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ArticleTechnical Article

Hiring a Green Cleaning Service? Look for GS-49 Certification

Green Seal’s GS-49 Standard - scheduled for official launch in Spring 2009 - establishes criteria for professional green cleaning of homes and residences (with the exception of specialty services such as carpet cleaning or mold removal.)


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GS-49 spotlights unhealthy types of products and processes, and identifies healthier ones in an effort to green the cleaning of homes by professional maid and home cleaning services.


Below are highlights and excerpts from the proposed new standard.


Requirement: Environmentally Preferable Products


GS-49 Certified residential cleaning service providers must use Environmentally Preferable Products (See sidebar: “What’s an Environmentally Preferable Product?”) including:

  • General-purpose cleaners
  • Floor cleaners
  • Restroom or bathroom cleaners
  • Glass cleaners
  • Floor finishes and floor strippers
  • Soap
  • Sanitary paper products: toilet tissue, facial tissue, paper towels, and napkins
  • Plastic trash can liners that contain a minimum of 10% post-consumer recycled content
  • Oven cleaning products that are not toxic in the undiluted form.
What’s an Environmentally Preferable Product (EPP)?


A product certified as such by a Type 1 (i.e., third-party) environmental label that was developed in accordance with the ISO 14024 Environmental Labeling Standard. Alternatively, a product may be designated as environmentally preferable by an established and legitimate, nationally-recognized program developed with the purpose of identifying environmentally preferable products. The program must not have any financial interest or stake in sales of the product, or other conflict of interest. Such designation must be based on consideration of human health and safety, ecological toxicity, other environmental impacts, and resource conservation, as appropriate, for the product and its packaging, on a life cycle basis. Product criteria must constitute market leadership for that product category, and be publicly available and transparent.

GS-49 Certified residential cleaning service providers must not use products containing the following ingredients or those with these attributes:

  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and their derivatives
  • Ethylene diaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) or its derivative
  • Carcinogens
  • Mutagens
  • Reproductive toxins
  • More than 1 % reactive chlorine compounds or active chlorine carriers
  • Formaldehyde donors
  • 2-Butoxyethanol
  • Phthalates 
  • Heavy metals, lead, hexavalent chromium, or selenium; either in the elemental form or compounds
  • Ozone-depleting compounds
  • Optical brighteners

Requirement: Careful Selection and Maintenance of Tools and Equipment


GS-49 Certified residential cleaning service providers must use cleaning tools and systems such as:

  • Microfiber mops, cloths, and dusters.
  • Color-coding for cleaning cloths, mops, and tools to prevent cross contamination.

GS-49 Certified residential cleaning service providers shall use equipment that at a minimum, meets the following specifications:

  • Powered floor maintenance equipment, including vacuum cleaners, shall be equipped with controls or other devices for capturing and collecting particulates and shall operate at a sound level less than 70 decibels (dBA). Vacuum cleaners shall be equipped with the appropriate filter or bag and these shall be changed or cleaned per the manufacturers’ recommendations. 
  • Vacuum cleaners must meet, at a minimum, the CRI Green Label Program requirements, or equivalent.
  • Brooms, cloth, paper, and feather dusters shall not be used in performing any cleaning activity.

GS-49 requires a phase-out of equipment that does not meet the above criteria.


GS-49 Certified residential cleaning service providers must properly maintain equipment and document the maintenance:

  • Residential cleaning service providers must ensure the cleaning equipment is functioning properly (as validated by the equipment manufacturer or by a reputable third party service organization), or that it is tagged and taken out of service.

Other considerations - GS-49 Certified residential cleaning services shall:

  • Provide chemical dispensing units to dispense chemicals at the proper dilution rate to minimize worker and occupant exposure.
  • Provide appropriate applicators for all cleaning chemicals that do not result in over-application of cleaning products.

Requirement: Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Site-Specific Provisions


GS-49 Certified residential cleaning service providers must have written guidelines that define Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These guidelines shall be made available to all cleaning personnel and clients, and shall include the following:

  • Storage, handling, and use of chemicals
  • Procurement of environmentally preferable cleaning products
  • Environmentally preferred tools, cloths, mops, and other equipment
  • Inspection and maintenance program of all tools, supplies and equipment
  • Cleaning procedures
  • Training and certification requirements of staff
  • Quality control assurance
  • Waste and water use policies
  • Safety procedures in compliance with OSHA and state regulations
  • Vulnerable population and accident management.

