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Greener School Cleaning Supplies

Research Links Air Quality to Cleaning Supplies

November 3, 2009

Greener School Cleaning Supplies: Help your School

Tips for Parents: Talking to schools about green cleaning

You can protect your child's health by urging your school to use green cleaning products and practices. EWG provides a customizable letter you can use to start the conversation, and a fact sheet to help educate school administrators about the benefits of green cleaning.

Basic steps for talking to schools:

  1. Ask your school what cleaning supplies they use, how often they use them, and why
    • You have the right to know what products are used to clean your child's school.
  2. Ask your school if they use certified green cleaning products
    • Does your school know what certified green cleaning products are and how to find them? Look for the Green Seal or EcoLogo logo on the label and find hundreds of safer, certified products on their websites.
    • Does your school know that products certified by Green Seal or EcoLogo meet strict health and environmental standards, and are safer than conventional cleaning products?
    • Does your school know that using certified green products can reduce air pollution at school facilities?
    • Does your school know that cleaning with certified green products is effective, and costs about the same as cleaning with conventional products?
    • Does your school know that eight states have passed laws requiring or encouraging use of green cleaning supplies in schools, and that many other schools have made the switch voluntarily without increasing costs?
  3. Ask your school if they use green cleaning practices
    • When we clean with care, we expose children to fewer chemicals. Here are a few examples of green cleaning practices useful for all schools:
    • Prevent dirt – mats at doorways can prevent dirt from being tracked into schools, reducing the need for cleaning.
    • Dilute properly – careful, measured dilution of concentrated school cleaners prevents over-use of chemicals and saves scarce resources. Automatic dilution equipment -- often provided free by product vendors -- is easy to use and safer for custodians.
    • Disinfect carefully – select and use disinfectants and sanitizers carefully to minimize children's exposures to toxic ingredients while achieving the desired level of germ control. These products can play an important role in reducing the risk of flu and other infectious diseases, but overuse does not provide any additional protection.
  4. Ask your school to test out green cleaners and adopt a green cleaning policy
    • A pilot test of certified green cleaning supplies will provide your school with the practical information needed to go green. If you have time, ask them if you can participate in the design of the pilot test and the development of the cleaning policy.
  5. Talk to other parents and see if they want to work with you
    • Working together, parents can convince schools to make healthy choices for all children. Join or create a health and wellness or green team at your child's school with cleaners as its first project.
  6. Conduct your own reality check when visiting your child's school
    • Check the custodian's cart to see if the cleaning supplies there are the same as those the school administration says they are using. Share information with janitors about green cleaning.
    • Talk to the teachers to see if they bring in cleaning supplies from home to keep classrooms clean. Share information with them about green cleaning.
    • Does the school pass the smell test?
      "Clean" doesn’t have an odor – so smells of ammonia, bleach, fragrances, and other cleaning chemicals do not indicate a safe, hygienic environment, and may actually be harmful. Make sure your school does not use air fresheners as a cover-up.
    • Make sure kids aren't using cleaners not intended for use by children. Most school cleaning activities should be left to custodians who have received training on how to use school cleaning supplies safely and effectively.
  7. Share your successes
    • Once you've brought green cleaning to your child's school, pass it on to your public school district or private school network.
  8. Spread the word
    • Tell your school and your friends about EWG’s startling findings on cleaning products used in schools.

EWG Sample Letter to Schools regarding Green Cleaning Supplies

Parents: Please customize this letter to raise your specific concerns about cleaners with local schools.

Dear ---,

As a concerned parent with a child attending --- School, I am writing to learn more about the cleaning supplies used to maintain school facilities. Because cleaning supplies can contain toxic chemicals that can be hazardous to children's health, and can pollute the air with harmful contaminants, I would like to become involved in efforts to assure use of the safest possible products and cleaning methods in my child's school.

As you may know, asthma is a serious issue nationwide. At present, nearly 1 in 10 children in the U.S. suffer from this terrible health condition. Asthma is the leading cause of hospitalization for children under 15, and the primary cause of missed school days due to chronic illness. As you know, it is difficult for students to learn if they are not in school. As more research accumulates, there is growing concern that chemicals in cleaners can contribute to asthma. Cleaning ingredients have also been linked to cancer and other serious health and there are ecological concerns as well.

Fortunately, growing awareness of the health and environmental impacts of cleaning products has led to the development of many effective, cost-competitive, third-party certified green cleaning products. These green cleaners meet strict criteria concerning ingredient safety, resulting in safer products with reduced toxicity to children, teachers, custodians, and school staff. School districts all over the country have made the switch to green cleaners, for the benefit of both students and staff. Many districts have even saved money in the process. Eight states have now passed laws requiring or encouraging use of green cleaners in schools.

Recent research compares the air pollution released by cleaning a model classroom with conventional versus green cleaners. The results are clear -- total levels of air pollution are six times higher in the classroom cleaned with conventional products. Green cleaning products create markedly safe and cleaner indoor air in the classroom -- while achieving the same level of cleanliness. (Learn more at

I would like to learn what cleaners are used in our school, how often they are used, and for what purpose. If these products include certified green cleaners, then I commend you for safeguarding the health of the children under your care. If not, then I urge you to make the switch to certified green cleaners. Use of safer green cleaning products and practices results in cleaning performance equal to or better than that of conventional products and practices, and should not increase overall spending on school maintenance.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to working with you to to ensure that our schools are clean, safe, and healthy for students and staff alike.