Wash and aware
"In our industry, that's really true," said Greg Macchia, owner of Clean Conscience of Boulder. "The industry is just so fragmented, and there's so few really legitimate businesses — bonded, insured and paying workman's comp — that it's really difficult to tell.
"So many of the people we compete with are just independent cleaners. But even most of the large national chains are starting to offer green cleaning as an option."
All around the nation — and especially in the Boulder Valley — green cleaning of homes now is highly sought by consumers. The problem is that most everyone in the cleaning industry recognizes that fact and at least includes a reference to green cleaning on their websites, making it difficult to tell who is really green — or, maybe, who is greenest.
"I feel there are a lot of folks who are doing green washing, but it helps out that we started out as a green-cleaning service" five years ago, Macchia said. But in an industry that has no government certification, he said, even those lines can get a little blurry.
Trudie Yount, director of marketing at Denver Concierge, agreed that it has become difficult to tell the green washers from the green cleaners, at least at an initial glance. However, Yount said Denver Conceirge, started in 2007 by Lafayette businessman John Kitts, was the first cleaner in Colorado to be certified by Green Clean Institute, a third-party certification program that tests all members of the organization in various aspects of green cleaning.
"We've certainly always been green," she said. "But in some ways it's easy now (to enter the field). The products are easy to find, so anyone with a mop and a vacuum can claim to be green."
While green cleaning may have had its initial appeal because of its environmental ethic, cleaners say that isn't the principal reason people seek it out today.
"A lot of our customers have children and pets, so we approach it from the health side," Macchia said. "That goes hand-in-hand with the environmental benefit, but not exposing their children or pets to harmful chemicals — that's something that resonates with everyone and makes a lot of sense."
What also resonates with customers, both Macchia and Yount said, is that despite the fact that green cleaning may be a little bit more difficult, people really do want their homes to be clean.
"We clean totally by hand – no mops," Yount said. "It takes a little longer, but our reputation is being exceptionally detail oriented."
"Sometimes it takes a little education, because people don't believe it is clean if it doesn't smell like lemon or pine, but those are harmful residual smells."
Most of Denver Concierge's business comes through referral, Yount said, and the biggest part of that referral often is with how clean they actually can get homes without using any toxic materials. That was the key to creating a company which has doubled its revenues in the past six years and now employs about 70 people and sends its 24 vans up and down the Front Range.
By now, almost all would-be green cleaners know that getting rid of the bleach and ammonia is the place to begin, but there are a host of products labeled green today, so working through that list can be an extraordinary venture.
Clean Conscience uses products that have the Green Seal — but even then, researching and testing products remains a big part of the business.
"We really spend a lot of time looking for the latest and greatest products and where the industry is going," Macchia said. "It's gotten a little more difficult, as even the big chemical companies have their green products nowadays."
Both Macchia and Yount noted that equipment is a big issue — and often a dead giveaway that the supposed green cleaners may not be up to snuff.
For instance, Clean Conscience uses Pro Team vacuums, which has a licensing partnership with the American Cancer Society. These high-dollar vacuums with HEPA filters remove a great deal of small dust particles that normal vacuums just recirculate into the indoor air. Microfiber cleaning tools, replacing hand rags and mops, also are important, picking up far more dirt and grime than do conventional cleaning tools.
Even to a purist such as Macchia, there are gray areas. For instance, Green Seal recommends some disinfectant cleaners — but by nature a disinfectant cannot be a green cleanser because, in essence, it has to poison botanical material.
"There are surfaces that we have to use a disinfectant — bathrooms, kitchen sinks and counters — and we do have a less-harmful disinfectant," he said. "And if a mother calls you and tells you her four kids have been sick for days, you are going to use some disinfectant."
But both Yount and Macchia said that simply by doing a little research — asking about equipment and products, for instance — consumers can probably separate the wheat from the chaff among green cleaners.
Even if there isn't a national standard, it's nice to know there are standards out there.
"We like to describe it as 'cleaning to protect health without harming the environment,' " Macchia said.