Housekeeping Best Practices
Hotels and motels around the world are cutting costs and conserving natural resources
by reducing, reusing and recycling the many different products used by their housekeeping
staffs. They are also eliminating toxic cleaning chemicals from their housekeeping
operations and finding that nontoxic alternatives often get the job done cheaper,
safer and just as effectively. Most importantly, they are finding that their guests
respond positively to these environmentally friendly initiatives.
This factsheet is designed to highlight environmentally friendly practices that make good business sense for Montana's hospitality industry.
Hotel and motel employees can be very motivated by environmental issues and will see
management as dynamic and forward-looking when you actively seek to improve your facility's
environmental performance. They will also appreciate your efforts to minimize their
exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
Lodging businesses are very labor intensive, and an important part of your operation is the people providing services to your guests. The efforts of your housekeeping staff will be critical to the success of any new environmentally friendly practices you initiate. The people who are actually doing the work are likely to have some of the best ideas about where the potential savings are and how to design a successful program.
- Create a "green team" of employees to coordinate implementation of new practices, and to help in analyzing what you are purchasing, how you can use products more efficiently, what you are throwing away, and what steps you can take to save money and reduce waste.
- Create an incentive program with rewards for employees who come up with the best ideas or who make exceptional contributions to your environmental efforts.
- Consider working with your green team to draft an environmental mission statement.
- Be sure that all employees are fully informed and trained whenever new practices are implemented. And make sure your environmental program is included in the routine training for all new staff.
- Post your mission statement, and summaries of your environmental efforts in areas where you post other company policies and announcements.
- Be sure that your program builds in mechanisms that guarantee follow-through, and provide opportunities for employees to give ongoing feedback.
- Involve your employees in efforts to track accomplishments. Then periodically announce successes, such as gallons of water or kilowatt-hours of electricity saved. And, congratulate employees on their contributions!
For cost savings and overall environmental benefit, it's hard to beat reducing your consumption of the often expensive and sometimes toxic products your housekeeping staff uses on a daily basis. You may be losing a substantial percentage of the cleaning chemicals you buy due to evaporation, equipment leaks, spills, or inappropriate usage.
- Keep good records to track the amounts and measure reductions in use of the various products you purchase.
- Require employees to return empty containers before getting new supplies to reduce the number of partially full containers in your facility.
- Avoid products packaged in aerosol cans. Aerosol cans are generally the most expensive, most wasteful, and least environmentally friendly way of using housekeeping products. Instead, use reusable trigger or pump-spray bottles.
- Purchase cleaning and laundry products in bulk concentrated form to reduce packaging waste.
- Buy materials on an as-needed basis and be careful not to overbuy. A large inventory ties up money that might be needed elsewhere. And stockpiling materials increases the risk of leaks and spills, as well as the likelihood that products will reach their expiration date before they're used up.
- Find out if any of your vendors will let you stock products on a consignment basis and rotate them before they become out-of-date.
- Use vendors who deliver chemicals and other products in returnable and/or reusable containers, boxes, crates and shipping pallets.
- Ask vendors and manufacturers to use a minimum of paper, plastic, cardboard and wood in packaging.
- Educate staff on proper mixing of concentrates to avoid waste and save money.
- Use spigots, nozzles and/or funnels for dispensing fluids from bulk containers to reduce the chance of spills and overflows.
- Use products on a first-in-first-out basis to reduce the chance of material deteriorating in storage.
- Clean and reuse mop heads rather than throwing them away when they become dirty. Be sure to clean them by laundering, as required by Montana health regulations [ARM 16.10.638 (c) and (d)].
- Prevent the need to use toxic pest control chemicals by removing food containers, garbage and recycling containers daily; thoroughly cleaning up food scraps, crumbs and spills; and looking for and repairing cracks around doors and windows to prevent pests from entering.
- Extend the useful life of draperies by rotating them to expose different portions to sunlight.
