Skip to main content

Understanding the Dangers of Commercial Cleaning

As the owner or manager of a cleaning business, it is important to remember that the work and office spaces your employees clean – whether they are open to the public or not – is where employees likely spend a lot of time, sometimes their entire day.  Companies like yours can impact the environment and people’s health, and hence play a major role in sustainability. The wide variety of cleaning products used to make that spotless magic happen, can be hazardous to your workers’ and customers’ health and detrimental to your business if someone’s health is impacted.

According to, there were more than 3.25 million people working in the cleaning services industry in 2017, with janitors and cleaners making up the largest percentage of this workforce.  These numbers continue to grow as does the industry focus on going green. Customers are demanding products that are safer for both employee health and the environment, and forward-thinking cleaning companies are evolving their approaches and the products they use to meet customer expectations and demands. If you are a commercial cleaner that wants to capture more customers, take a stand on sustainability, and do the right thing for your workers and customers, then understanding the products you provide and best options available will make a huge difference.

Cleaning Products Evolve

Today’s cleaning products can contain all types of chemicals that can cause bodily and environmental harm. The main culprit in harmful cleaning agents comes from VOCs or volatile organic compounds, which are compounds that easily can turn into vapors or gasses. Exposure to VOCs is unavoidable when cleaning supplies contain them, and can occur by inhalation or touching a surface that has been recently wiped down. This exposure doesn’t just affect the team doing the cleaning, but also the employees who work in the space.

There are many reasons to avoid products that contain these dangerous chemicals, but one of the greatest are the health concerns of the employees who clean. In the short-term, exposure to VOCs can cause eye and respiratory issues, headaches and dizziness, and even memory problems. In the long-term, symptoms may intensify and cause nausea, damage to key functions in the liver, kidneys and nervous system, as well as cancer. In fact, according to the EPA, data from Washington State has shown that approximately six percent of janitors experience a job-related injury each year that stems from chemical exposure.

In addition to health concerns, there are also environmental issues to consider. According to the EPA, cleaning products are released into the environment during normal use during evaporation and rinsing down the drain. These chemicals can affect the indoor air quality of an office space, as well as mix with outdoor air to add to the increase in smog. The also can seep into water sources, decreasing water quality and potentially affecting wildlife that live in bodies of water where chemicals make their way. These chemicals can increase the level of pollution in these bodies of water, decrease oxygen levels, as well as affect animals bodily functions, for example, reproduction.

Safer Cleaning Products

It’s not all doom and gloom though. That’s because there are a number of eco-friendly cleaning solutions that are on the market today. These products use less harsh chemicals and more natural sources, like sodium lauryl sulfate, a plant-based solvent that is used in the popular cleaning brand Green Works. Another option are AFM Safechoice cleaning products, which are non-toxic, odor free, dye free, and biodegradable. The key to finding the cleanest product is to read the labels. Look for products that clearly state they do not contain VOCs and watch out for any products that contain chlorine bleach, lye or ammonia.

Commercial cleaners that begin taking steps toward more sustainable business practices can run their businesses knowing they are supporting their employees’ and customers’ health, and the environment, by making more green product choices. If your business cannot switch out all of the products that are being used, start small and make a commitment to switch out one product each month or replace products with greener options as they begin to run out. Companies that make these changes and market them effectively will be able to attract more customers and beat out the competition.

Green cleaning products are often super concentrated and more economical, making a commercial cleaners’ budgets go even further. While some green products may require an initial investment, they can last a long time, possibly saving money in the long-run. Just be sure to watch out for products that make a green claim, but aren’t following it up with their ingredient list. Looking for green labeling on the front of the product isn’t enough – your company will really need to take a close look at each ingredient to determine if the product is a fit for a sustainable cleaning focus.

If your company is ready to take a step in the green cleaning direction, consider joining Green Business Bureau. You’ll gain access to a wealth of knowledge and programs you can use to take your company to the next green level. Safer cleaning products is just one initiative you can take.  Check out our EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner online tools to become more green. With a little work, you can earn GBB Green Business seal and demonstrate your commitment to sustainability and show your customers that a safe environment is your highest priority. Learn more on the GBB website.

Amanda Johnson

Author Amanda Johnson

More posts by Amanda Johnson

Leave a Reply