Green Cleaning at DHMC

This past Friday Ashley the Younger and I had an opportunity to meet with Jay Welenc, Operations Manager of Housekeeping Services at DHMC. Ashley and I got a lot of good tips about green cleaning products and learned some ways to make our cleaning more effective. We even got to see DHMC’s ActiveIon space-age “activated water” spray bottle.

Ashley and I have been working on moving Phi Tau away from unsustainable, harsh chemical cleaning products and towards green cleaning products. We’ve been trying to find sources for products and figure out which products are most effective. Central Stores carries some environmentally-friendly products, but doesn’t offer consultation on which products work well and why we should use them.

While researching products online I remembered seeing a presentation by DHMC Housekeeping talking about the new sustainable and green cleaning products the Hospital is using. With such a strong interest in green products, I was sure that the Housekeeping department would be able to help us out.

On a beautiful Friday afternoon I met up with Ashley at the main building. In an obvious show of sustainability bravado, she rode her bike from campus:

We met Jay Welenc in the basement of DHMC. In his office across from the Post Office he’s just a few steps away from DHMC’s Housekeeping storeroom. I was very impressed with the small footprint of the room. I would have expected a much larger facility for a hospital as big as DHMC; to make that size work, vendors must be very responsive about shipping out products whenever they’re needed:

One of the first things we talked about with Jay was our goals in sustainable cleaning. I knew that DHMC was using some green cleansers and had one of the fancy ActiveIon toys, but Jay helpfully pointed out that planning for sustainable cleaning should start well before you get into the nitty-gritty details of specific products. Using aggressive track-off mats can reduce the amount of dirt entering into your building, and sometimes you can use one after another to trap more dirt. Jay suggested the vendor Anderson Fiber.

Jay also showed us the microfiber mops that DHMC is currently using. While they still have some of the old-style cotton mops, invaluable for cleaning up spills as they are the most absorbent thing out there, the microfiber mops offer several advantages over cotton including using less water and chemicals and being lighter and less strain to use. Lugging mop buckets up and down stairs can be a lot of work, so smaller, lighter mops and mop buckets would be a welcome change.

More traditional cotton mop handles

The microfiber mop handle is light and wide

The microfiber mop pads are thin and can be tossed in a washing machine for cleaning

I was really interested in the ActiveIon, and Jay helpfully demoed it for us. DHMC has only one unit right now, just to try it out, and is currently using it for sanitizing tables in the Cafeteria areas. Jay told us that while the ActiveIon is rated as a sanitizing device, it is not suitable for disinfecting patient areas. I wasn’t exactly sure about the different between a sanitizer and a disinfectant, but Wikipedia can help us out there:

Disinfectants are antimicrobial agents that are applied to non-living objects to destroy microorganisms, the process of which is known as disinfection…Sanitizers are substances that reduce the number of microorganisms to a safe level…One official and legal definition states that a sanitizer must be capable of killing 99.999%, known as a 5 log reduction, of a specific bacterial test population, and to do so within 30 seconds.

The main difference between a sanitizer and a disinfectant is that at a specified use dilution, the disinfectant must have a higher kill capability for pathogenic bacteria compared to that of a sanitizer.

So to sum that up, disinfectants are more powerful than sanitizers. But even just as a sanitizer, I believe that the ActiveIon could be used to sanitize kitchen countertops and glass cooktops and even sinks. That would be very slick to have at Phi Tau! Of course, the current pricetag of $300 is rather a lot to pay for such devices, even at a place like DHMC where it could be used by several people day in and day out.

Jay pointed out that the ActiveIon is a little large and a little clunky at times. And contrary to Bill Nye’s claims that actived water has no odor (which you can see on the Totally Awesome Promo Video for the ActiveIon which you should go watch right after you finish reading my blog post), when Jay sprayed some activated water on a countertop and told us to smell it, the water did appear to have a bit of a odor — perhaps something to do with the fact that the water has been electrically charged.

I’d love to try out a unit and see how well it stand up to heavy use at a fraternity. Phi Tau’s Milque and Cookies event would be a great torture-test for the unit, and although I don’t personally have 300 smackeroos to drop on a piece of hot tech like that, maybe I can talk to the manufacturers and see if they’ll send us one in return for a full report + pictures & video showing how well it stands up to a crazy bake-a-few-thousand-cookies-in-4-days environment. C’mon, it would be great for advertising, right? šŸ™‚

Jay suggested that small organizations could consider purchasing a small, second-hand, low-power floor buffer. Equipped with a brush unit, the buffer could be used periodically to clean waxed floors. The buffer + brushes tool would be more effectively than just a mop and could be used to extend the lifespan of a floor waxing. Equipped with stripping pads, the same unit could be used to strip the floor before re-applying wax.


Jay also showed us a wheelchair-washing unit. Although nifty from a tech perspective and green as it doesn’t use much water or chemicals, I can’t justify getting one of these units. It’s so sad.

The “HUBSCRUB” has a crazy-looking dude on the front. I’m not exactly sure what that expression on his face means — happiness?

The HUBSCRUB mascot

The inside of the HUBSCRUB unit

Jay also talked about using thinner plastic bags. He said that DHMC is using thin plastic bags in several applications, such as in liners for the small office trash cans. Liners for large bins, especially recycling bins that contain heavy items like paper and glass, still need to be thick so they can take the load. Although thinner plastic bags could represent an economic and environmental savings, I think that the education necessary for people to make the right bag choice might be possible in a dedicated housekeeping environment such as a hospital, but not feasible in a fraternity setting.

