Fortunately for all of us, and for the health of the environment in which we live, there is greater awareness today than ever before of the impact human activity has upon the natural environment. Unfortunately, this awareness has not yet translated into a wide-spread, science-based set of standards and practices that we can all apply to our daily activities. So, all of us, consumers and business owners alike, have to sort through a confusing and sometimes contradictory amount of information that has been loosely grouped into a category known as “green”.
The "green" intent is to prevent wastes and pollutants from causing harm to the natural environment and human health. Human health is inextricably linked to the natural environment, but it is also dependent upon a clean local environment. Historically, for example, the world’s large cities were subjected to devastating diseases until the residents learned to clean them. So, human beings have to find a balance between the need to keep their local environment clean for the sake of their health, and the need to minimize their impact on the natural environment for their long-term survival on the planet. Cleaning practices and chemicals have received to some of the most intense “green” scrutiny, which unfortunately has led to an abundance of confusing and misleading information and products in today’s marketplace. In the absence of a definitive set of standards and practices, for example, product manufacturers have been free to develop a dizzying array of cleaning products labelled as “green”, but which may or may not harm the natural environment. Defining Green When the label "green" is applied, it usually means the product, process or organization labelled has undertaken measurable actions in one or more of the following areas: 1) Natural resources conservation 2) Pollution prevention 3) Waste minimization 4) Recycling Professional cleaners’ activities mostly fall within components 2 and 3 of this definition. “Green” cleaners should pay attention to the level of pollution their activities and products cause, and should be aware of minimizing their amount of waste. Pollution Prevention Pollution generally refers to unwanted matter that gets in the way of human activities, poses a risk, or causes an undesirable or adverse effect. It also refers to the by-products of human activities that cause adverse effects on the natural environment. Professional textile cleaners (such as carpet and upholstery cleaners) are in the business of removing and disposing of waste/pollution from the carpets and other textiles in your immediate environment. Effective textile cleaning can be described as cleaning that: 1) Maximizes the removal of pollutants, 2) Minimizes the amount of cleaning chemical and moisture residue, and 3) Properly disposes of cleaning wastes. Professional textile cleaners rely on certain basic equipment and products/chemicals to perform effective cleaning activities. These fit loosely into two categories: hot water extraction cleaning machines that handle fresh and dirty water, and an assortment of chemicals designed to break down soiling so that it can be flushed out of the textile with hot water. Green Technology Since the early 1970’s, professional textile cleaners have had access to the greenest textile cleaning technology yet developed: the hot water extraction textile cleaning machine. This technology uses a simple principle: heat fresh water to a very high temperature, put it under pressure, force it through at least one jet sprayer, then, once it has made contact with the dirty textile, instantly extract it again and capture it using a powerful vacuum. Used correctly, this simple technology, by itself and without the use of any chemicals whatsoever, would, under most conditions, result in not only a “green” (i.e. chemical-free) cleaning, but also a healthy human environment. Given that the textile was not inordinately soiled to begin with, the water was heated to a high enough temperature, the water was sufficiently pressurized and was properly extracted (along with the soiling in the textile), a homeowner receiving this basic cleaning could be quite certain that for the most part, the carpet had been properly cleaned. This technology is so effective that there has been little significant advancement since it was invented about forty years ago. From a green perspective, the only drawbacks are that it relies on the internal combustion engine to function (which means it creates atmospheric pollution as it operates), and that it utilizes a comparatively large amount of fresh water (most of which is cleaned and recycled as will be discussed later). Professional textile cleaners also have learned to use a wide variety of cleaning chemicals to assist with the cleaning process. These products generally have more effect on the appearance of the textile rather than its cleanliness (with the exception of chemicals designed to treat microorganism contamination such as urine, faeces, vomit). So, for example, there are chemicals that will help break down fats and oils in the textile. Fats and oils tend not to flush out of the textile with hot water alone, and can therefore leave unsightly marks unless treated. At Mancuso Cleaning Services, we ensure that the cleaning chemicals we use do not contain petroleum distillates, phenols, glycols, butyls or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These ingredients are known to cause harm to the natural environment. The professional textile cleaner minimizes the use of cleaning chemicals, scrutinizes the ingredients of the chemicals used, and maximizes the use of hot water extraction technology. It is reasonable to say that the less chemical you use, the less chemical pollution you will create. Therefore, the “green” textile cleaner relies more on the action of the wand over the face of the carpet (scrub-wand style of cleaning) combined with the features of the hot water extraction machine than he does on the chemicals he carries with him. And, in order to protect the indoor air quality of the human environment, any chemicals he uses are completely flushed out of the textile after they have done their job. Waste Minimization The professional textile cleaner minimizes waste by using as little cleaning chemicals as possible, as already outlined, and by properly handling the dirty water captured by the hot water extraction process. An effective and “green” textile cleaner has screens within his cleaning machine that filter out solid materials like hair and lint from the dirty water before it is disposed of into the sanitary sewer system. These solids are disposed into the landfill. This protects the sewer system from clogging. In addition, the professional textile cleaner only disposes of his dirty water into a sewage line (not into a storm sewer or onto the street, or into any part of the water supply system), so that the water will be cleaned and treated before it’s returned to the environment. In recent years, there has been a tendency within the textile cleaning industry to reduce the amount of fresh water used in the cleaning process, and increase the use of cleaning chemicals. This practice has been promoted by the manufacturers of these same cleaning chemicals. Current training practices also emphasize chemical use, mainly because chemical manufacturers offer most of the textile cleaning education in the industry. This unfortunate trend has resulted in many homeowners being subjected to unnecessary chemical residue in the textiles within their homes, which results in unnecessary chemical exposure. Some homeowners’ children or pets, for example, complain of rashes that emerge shortly after their carpets are cleaned. There have even been cases of carpet cleaners themselves developing lung problems traced to chemical overload they themselves have caused by the overuse of cleaning chemicals, especially those that are pressurized and broadcast sprayed onto carpets. Effective textile cleaning emphasizes the use of a sufficient volume of fresh water contacting the textile to remove soiling (and any chemicals used). The professional textile cleaner also extracts almost all of this water from the textile after it has done its job, leaving the carpet or piece of upholstered furniture damp, not soaking wet. This facilitates rapid drying of the textile, which is very important in sustaining a healthy local human environment. Thus, even though a larger volume of water is used in effective textile cleaning, almost all of it is captured and properly processed by the professional cleaner. In this way, the professional textile cleaner utilizing effective cleaning strategies, has also addressed points one and four of the definition of “green”. In summary, cleaning “green” means adhering to effective cleaning principles, carefully selecting the cleaning chemicals used, and minimizing their use. It means understanding the need from a health perspective to clean the local environment within which people live, but to balance that with the importance of sustaining the natural environment. Until science-based standards can be set, cleaning “green” is not an easy task, but the professional cleaner is committed to continuing to strive for it.