Vulnerable populations. The cleaning service provider shall identify whether a vulnerable individual resides in the residence being cleaned and if such an individual is present, all of the following criteria shall be conducted or applied:

  • Adopt alternative cleaning practices that minimize or make unnecessary the use of cleaning chemicals.
  • Use cleaning chemicals in areas only where sufficient ventilation is present to allow chemicals to dissipate before the area becomes repopulated. If available, provide additional ventilation through the use of blowers to enhance the rate of chemical dissipation.
  • Limit human exposure to dust and particulate matter when cleaning and replacing vacuum bags and filters.
  • Clean in a manner that prevents the transfer of impacts to other areas of the residence that may contain vulnerable populations.
  • In cases when the vulnerable population involves those with a compromised immune system, consult health professionals before undertaking the cleaning activity.

Accident Management. The cleaning service provider shall have an appropriate accident control policy governing the procedure to be followed in case of an accident. Accident report records shall be kept on all cleaning crew and accident report forms shall be readily accessible to all staff. A basic first aid kit shall be provided for each cleaning crew.


GS-49 site-specific cleaning procedure requirements include those for:



  • Perform restroom or bathroom cleaning from high to low, toward the doorway, with dry cleaning tasks performed prior to wet cleaning operations.
  • Control and remove standing moisture from floor and bathroom surfaces in a timely manner.
  • Perform disinfection in areas or on surfaces where pathogens can collect and breed such as in bathrooms and on bathroom faucets. Use disinfectants only where required. Perform disinfection using only EPA-registered disinfectants or EPA-registered disinfection devices.
  • When using chemical disinfectants or cleaner/disinfectants, follow product label directions for preparation of disinfecting solutions (e.g., dilution rate), and the appropriate disinfecting and cleaning method for the area to be cleaned (e.g., dwell time and whether pre-cleaning is required).
  • Use bathroom cleaning equipment specifically for restroom cleaning only. Bathroom cleaning tools and equipment, except powered equipment shall not be used to clean any other areas of the residence.


  • Vacuum floors to remove particulate matter.
  • Perform floor cleaning from high to low (i.e., upstairs before downstairs), toward the doorway, with dry cleaning tasks performed prior to wet cleaning operations.


  • Vacuum floors to remove particulates.
  • Perform kitchen cleaning from high to low, toward the doorway, with dry cleaning tasks performed prior to wet cleaning operations.
  • Clean and sanitize all surfaces in the kitchen including cabinet, kitchen table and chairs and sinks.
  • Clean all appliances in the kitchen.

Requirement: Waste Reduction


Residential cleaning service shall at a minimum:

  • Purchase chemical products and other supplies in quantities that minimize the amount of packaging waste generated.

Water Use


A policy governing efficient use of water in cleaning operations shall be in place.

Requirement: Training


GS-49 requires that all service company owners, managers and employees shall receive 8 hours of continuing training and/or education on an annual basis to maintain knowledge of correct procedures for safety, tools, techniques, and procedures.


In addition, upon hiring, all cleaning personnel are required to undergo initial training on the company’s Standard Operating Procedures, the proper sequencing of cleaning steps, and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), in addition to regulatory requirements. As part of initial training, all personnel are to be given standard safety training including focusing on reducing and preventing ergonomic injuries and exposure to hazardous materials encountered by cleaning service providers and their personnel. 


Specifically, staff should be trained in the proper handling of equipment and chemicals, special considerations for any hazardous chemicals used, accessing and understanding information on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), and job-specific protocols for personal protective equipment. Employees should also receive instruction on cleaning, rinsing, re-use, and recycling of used chemical applicators.


New hires should receive their initial training in the company office and then continued or advanced training may be conducted at the site, before personnel are assigned to clean independently. The training of each employee must be documented to fulfill the staff training requirement.