The hospital currently uses coreless toilet paper that is packaged in heat-shrunk plastic, rather than a cardboard box. Using coreless toilet paper requires the use of an adapter in existing regular-style toilet paper holders, however the benefits may be worth the trouble of converting to the new system. The coreless toilet paper allows more TP to be shipped in the same volume, and you don’t have to worry about the core. Coreless toilet paper does still have the issue of dealing with the “glued-together” center of the toilet paper roll, as without a separate core, the toilet paper must itself form a rigid tube that cannot be used as TP and must be disposed of.

Georgia-Pacific Compact(R) coreless toilet paper

The use of plastic vs. corrugated cardboard is an interesting one. The plastic is probably lighter, but as the plastic may not be recyclable in some areas, which one is more green in the end? Additionally, the rolls of toilet paper that Central Stores currently provides are 100% recycled paper with 80%+ post-consumer content. I didn’t get a chance to check the packaging of the coreless TP, but from research online they do not appear to contain recycled fiber.

We also asked Jay about compostable cups. He said that they get clear plastic compostable “Greenware” cups from Foley Distributing out of Rutland, Vermont. I tried to find out more about the compostable cups from the Foley Distributing website, but there’s something very, very broken about the pages and nearly nothing is clickable. When I finally got to the online catalog, I was unable to find any references to Greenware cups. It’s possible that these are a new or special-order item, and they just haven’t had the chance to update their site to reflect their current product line.

And now, finally, cleaning chemicals!

Jay told us that a chemical dispensing unit is a great investment, especially in a setting where there are multiple people who are doing cleaning. These units hook up to large containers of cleaning chemicals and then allow for careful dispensing of measure quantities of the cleaning chemicals. No spills, no overuse, no measuring cups. DHMC uses a few different types of dispensers, including a Green Solutions dispenser from Spartan Chemicals.

This Green Solutions unit dispenses 4 different chemicals

There are a lot of different green products on the market right now, and Jay told us that most of them work pretty much the same. DHMC uses a number of products from Spartan Chemicals, however Jay said that similar products from other vendors should work basically the same and are probably all about as green. Of course, it might be useful to read up about the company and their distributors to see if the company has a commitment to green products and is “walking the walk and talking the talk,” like Seventh Generation, or if they’re just paying lipservice to green products, engaging in greenwashing without changing their overall company attitudes.

Some products Jay suggested include (DHMC’s current product listed in parens at the end):

  • Carpet cleaning (Spartan 104 Carpet cleaner)
  • Industrial cleaning (Spartan 105 Industrial Cleaner – alkyl polyglycoside)
  • Glass cleaner (Spartan 102 Glass Cleaner)
  • Citric Acid Toilet/Porcelain cleaner (Spartan Citric Acid Toilet Cleaner)
  • Hydrogen Peroxide floor cleaner (Spartan Clean by Peroxy)
  • Floor finish (Butcher’s G-Force Floor finish)

The chemicals DHMC is currently using are more environmentally-friendly and safer for the cleaning staff than the chemicals they have replaced. Jay said that his department is currently investigating the use of not only green, but Bio-Renewable cleaning chemicals. These bio-renewable cleaning products are made out of renewable resources such as corn and soy, rather than petroleum and other non-sustainable sources.

Jay said that while the idea of bio-renewable products, the field is very new — much newer than the green product lines — and so there isn’t much choice in the market. As one would expect in an immature market, the few bio-renewable products that are available are often much more expensive than even their green counterparts. At a hospital such as DHMC, strong cleaning products are required to sanitize and disinfect various rooms and items. It’s unclear whether strong, hospital-certified bio-renewable products exist at this time.

Of course, the fact that DHMC can’t use bio-renewables at this time doesn’t mean that we can’t try them out ourselves in our homes. If you search for “bio-renewable cleaning product” online, you’ll come up with a few hits. I’m not sure if the 7th Generation website will come up in that list, but I believe that several of their cleaning products use sustainable resources.

After our tour of the Housekeeping storerooms and mop room, we said goodbye to Jay. Although we only had a brief meeting, the opportunity to talk with someone currently using green cleaning products and see the tools and products in person was invaluable. As of late I’ve been meeting with someone in Dartmouth or DHMC about once every two weeks to talk about sustainability, and I must say that every single person I’ve met has had an incredible amount of enthusiasm for what they’re doing and for making Dartmouth and DHMC more sustainable, more environmentally friendly, and safer for the employees. Jay was no exception.

Jay’s knowledge and his willingness to share that information with us is precisely how Dartmouth and DHMC are going to become more sustainable. We all have expertise in our field and experience from our daily work, but unless someone asks us a question it’s all just sitting inside our heads. If we can take that knowledge and share it with others then we can really get something going. Taking institutional knowledge from Housekeeping at Dartmouth and at DHMC and making that information available to fraternities and even to individual members of the Dartmouth Community will mean that more people will be able to make smart, environmentally-friendly choices when it comes to cleaning.

So talk about it, write about it, take pictures of it, and live it. Figure out where we are right now and then figure out what the next step is. Not a huge leap, but the next little baby step. And then take that step.

Next up? Compostable cups. I just ordered 1000 of them online for Phi Tau, and my goal is that by the time we finish the box we will have established a source for them internally to the College so that fraternities and other organizations can purchase them through Central Stores or DDS or…someone! I’ll let you know if I meet that goal!


2 thoughts on “Green Cleaning at DHMC

  1. qubit's status on Tuesday, 14-Jul-09 06:25:47 UTC -

  2. qubit's status on Tuesday, 14-Jul-09 06:27:39 UTC -

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