- Start a linen and towel reuse program.
- Keep storage areas and work areas clean and well organized so that spills and leaks will be more noticeable, staff won't waste time looking for materials and tools, and money won't be wasted purchasing duplicates.
- Store materials on pallets so that you can easily check for leaks.
- Store chemical containers in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place.
- Check chemical containers periodically to ensure they are tightly sealed and not leaking, and have containment pans to catch leaks.
- Periodically check shelving on which chemicals are stored to ensure that it is sturdy.
- Properly label containers to prevent waste and possible damage to equipment from staff using the wrong material.
Looking for ways to reuse items instead of throwing them away can uncover surprising cost savings opportunities, as well as opportunities to build good will in your community.
- Cut up stained or damaged linens and other textiles for use as cleaning rags or sew them into kitchen aprons.
- Re-dye linens and carpet to match remodeled decor.
- Refinish or reupholster old or damaged furniture.
- Reuse shipping containers such as plastic drums and buckets as recycling collection containers or trash containers at the back of the service areas.
- Donate old furniture, blankets, towels and other items to shelters, charities or disaster relief programs.
- Hold a surplus garage sale so employees have the opportunity to purchase furniture, paint, draperies and other items.
- List usable but unwanted items on the Montana Material Exchange website.
Relatively low waste disposal costs and limited regional recycling markets mean that recycling is unlikely to result in major cost savings for Montana hotels and motels. But recycling is still an important part of an environmentally friendly management policy. Every aluminum can you recycle represents a tremendous energy savings - it takes 20 times more energy to manufacture a new can from raw ore than it does to manufacture a can from recycled aluminum. For your guests and the public in general, recycling is probably at the top of the list of actions they equate with environmental responsibility.
- Find out what items you can recycle locally. Aluminum cans, newspapers and cardboard can be recycled in most Montana communities. Whether you can recycle other items will depend on where you are located and the ups-and-downs of markets for different materials.
- Design a simple and reliable collection system with a materials flow plan that will work. Some facilities place recycling collection bins in central locations in hallways. Others place a bin in each individual guestroom, or just ask guests to leave recyclables in a specified location in their rooms (such as on a table) so that housekeeping staff can collect and separate different types of items.
- Remember to train your staff that it is not safe for them to try to recover recyclables from trash containers.
- Ask the following questions when choosing a storage site for recyclables:
- Is the site large enough?
- Can the site be locked?
- Is the site protected with sprinklers?
- Is there easy access to a loading dock?
- Find out if Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or other community groups will pick up recyclables.
- Support recycling by buying products made from recycled material.
Substituting more environmentally friendly alternatives for cleaning products that contain hazardous chemicals can save money, while creating a healthier environment for your employees and guests, and eliminating a source of potential regulatory and legal liability. Effective, nontoxic cleaners can now be found to replace almost every type of cleaning product used in laundry and housekeeping operations. As they become widely available, these products are being used more and more in hotels and motels around the country. Many of the products can be purchased in bulk concentrated form. But if you find mixing cleaners from concentrate is too labor intensive, effective, nontoxic, ready-to-use products are available as well.
Dramatic Differences In Product Safety:
You may think that ordinary cleaning products do not pose a threat, but such common
products as furniture polish, carpet cleaner, spot remover, air fresheners, disinfectants
and bleach can contain hazardous compounds such as toluene, naphthalene, trichloroethylene,
benzene and nitrobenzene, phenol, chlorine, and xylene.
These and other hazardous ingredients found in many cleaning products are associated with human health concerns including cancer, reproductive disorders, respiratory ailments, and eye or skin irritation. Cleaning chemicals may also include ozone-depleting substances, and toxic materials that can accumulate in the environment and harm plant and animal life.
A review of janitorial products by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project found that 6% of the products tested were so dangerous they should not be used. An additional 35% were dangerous, but could be used successfully with extreme care. Some of the most dangerous items include acid toilet bowl cleaner, floor finish stripper, high strength degreasers, sewer drain cleaners and oven cleaner.