Green Seal Definitions

Carcinogens. Chemicals listed as known, probable, reasonably anticipated, or possible human carcinogens by IARC (Groups 1, 2A, and 2B), NTP (Groups 1 and 2), EPA, IRIS (weight-of-evidence classifications A, B1, B2, C, carcinogenic, likely to be carcinogenic, and suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity or carcinogen potential), or OSHA.


Disinfect. A process for hard inanimate surfaces undertaken to destroy or irreversibly inactivate infectious fungi, bacteria, and other microbes, but not necessarily their spores. Disinfection is performed using only EPA-registered disinfectants or EPA-registered disinfection devices.


Microfiber. Products made from synthetic fibers that measure less than one denier. The most common types of microfibers are made from polyesters, polyamides (nylon), and or a conjugation of polyester and polyamide. Microfiber is used in the manufacture of non-woven, woven, and knitted textiles. The shape, size and combinations of synthetic fibers are selected for specific characteristics, including: softness, durability, absorption, wicking abilities, water repellency, electrodynamics, and filtering capabilities.


Optical Brighteners. Additives designed to enhance the appearance of colors and whiteness in materials by absorbing ultraviolet radiation and emitting blue radiation; including but not limited to fluorescent whitening agents.


Ozone-Depleting Compounds. Any compound with an ozone-depletion potential greater than 0.01 (CFC 11=1) according to the EPA list of Class I and Class II Ozone-Depleting Substances.


Reproductive Toxin. A chemical listed as a reproductive toxin (including developmental, female, and male toxins) by the State of California under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 2, Subdivision 1, Chapter 3, Sections 1200, et. Seq., also known as Proposition 65).


Sanitize. A process intended to reduce, but not necessarily eliminate, microorganisms from the inanimate environment to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations.

Toxic. A product is considered toxic if it falls under the labeling requirements as a toxic or highly toxic product, as defined by Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations found at 16 CFR Chapter II, Part 1500.

Volatile Organic Compound. A chemical with a vapor pressure greater than or equal to 0.1 mm Hg at standard conditions.


Vulnerable Individuals/Populations. A vulnerable individual or population represents people who are more susceptible than the general population to chemicals and products that might pose a risk to human health. These populations include but are not limited to children, pregnant women, the elderly and infirm, people sensitive to chemical exposures (e.g., fragrances), and other occupants, customers, or employees that may have a higher susceptibility to cleaning operations.

GS-49 Certification and Labeling Rules

The Green Seal Certification Mark may appear in the advertising materials of a residential cleaning service provider with respect to the cleaning service certified under this Standard. The Green Seal Certification Mark shall not be used in conjunction with any modifying terms, phrases, or graphic images that might mislead consumers as to the extent or nature of the certification. All text and graphics using the Green Seal Certification Mark and Green Seal’s name in advertising, brochures, reports, promotional or other materials shall be approved in writing by Green Seal.

Wherever the Green Seal Certification Mark appears, there must be a description of the basis for certification. The description shall be in a location, style, and typeface that are easily readable by the consumer. Unless otherwise approved in writing by Green Seal, the description shall read as follows:

"This cleaning service meets the criteria of Green Seal's Environmental Standard for Residential Cleaning Services for reduced toxicity, waste, and exposure."

For use at residence, unless otherwise approved in writing by Green Seal, the description shall read as follows:


“This residence is cleaned by a service that meets the criteria of Green Seal's Environmental Standard for Residential Cleaning Services for reduced toxicity, waste, and exposure."


For more information about GS-49, visit the Green Seal Web site.


(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)




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Hiring a Green Cleaning Service? Look for GS-49 Certification:  Created on December 14th, 2008.  Last Modified on November 4th, 2009


We do not strictly control Google ad content. If you believe any Google ad is inappropriate, please email us directly here.

About Nana Wilberforce, PhD

Nana Wilberforce, PhD, is an environmental scientist with Green Seal, the Washington DC-based non-profit that has been identifying consumer and institutional products and services that protect the indoor and outdoor environment since 1989. Green Seal is the first non-profit certifier (ecolabel) in the U.S. and has developed over 30 standards and certified more than 3,100 products and services. Using a transparent, life-cycle assessment based labeling system; Green Seal guides consumers and purchasers to make environmentally preferable choices.



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