From mom-and-pop operations to national chains, eco-friendly house-cleaning services are growing in popularity.
An increasing number of consumers want cleaning services that use environmentally safe, child- and pet-friendly products.
"It's just common sense not to introduce toxins to your home," said Heather Kniess, owner of the eco-friendly cleaning service, Shiny Happy Cleaners (shinyhappycleaners.blogspot.com), which serves the East End and North Side. "Why use bleach or something else that has toxic fumes when you can use something that cleans just as well and smells better?"
Since she started her business in April 2007, she has seen an increased demand for the service.
"We have a waiting list," says Ms. Kniess, 33, of Regent Square. "We've been at full capacity for a while and are looking to expand."
Within the past two years, the number of green house-cleaning companies nationwide has exploded, says Alison Palmer, president of the Atlanta-based Association of Residential Cleaning Services International (arcsi.org), a residential cleaning trade group with about 550 members.
"Up until very recently, the reason you cleaned your house [was] so it looked really good," she says. "We're no longer cleaning for appearance; we're cleaning for health.
"It's not just good enough to come home and see your kitchen counter sparkling clean; it has to be germ-free," she said.
About 66 percent of the ARCSI membership offers some degree of green cleaning service.
"Anybody who isn't already green will soon be following because consumers want it," Ms. Palmer said.
At recent industry conventions, green cleaning products were all the rage.
"Also, when you look at a cleaning company that really believes in the whole green thing, they're not just buying green products, they're doing other things -- driving fuel-efficient vehicles and recycling anything they can from their office," Ms. Palmer said.
At Cleanology, a San Diego-based house-cleaning service, the business is as green as the products it uses. In the office, they have energy-saving light bulbs, recycle everything they can and use both sides of printer paper for print-outs.
"Instead of having four separate cars with two team members in each car, we have a nine-person van that shuttles them to each job," said Christine McDannell, Cleanology president and ARCSI board member.
Cleanology didn't start out green but converted two years ago in response to consumer demand and to give the company a competitive edge, Ms. McDannell said.
"Two years ago, there was no other large green cleaning company in San Diego," she said. "Now, there are three other large ones out there."
The Maids Home Services, a national house-cleaning chain with a local franchise in Verona, has been using environmentally preferred products since 1995.
"Primarily, our customers are looking for a clean that is clean and it becomes a bonus to them that our clean is environmentally friendly," says Laura Handrick, innovation vice president for The Maids International, the Omaha-based parent company of The Maids Home Services (maids.com).
The company uses environmentally friendly products "that promote cleaning for health and products that are not only safe in the home, but for the environment, safe with kids and pets and -- very important to us -- safe for our employees to use every day," Ms. Handrick said.
The company uses HEPA filtration system vacuums that remove 99 percent of dust mites, dander, pollen and other allergens and minimizes the excessive use of water.
"We use special cloths that we wash," she said. "We don't use paper towels in our cleaning."
The Maids Home Services also purchases cleaning products that meet standards set by Green Seal Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that certifies eco-friendly products and services.
Green Seal (greenseal.org) already has established standards for eco-friendly commercial cleaning services and expects to establish standards for eco-friendly residential cleaning services by year's end, said Linda Chipperfield, the group's marketing vice president.
Areas covered under the residential cleaning standards will include standard operating procedures, cleaning tools and equipment, cleaning products and supplies, site-specific cleaning procedures and training of the cleaning company staff.
Once the residential cleaning standards are in place, residential cleaning services will be able to submit information about their business to Green Seal for certification, Ms. Chipperfield said. The certification process also may include a visit to one of the business's cleaning sites.
Ms. Palmer believes a green certification process for residential cleaning services will be good for the industry.
Today, eco-friendly cleaning products are widely available in grocery and department stores, with even traditional cleaning product manufacturers, like Clorox and Proctor & Gamble, making lines of environmentally friendly cleaning products.
There are more peroxide-based cleaning products in green lines, Ms. Palmer said. However, there still aren't any green disinfectants because disinfectants, by their very nature and under current Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, aren't green.
Many green house-cleaning companies make their own eco-friendly cleaning products or use commercially available brands such as Ecover and Seventh Generation.
Amber Bacon, 25, of Amber Lee Eco-Friendly Household Services (firstname.lastname@example.org), uses citrus oils and eco-friendly Method products in her cleaning. A few months ago, her own organic and eco-friendly sensibilities led her to start an environmentally friendly house-cleaning business, which serves Westmoreland County.
Ms. Palmer advises consumers to select a knowledgeable and professional green house-cleaning service.
"It's nice if the house-cleaning service you hire is making a lot of their own products," she says. "But if you mix the wrong things or use a product in the wrong way, you can have problems."
For example, vinegar can ruin a marble counter top.
"You have to know how to use a product, when to use it and when not to use it," she said.