Buy Phosphate-Free Cleaning Products:
Nutrients in wastewater discharges can cause damaging algae blooms in streams and lakes. Use cleaning products that are phosphate-free to help minimize nutrient pollution from your wastewater.
Many of the hotels, motels and other businesses that have switched to green cleaning
products in recent years have reported a variety of cost savings, according to the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
While part of the reported savings can be attributed to some green cleaning products being less expensive than traditional products, most of the reported and anticipated savings appear to result from new bulk purchasing opportunities, reduced workers compensation claims, and improved employee productivity. It is also important to remember to factor in waste disposal costs when choosing which product to purchase. Products that generate hazardous waste cost more than just the purchase price.
Managers at Yellowstone National Park attribute much of the cost savings they achieved to the fact that through a disciplined environmentally preferable purchasing program combined with employee training, they have gone from buying more than 130 different cleaning products to just 15 products.
Janitorial contractors for the city of Richmond, California, expect their biggest cost savings to come from reduced worker compensation claims.
In order to comply with OSHA's Blood-borne Pathogen Rule [29 CFR 1910.1030], lodging
facilities must keep some stronger chemicals on hand. This rule was written to prevent
transmission of the AIDS virus (HIV), and especially Hepatitis B (HBV) which the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states can survive for at least one week
in dried blood on surfaces such as floors and furniture.
The rule applies to contamination with blood or other body fluids listed as "potentially infectious material." When workers encounter a situation where such contamination has occurred, the contaminated surfaces must be cleaned with soap and water, then disinfected. Disinfection must be done either with household bleach diluted from 1:10 to 1:100 with water, or with a disinfectant product registered with EPA as a tuberculocide (List B), sterilant (List A), or registered against HIV/HBV (List D). These product lists are available on the web at http://ace.orst.edu/info/nain/lists.htm. Various distributors may sell these products under different names, however, the EPA registration number will always be the same.
Bleach solution should be left in place until it air dries, and employees should follow label instructions for other products. They should also be trained in safety procedures for cleaning situations where blood-borne pathogens may be present.
Examples of environmentally preferable active ingredients in products registered as tuberculocidal disinfectants include citric acid, and bleach (sodium hypochlorite) at various low concentrations.
In cases where a carpet or other plush surface has been contaminated, OSHA requires employees to make a reasonable effort to clean and sanitize the surface with regular carpet detergent/cleaner products. The rule also includes regulations for the handling of contaminated linens.
A copy of OSHA's Blood-borne pathogen rule is available on the web at www.osha-slc.gov/OshStd_data/1910_1030.html or by contacting OSHA's Montana office at 800-488-7087.
With so many products on the market, it can be a challenge to determine which ones
are truly both environmentally friendly and effective.
Start by evaluating the ingredients in the detergents, solvents, bleaches and other cleaning products you use. Then review the market to see if there are environmentally preferable products that are equally effective and competitively priced.
Be sure to include your employees in assessing the chemicals they use, and making purchasing decisions for alternatives. This will increase their appreciation of the changes you are making and give them a sense of ownership in the process. They will also be better able to promote your environmentally friendly practices to your guests.
To evaluate specific products, it is important to study ingredient lists and warning labels as well as the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each product.
On the label, look for warnings such as CAUTION, WARNING, DANGER, CORROSIVE, POISON,
Flammable, Combustible, Vapor Harmful, Absorbed Through Skin, Causes Burns. Also,
look on the label for a comprehensive list of ingredients.
Be wary of "green" labeling claims such as "biodegradable", "nontoxic", "environmentally friendly", and "environmentally safe", none of which are defined by government regulations.
The MSDS will provide detailed information concerning immediate and long-term health
risks of the primary ingredients, as well as other important information, such as
how best to store the product to maximize its shelf life.
