor walk-off mats at all building entrances. Indoor mat(s) should be 12 to 15 feet in length to reduce dirt brought into the building (LEED-EB IEQ 3.8). Use a combination of grit mats, which trap gritty and sandy dirt, and barrier mats, which trap moisture.
  • Assess vegetation around entrances and remove any that contribute to debris entering the building. Replace with low maintenance vegetation that does not have berries, flowers, or leaves. (LEED-EB IEQ 3.8)
  • Focus cleaning in high-traffic areas, usually within 30 to 50 feet around an entrance.
  • Investigate areas with high humidity and determine corrective actions to reduce levels; high humidity is a major factor for mold growth. Consider using dehumidifiers in humid areas of the school where other alternative actions cannot be taken.
  • Provide adequate ventilation in all work areas.
  • Voluntarily investigate the procurement and use of  green sanitary paper products.

The work team, composed of staff from the New York State Office of General Services, New York State Education Department, New York State Department of Labor, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Department of Health will investigate the issue of adding janitorial paper products (toilet paper and paper towels) to the Guidelines and list of approved cleaning products.  Currently, Executive Order 4 specifically requires that all copy paper, janitorial paper and other paper supplies purchased by each State agency or authority shall be composed of 100% post-consumer recycled content to the maximum extent practicable, and all copy and janitorial paper shall be process chlorine-free to the extent practicable unless such products do not meet required form, function or utility, or the cost of the product is not competitive. Paper towels and toilet tissue can be sourced from the following:

The following link is to the Industrial and Commercial Supplies contract, which offers many different types of paper towel (rolls and sheets) and toilet tissue products.

Some cost savings and waste reduction suggestions related to the procurement and use of sanitary paper products.              

  • Consider replacing single roll tissue dispenser with a dispenser that can hold multiple rolls.  This will reduce the number of small rolls that get thrown away because the tissue would run-out before they were to be changed the following day or cleaning shift.
  • Consider replacing multi-fold towel dispensers with large rolls dispensed from a touch-free dispenser to reduce not only paper consumption, but possible cross-contamination (the passing of potentially harmful organisms) from touching levers and cranks.
  • Consider utilizing paper products that eliminate cores and wrappers that must be discarded.
  • Consider utilizing paper that uses a case configuration to allow more to be shipped on a truck, thus reducing transportation impacts.  

These simple strategies have been found to, among other things; reduce sanitary paper product consumption between 10 and 15 percent, which can be a good strategy to help offset any potential increase in cost for recycled paper.