An MSDS should come with your product order. If you cannot locate it, request a copy from the product vendor and keep it on file for future reference. For detailed information on using material safety data sheets, request a copy of the Montana Pollution Prevention Program's MSDS Fact Sheet.
It is important to note that Yellowstone National Park found serious shortfalls with MSDSs they reviewed. Reviewers found that MSDSs may not cover all hazards, may not list all chemical ingredients, may not be prepared by persons with the appropriate technical background, may contain mistakes or contradictions, and may be written in technical language that is not understandable or may be misinterpreted by users.
A Practical Approach:
Unless you have the resources to conduct your own screening and testing, the most practical approach is to follow the lead of those who have evaluated many of the alternatives on the market. Yellowstone National Park, other federal, state and local government entities, as well as a variety of nonprofit organizations and private companies have developed lists of chemical ingredients to avoid, products that have already been screened and tested, and bid specifications for environmentally preferable products. These resources are available from various web sites, and from the Montana Pollution Prevention Program.
Following is a brief summary of best practices for different types of cleaning jobs. EPA's Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project maintains a website with extensive information on janitorial best practices, including a set of fact sheets. For detailed information on each of the following topics (including lists of chemicals to avoid), visit www.westp2net.org/janitorial/jp4.htm or contact the Montana Pollution Prevention Program.
Ensure that all the cleaning chemicals you use are handled, stored and disposed of properly. This is especially important if you have decided you must use products containing hazardous ingredients. Some poisonous chemicals are easily absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Corrosive chemicals can blind you in seconds, damage your skin, and leave scars. Such products can also make your sewer discharge illegal.
- Insist that your staff wear protective gloves and goggles and be sure that there is adequate ventilation when mixing or using any cleaning products.
- Install mixing stations to reduce spillage.
- Use containment pans and splash-guards at all times to avoid having to clean spills.
- Clean all chemical leaks and spills immediately.
- Mixing different products together can create poisonous chemicals, so avoid mixing products and be sure to rinse out work buckets after each use.
- Housekeeping staff should not work in any room where an ozone-generating device is being operated. After an ozone-generator has been operated, the room should be fully ventilated before staff or guests spend time in it.
- If you choose to use stronger chemicals, make sure your staff are well trained and have them work in buddy teams if possible.
- Ensure that containers are properly labeled.
- Ensure that your employees know where to quickly find and use the MSDSs for any hazardous cleaning products they handle.
- Close containers securely when they are not used to prevent leaks and the release of fumes.
- Store containers in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place that has as little traffic as possible.
- Reduce the chance of accidents by keeping storage areas clean and well organized.
- Contact your local sewer agency if you have questions about what chemicals may be disposed of in the sewer system.
- Properly dispose of spent containers.
Your cleaning schedule should combine regular daily cleaning with weekly deep cleaning. However, restrooms in high traffic areas such as restaurants and convention facilities may require more frequent deep cleaning.
- Use a mild product for regular cleaning, mixing it with as much water as you can, according to the supplier's directions. A dilute product is usually safer to use than a concentrated one.
- For most deep cleaning (removing graffiti and cleaning stained toilet bowls for example), use the same chemicals, perhaps mixed with less water so that they are stronger.
- Clean stubborn stains using powdered cleaner and a scrub pad. Pumic stone is effective for removing hard water deposits without damaging toilet bowls, and baking soda can also work well for cleaning sinks, tubs and toilets.
- Avoid using acid cleaners (such as acid toilet bowl cleaners), which are very dangerous. Acids cause harm very quickly and must be handled with extreme caution. They also corrode metal and, if mixed with bleach, they create chlorine gas that can kill you.
According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control, "The physical removal of microorganisms
by scrubbing is probably as important, if not more so, than any antimicrobial effect
of the cleaning agent used." Thus, using regular cleaners to thoroughly clean sinks,
toilets, doorknobs, and other hard surfaces that people frequently touch is the first
and most important step in preventing the spread of disease.
When disinfectants are used, it is important to select and handle them carefully, because the chemical ingredients in disinfectant products are more dangerous than those in regular cleaners. Choose products that are appropriate to each task and be sure to train your staff to use them safely and effectively:
- Montana regulations [ARM 16.10.638 (f)] require that fungicides and germicides be used when cleaning bathtubs, showers, lavatories, urinals, toilet bowls, toilet seats, and floors.
- In cases where blood or other body fluids are present, be sure to use chemicals and procedures that comply with OSHA's Blood-borne Pathogen Rule described above.
- Many products combine cleaning and disinfecting ingredients into one container. These combined products work well on surfaces that are already relatively clean. For dirty surfaces it is important to clean first, and then apply a separate disinfectant.
- Using full strength disinfectants may be reassuring, but it is more dangerous to the user, wastes chemicals, and is seldom warranted.
- The effectiveness of a disinfectant is determined not just by its strength, but by how long the disinfectant stays wet on a surface, and how clean the surface is. It is important to note that the claims on disinfectant product labels are based on a 10-minute contact time.
- Train your staff to dilute disinfectants according to the manufacturer's directions, and to do their housekeeping chores in a sequence that allows as much contact time as possible for the chemicals to work.
- You can use an ultraviolet light to see how well you are disinfecting. Many bacteria and some types of soil will glow under a UV light. However some cleaning chemicals will glow as well. You need to test the light under different conditions before drawing conclusions about what it is showing you.
- Environmentally preferable active ingredients in disinfectants include citric acid and sodium hypochlorite (bleach).
Glass & Metal Cleaning:
- A mild cleaner is usually adequate, so use the mildest product you can find.
- Buy in bulk.
- Use trigger bottles rather than using products packaged in aerosol cans.
- Insist that your workers protect themselves properly if you choose to use products containing glycol ethers, butoxyethanol, or other harmful chemicals.
- Do not use any degreasers made for auto repair work. These often contain flammable ingredients such as naphtha or hexane, or a dangerous cancer-causing chemical called tetrachloroethylene.
Hard Floor Care:
Floor finish stripper is one of the most dangerous chemical products that janitors use. And, because floor stripping is time consuming, it is expensive. Stripping should be done only when needed, and it should be done right to minimize the use of dangerous chemicals.
- Minimize the need to strip hard floor surfaces by keeping abrasive dirt particles from damaging the floor in the first place.
- Use walk-in mats at each entrance to the building and clean them frequently.
- Use dust mops and vacuums to sweep up dirt frequently, and wet mop the floor with a liquid cleaner or surface buffing product.
- Carefully monitor the condition of your floors to determine when they need maintenance. If you strip your floors on a fixed time schedule you risk wasting chemicals and labor by stripping too frequently, or damaging the underlying floor material by waiting too long.
- Check floors monthly or more often in high traffic areas, and refinish only those areas where wear is occurring.
- Track the amount of stripper your staff is using and train them to mix the stripper with as much water as they can while still getting the job done.
- Check with your sewer agency to see what level of zinc they allow in your wastewater. Most modern floor finishes have zinc in them, but sewage treatment plants cannot extract metals like zinc from the wastewater they discharge into streams and lakes, where metal residues can harm aquatic life.
- Have samples tested to see how much zinc is in your stripper and rinse water. If your zinc levels are too high, try switching to a finish with no zinc or less zinc, and dilute your stripper as much as possible in order to avoid having to dispose of used stripper and rinse water as a hazardous waste.
Because replacing carpeting is expensive and generates large quantities of solid waste, it is important to properly maintain carpeting to maximize its useful life. Properly maintaining older carpet is also important to prevent indoor air pollution from allergens including mold, mildew, bacteria and dust mites. At the same time, chemicals in some carpet cleaning products can cause indoor air pollution and can be dangerous for housekeeping staff using them. Take the following steps to prolong the life of your carpeting and to ensure the healthiest indoor environment possible:
- Train your staff to react immediately to spills and ensure that they are thoroughly trained in spill cleanup.
- Set up a carpet maintenance schedule using the mildest chemicals possible. Carpets that are not cleaned regularly often require more and stronger chemicals than do carpets that are regularly maintained. Excess amounts of chemicals can easily damage carpets.
- Maintenance cleaners, carpet spot removers, extractants, mildewcides and disinfectants can all contain dangerous chemicals that should only be used with extreme caution. Some, such as hydrofluoric acid, perchloroethylene, and tributyl tin pose such severe health risks that they should never be used. Research product ingredients and use products that minimize risks to your guests, your staff and the environment.
- Use vacuum cleaners with strong suction, adjustable brushes, beater bars, good filtration (1 micron), and an enclosed filter bag. Carpets act as large flat air filters, trapping dust particles and other allergens that can be blown back into the air during vacuuming. Using HEPA filters will ensure that these pollutants stay in the filter bag, and out of the air your guests breath.
- Reduce your carpet cleaning costs by preventing soil from entering your building in the first place. At each high-traffic building entrance place walk-on mats large enough to capture several footsteps. Vacuum doorway mats frequently.
- Keep dust from blowing into your building if possible. If your building is well-sealed, work with your HVAC technician to ensure that heating, air conditioning and ventilating systems are operated so that the air pressure inside each doorway is higher than that outside.
- Installing and properly maintaining vents that exhaust outdoors will improve indoor air quality and will minimize the amount of airborn pollutants (such as dust and kitchen fumes) that settle out on carpets.
- Professionally clean carpet every 12 to 18 months and be sure to dry the carpet and extract chemicals as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Ventilate during and after the process, using portable fans if necessary.
- Vacuum old carpet before removal and clean the floor afterwards.
When changing housekeeping and laundry management policies it is important to ensure that you stay in compliance with Montana health regulations for hotels and motels [ARM 16.10.6]. Copies of the regulations are available from your county health department, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (406) 444-2408, or from the Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM) Bureau of the Office of the Secretary of State, (406)444-2055 or www.dphhs.state.mt.us/.
Creating a positive, environmentally friendly image is a great way to gain a competitive
advantage and make your business stand out in your community. Enthusiastic customers
and employees are your best publicity, and implementing and publicizing your environmentally
friendly practices is an excellent opportunity to get them excited about your hotel
There are many ways to make sure your guests, your employees, your community, and the media are aware of your efforts:
- Apply for recognition through the Montana EcoStar Award Program. (For more information contact the Montana Pollution Prevention Program or visit the EcoStar website: www.mtp2.org/ecostar.shtml)
- Write up an easy-to-read summary of all your environmental efforts including your mission statement. Include information on how guests can participate in your linen and towel reuse, recycling, and other programs. If you are tracking your accomplishments, be sure to include some examples, such as how much energy and how many gallons of water your linen and towel reuse program has saved. Then use every opportunity to make this information available to your guests:
- Put tent cards or brochures in guest rooms.
- Put informational material into in-room packages.
- Put tent cards in restaurants and lobbies.
- Send informational material with reservation confirmations.
- Place recycling receptacles with instructions in hallways or guest rooms.
- Have your employees inform guests at check-in about efforts such as your linen and towel reuse program.
- At checkout, give guests the option to contribute a dollar from their bill to an environmental effort that you sponsor, such as a local trail-building program.
- Offer to give presentations about your environmental program to the local chamber of commerce, other civic organizations, and school groups.
- Provide recycling bins at community events.
- Encourage your staff to participate in environmental efforts such as trash clean-up days at local parks or along local highways.
- Submit news releases to your local press as well as the travel press if you have significant accomplishments to announce.
- If you have a website, include a summary of your mission statement, and your environmentally friendly practices and accomplishments.